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In Hindeysa, Ethiopia, a well becomes a lifeline

By Sophie McGrath
Shemshedin Afen, far right, says a new well could benefit about 8,000 people. Photo: Sophie McGrath/Oxfam

Hindeysa is a remote community in Somali region of eastern Ethiopia--so remote, in fact, that we get lost weaving between sparse trees, looking for signs of life amid sandy red earth. And the community is not the only thing around here that’s hard to find. With a drought affecting the whole region this year, water is in ever-shorter supply.

But, as of May 2011, a new addition is about to bring change to Hindeysa. For the last five months, Oxfam and members of the community have been drilling a well. When the finishing touches are completed, local people will finally have a reliable source of abundant water—five liters of it per second.

Shamsedin Afen, 20, says the drought has affected his entire family: his parents, sister and three brothers. “We cultivate the land, growing maize and sorghum, and keep livestock. We have 40 sheep, goats and cows.” But, their crops failing without rain, the family is relying on the food they stored from last year to see them through. Their animals are not so lucky. “We couldn’t cultivate enough forage this year to feed them--we’ve lost 13 sheep and goats.”

For Hawa Abdulayi, the situation is even worse: “I only had 20 sheep and goats, and it’s killed 10.” Because households run by women tend to be poorer and have fewer animals, drought can hit them especially hard.

There are other, routine losses, too. “Every day we lose six hours,” says Afen. That’s how long it takes to fetch water from the nearest source, the town of Dembel. “We don’t have a storage system, so we have to go each day.” What’s more, this water is only enough for people to drink. “The situation for the animals is very different--we can’t provide for them too, so we just leave them and return in the afternoon.”

When the well is completed, “a better life will come," says Afen confidently. “This will benefit both the people and the animals—not only here, but also in the surrounding communities.” He estimates that the well will improve the lives of 8,000 people in total.

Afen anticipates not just that he and his animals will have enough to drink, and that the daily trek will be over, but that irrigation could bring long-term benefits for the local food supply. “We have a lot of resources that, without water, we can’t use. With water … we can grow vegetables like potato and tomato, and fruits like watermelon, papaya, and guava.”

For Abdulayi, the well is most of all a lifeline. “I was planning to migrate to another place,” she says, “but this has revived my hope of staying here.”

The community has helped in the construction however they can: cooking for the workers who built the well, fetching water from Dembel for them, and cutting trees and clearing an area to make them a shelter out of branches. When the pump’s finished, local people plan to contribute money to help maintain it and to form a committee to make sure it’s kept clean and hygienic.

When the pump was tested and water came out, “we had a huge ceremony,” says Afen. “We did all this because we have great expectations that the well will better our lives.”

Support Oxfam's response to the current food and drought crisis in the region.