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Hunger and drought in Ethiopia drive farmers off their land

By Dagmawi Tadesse
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Drought forced Nura Mohammad Ahmed and her husband and daughter to leave their farm in the Jarar zone in Ethiopia’s Somali Region. Oxfam is helping people in Jarar with food and clean water. Dagmawi Tadesse/Oxfam

Oxfam distributes food and other aid to people struggling to survive dry years.

When asked about the most serious problems Nura Mohammad Ahmed and her family have experienced over the last few years of severe drought in Ethiopia’s southern Somali region, she lowers her head and is silent for a moment before saying, “There are so many problems … I don’t want to remember.”

Ahmed and her husband had a small farm in the Jarar zone of the Somali region, one of the areas in East Africa severely affected by drought. They supported themselves growing crops, but when the rains stopped, they could no longer grow any food.

“We have survived the last three years by sharing with neighbors whatever we can get,” Ahmed says. They often skipped eating for a day or two when they could not find anything to eat.

Now, the family runs a small tea shop. It’s their main source of income.

Ahmed’s main concern is the health of her 13-month-old baby girl. She carries the baby on her back everywhere she goes, and worries about getting her enough to eat. In the years before the drought, Ahmed lost two children, each a few months after birth. “My daughter eats only what we are eating,” Ahmed says. “There is no other nutritious food available.” She points out that there are no sources of supplementary food for infants in the community.

Hoping for rain

Oxfam distributed food at nine sites in four districts of the Jarar zone in 2022. A total of 1,000 households each received 90 kilos (98 pounds) of wheat flour, 9 kilos (20 pounds) of split peas, 3 liters of oil, and 1.5 kilos (3.3 pounds) of iodized salt. It’s part of an effort to reach 122,000 people in the Somali region.

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Oxfam teams distribute wheat flour, oil, split peas, and salt as part of drought relief operations in Jarar zone in Ethiopia’s Somali region. Dagmawi Tadesse/Oxfam

When Ahmed received her supplies, she says it was “the first support we have received since the drought came.’’ She told Oxfam staff that the community would still need more support in the future. “This food we have received from Oxfam will be enough for a month to feed my family, but I don’t know what will happen after that.” Ahmed said the community also needs other support, like medicines and nutritious food for the children.

There were a few showers over the summer rainy season of 2022, and Ahmed says she is hopeful the rains will come back and “we will go back to farming and start growing crops for our family.” But the rains may not cooperate, and the UN is estimating there are more than eight million people living in the southern regions of Ethiopia who require humanitarian aid. Oxfam will continue to ramp up response activities in Somali region, where food prices have increased dramatically, and is urgently raising funds to cover the program.

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