With drought killing their livestock, many Ethiopians have no other source of food or income

By Oxfam
Hawa lives with four of her ten children in the Harisso internally displaced persons site. She has lost 400 goats and 100 cattle as a result of the drought. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Oxfam

Extreme weather exacerbated by El Ñino has left more than 10 million people across Ethiopia in need of humanitarian aid. 

When owning a herd of cows is like having money in the bank, losing it can mean terrible things for a family. But that’s exactly what’s happening to countless Ethiopian households as the worst drought in 30 years wipes out the livestock many use for food and income.

80% of the population of Siti Zone in Ethiopia depends on livestock farming. Over 500,000 animals have died in the region as a result of the drought, leaving thousands of people without an income. Oxfam is distributing animal feed, helping people sell off their livestock for a decent price and distributing the meat to vulnerable families, and providing life-saving water Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith / Oxfam

Across the country, where farmers rely largely on rain to feed their crops and water the pastures on which their animals depend, drought is pushing more than 10 million people into circumstances so dire they now need humanitarian aid. In December 2015, the Ethiopian government issued an appeal  for $1.4 billion to help it respond. Donors have stepped up to fund only 48 percent of the appeal so far.

The government is also helping to support many other Ethiopians through its safety net program, which is expanding to cover eight million people this year.  

 “I had 400 sheep and goats and 100 cattle,” said a woman named Hawa who is now living in a camp for displaced people in Harisso, a community in Ethiopia’s Siti zone in the Somali region. “Each day I lost 10 animals, then more and more.” Now, they are all dead.

Originally from a village called Anado, Hawa and four of her children moved to the camp about seven months ago, after her husband went to Djibouti to look for work.

“I am here to get support. I have nothing left. I had no other option,” said Hawa, who now spends long hours every other day scouring the mountains nearby for firewood.

“Here in the village there is no work,” she said.

Seido’s shelter was damaged by strong winds during the night. She is fixing the damage, pulling rope around a tarpaulin across the roof. “We need support.” Seido says. “I am alone looking after my grandchildren. We are surviving because of the water we are getting. I always look for the water truck to reassure my children. I tell them tomorrow will be a better day, we will get something.” Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Oxfam

About 80 percent of the people who live in Siti depend on their livestock. But the drought, linked to a global weather phenomenon known as El Ñino and following successive failure of rains during the last year and a half, has killed more than half a million animals across the country. Thousands of families in Siti are now without a source of income.

“This drought has lasted longer than any others,” Hawa said. “Other droughts haven’t cost [us] our livestock.”

The losses are on everybody’s minds, every day, especially as families worry about how to feed their children.

"We have been very affected by the drought. All our livestock died. We had 50 goats. It took us one month to get to this camp. We were very exhausted when we got here. We don’t have enough food." Lule Abrahn pictured with her 6 year-old son Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Oxfam

“Every day we talk about the drought and the things we have lost,” said Lule Abrahn, who also moved to the camp after all of her 50 goats died and her family had no food. “I don’t sleep at night because I am hungry. … We are very weak now. My children keep asking me for food.”

Where aid is being delivered, it is making a difference. Oxfam has helped more than 100,000 people in Siti with emergency assistance that has included distributing animal feed and rehabilitating water holes. We have also been helping families bury their dead animals and trucking in water for more than 17,500 people. In other drought-hit regions of the country—Afar and Oromia—we have also been trucking in water, vaccinating animals to ensure their health during this hard time, and providing some households with cash so they can buy the essentials they need.

We have reached more than 160,000 people with the emergency aid, but our goal is to help 777,000 people. 


Ethiopians aren’t the only ones struggling in the face of extreme weather. Millions of other across the globe are now seeing conditions deteriorate as El Ñino makes droughts worse in their countries—and brings floods to other places. Donate now to help us assist those enduring climate-related weather crises.

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