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Planning ahead saves lives in Ethiopia

Ethiopia, July 31, 2011

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Building reservoirs to store water was one way Mercy Corps helped Ethiopian families prepare for the drought that's currently gripping the region. Photo: Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps

Though it’s only been in the headlines in the United Kingdom and United States for the past few weeks, Mercy Corps’ team in Ethiopia saw the crisis that’s gripping East Africa coming months ago.

Back in November last year, when the rains that local people in Ethiopia’s southeast corner rely on failed to appear, our team began gearing up for the emergency they feared would unfold.

Dominic Graham — Mercy Corps Country Director for Ethiopia — told me this weekend that, thanks to that early recognition of the situation, Mercy Corps has already helped more than 600,000 people in the country deal with the consequences of the drought, but that there’s still much to be done:

“It normally rains twice a year; when the rains failed back in November last year, we knew there was going to be a problem. Our teams were already working with communities in the southeast, and we knew that without the rains there would be a poor harvest at best, water would become increasingly scarce and the cattle that communities there rely on would start to weaken and die as pastureland dried out. So we began responding straight away trucking in emergency water, nutrition rations and help for those families who needed it most.

“But just as importantly, we planned ahead. We knew that if the next rains failed, the situation would become worse — and that, without more help, communities would remain constantly at risk from the effects of drought. So we began tackling the longer term problems too: across the past 10 months we’ve repaired water holes and reservoirs, looked for ways to store water more effectively and helped farmers with irrigation systems, storing their seeds and getting the most from their livestock. We’ve also set up community systems to track and treat malnutrition in children and the most vulnerable.

“The situation we’re seeing now after the second rains — which were due in May — failed too, is very tough. We’ve already helped more than half a million people, but there’s much more still to be done. Water supplies across the region are drying up and cattle herds dying, leaving their owners with no source of income. With the next rains not due until October, things are likely to get worse over the coming weeks.

“We’re staying focused on giving communities and families the support they need to keep their lives on track, giving them the help they need right now, but in the future too. Emergency camps are full across the Horn of Africa; we’re doing everything we can to help people survive and cope with the impact of the drought in their own environment.

"The work we’ve done so far is important and it's had real impact, but this crisis is clearly far from over.”