We arrived in clouds of sand as our two trucks parked up outside the empty school building in Afar, north-east Ethiopia. My first thought on getting out of the truck was ‘how can anyone survive here?’
Let it rain
A blog from a staff member who went to Ethiopia.
One of the local women walking with her children through their village in Afar, Ethiopia, where Tearfund are Working with Friendship Support Association (FSA).
We stood in the baking heat, surrounded by sand and dust as far as the eye could see. Frequently dust devils would send up columns of sand that would cake our hair, faces and clothes, stopping us from being able to do anything. The landscape was so inhospitable that it was clear that life had to be incredibly difficult here, under these almost unbearable conditions.
We soon attracted a crowd of women, children and men who seemed to just appear out of the landscape. We all huddled under the one tree looking and smiling shyly at each other.
Even now what I still struggle to fully comprehend is that this community had no water. Not even a well, far less running water. That most basic human physical need was missing. And you could see the impact everywhere. On the land around us, on the livestock who were clearly dying from famine – and on the people right here in front of us.
The contrast was very clear to another village we visited in Afar that had a solar powered borehole installed. The kids there were exactly as you would expect them to be - running about, doing each other’s hair, touching our watches and other curious objects, fascinated and scared by the metal crown on one of my back teeth. But here the kids looked at us and were completely listless. The only thing that sparked any interest was showing them photos of themselves. As a mother of two small rowdy children who lack for nothing, I had to keep the tears back looking at these children. Their stillness and quietness just made me feel heartsore for each and every one of them.
Every single night – every single night – the women here have to walk for up to ten hours to get water for their family. They have to go at night as it is too hot during the day, but the walk is dangerous as they risk being attacked by wild animals. For me, just the act of having to walk so far and for so long every single day to access the most basic human requirement is unimaginable. Even then they are not able to carry enough water to meet all their daily needs - and they live in the searing heat. What a difference a well would make here.
Orbisa and five of her children in a dried up riverbed in their village in Afar, Ethiopia.
It wasn’t always like that for this community. It is only in the last five years that water shortages have become so acute due to the impact of climate change. Families here used to see more rain, there was more greenery, their livestock had access to water and food, the dry riverbed only a 15 minute walk away provided them with water. Now the rains only come once a year and for a shorter period of time.
When we asked one mother, Orbisa, if she knew why the rains had changed she replied ‘only God knows’. We discussed this later as a team and felt convicted because although Orbisa did not know about climate change, we knew that we in the West have all had a part to play in those rains no longer falling.
I saw for myself in Afar that climate change hits the poorest people hardest and I will never forget those I met who have to walk for hours every day just to access water for their families to drink. Even still, it isn’t enough and many go to bed thirsty. As the effects of climate change worsen, it will become ever harder to eradicate poverty, which is why Tearfund campaigns to end climate change. If you care about ending poverty then you care about ending climate change. Pray today that it ends. And take action now, as an individual or as a church, to make a difference and show your love for your neighbours around the world.
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