Along the banks of two of western Ethiopia's large rivers, the lure of fish for their pots and water for their animals puts people in harm's way almost every year when the Baro Akobo and Gilo flood—as they usually do during the rainy season.
But this year, when these rivers spilled their banks, the consequences were severe. A team of local officials who visited 10 districts in the Gambella region in the end of September reported that the floods had displaced 135,721 people. The flooding killed two people and left 970 heads of livestock dead. High water still surrounded more than 19,000 people at the time of the assessment. Some districts were accessible only by boat.
Now, many people are in need of help. Food, shelter, and blankets are top on the list.
Together with its local partner, Envision Beyond Basic Needs Association, or EBBA, Oxfam America has launched a $39,000 emergency relief project to help about 8,500 people, almost half of whom are women. Plans called for the distribution of blankets for warmth and plastic sheets for shelter to 1,693 families in five localities.
"We are prepared to do more if the request comes through," said Dawit Beyene, Oxfam America's deputy director of humanitarian response. "The flooding continues and subsequent information we got revealed much more damage than we initially received." Five health posts, 20 schools, two farmer training centers, and nine clinics were also damaged by the floods.
Most of the people in Gambella, which is a low-lying region along the border with Sudan, make their living by fishing from the rivers, working small farms, or herding animals. Despite the regular flooding, villagers settle on the banks of region's rivers to pursue their livelihoods. Now, Oxfam is exploring more permanent ways of helping people cope with the challenges of their environment.
"We're discussing targeting Gambella for more preparedness work—such as establishing a permanent warehouse for emergency supplies as well as helping to increase the capacity of the local organizations with which we work in the region," said Beyene.