Horn of Africa: El Nino and the impact of climate change

A woman walking through drought-ravaged fields in Somaliland

Extreme drought driven by the El Nino phenomenon has put already vulnerable communities on the edge of survival – and as is so often the case, women and children are at the sharp end of finding ways to cope. Here, women from Ethiopia and Somalia describe what the drought means for them.


Kimiya received food aid
Kimiya receiving food rations at a monthly distribution in East Hararghe organised by CARE in collaboration with the Ethiopian government and with supplies from USAID

Kimiya, mother of an infant and a six-year-old:

“This is the worst drought we have ever experienced. We had a drought last year also, but this year is much worse. Our whole harvest failed completely.

“In order to get money for food, I collect and sell firewood, but the market is very far away, and I have to spend the whole day collecting and going to the market, while my husband watches the children.

I have no other way of coping in this crisis.

“I have no education, no friends or family in town who can help us with money or provide collateral for loan. We have no livestock – not even a chicken.

“In addition to the support we get from the government and from CARE, we support each other in the village. We don’t let the poor die. We borrow from each other.”

Jeneti and child in Ethiopia

Jeneti, mother of a four-month-old boy and a three-year-old girl:

“This is the worst drought I have experienced.

“For my family, the biggest problem is that I have to spend most of the day walking to get water. I get up early in the morning and come home in the evening. I leave both children with a neighbouring family.

When I come back, my four-month-old son is always crying.

“I received nutrition support from the local government and joined this group with other mothers. I feel the group has opened my eyes. I have learned how to feed and clean my child to keep it healthy. Now I know how much of the different kinds of food I need to eat and what the child will need once it is six months old and I stop breastfeeding.”

Razaiya in Ethiopia

Razaiya, mother of eight children aged seven months to 19 years:

“We have had problems before, but we have always had some rain and the crop has not failed as completely as it has this year.

“The problems are double now because we had a bad harvest last year too.

So we have very little to eat and nothing to sell any more.

“We have sold one cow, but it was in such a bad shape we did not get much money for it.

“We have borrowed some grain from a privately owned local grain bank and we receive monthly food supplies from the government and CARE, but it is not enough.”

Mothers helping each other

Kimiya Mohammed Ali leading a meeting of the mothers' group
Kimiya Mohammed Ali leading a meeting of the Mother-to-Mother group

Kimiya Mohammed Ali, leader of the Mother-to-Mother group set up by CARE in collaboration with government health services in the East Hararghe district of Ethiopia:

“My role is two-fold. In addition to leading the discussions in the group about health, hygiene and nutrition, I talk to all pregnant women in the village, give their names to the local government health service and ensure they get transport to the hospital when they are about to give birth and that they get necessary vaccinations. I also go house to house in the village to share information on hygiene and how to avoid malnutrition in children.

In this crisis, I am affected like everyone else. We are all suffering.

“Before this crisis, we got together in groups [organised by CARE] to save money in a collective box every week. That way we could help each other. We selected a committee, who decided which household was in the greatest need and then we provided loans and support to them from the savings box. Now we have nothing to save, but it is still good to get together and not suffer alone. We learn a lot from each other. One family may have better ways of managing their resources and they can tell others about it.”


Qadan in Somaliland
A few weeks ago, a big storm caused Qadan's house to collapse

Qadan, a single mother:

“When I was younger, droughts and floods still had names. Now they have become so frequent that we don’t even bother anymore.

I am constantly afraid that something could happen to my two children. 

“We experienced droughts and storms before, but we could still recover and prepare. Now we rebuild our houses just to see them collapse again a few months later.”

Awo and two of her children in Somaliland

Awo fled her home because of the drought conditions in Somaliland; only 50 out of 200 of her sheep and goats are still alive:

When I left my home, the remaining ones were very weak. I am trying to find a place where there is grazing land and water. But I fear they will not survive until then.

Awo had to leave four of her six children at home as well. Awo is on her way to a small village called Boon. The water demand here has already increased by 35 percent and the people here fear that their water will soon dry up as well.

Luli in Somaliland

Luli runs a small shop to provide for her five children:

“We lived well over the past years. But now, with the droughts, the nomads I am usually trading with are not coming anymore.”

She and the other villagers can at least rely on a water pump and several water tanks installed by CARE.

“We always have safe water now and don’t have to worry about the health of our children. I am glad that one of the tanks is standing in front of my kiosk. It is a good feeling to be responsible for the tank and share the water with everyone.”

CARE’s response to the drought

In Ethiopia, in collaboration with the Ethiopian government and support from many institutional donors, CARE is supporting around 300,000 people with food aid, assisting over 37,000 children and mothers affected by malnutrition, rehabilitating water points and enabling 20,000 people to access safe drinking water in the current drought.

In Somaliland, CARE is providing assistance to affected communities, including emergency water trucking, food for displaced people, emergency nutrition, livelihood restoration through cash grants and restocking, distribution of hygiene kits, solar lamps, construction of emergency latrines and rehabilitation of shallow wells and boreholes.

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.