Ethiopia's worst drought in over 30 years wreaks havoc – Irish Times

From a dirt road overlooking the valley the landscape looks more like an abandoned quarry than what it is: the single source of sustenance for a community of thousands.

The parched, dusty hills are a patchwork of greys and browns. Farmers steer oxen-drawn ploughs through the small fields, their blades clinking each time they strike yet another stone.

Here in the Ingal mountains that straddle the border with Eritrea, the effects of Ethiopia’s worst drought in more than 30 years are written into the landscape.

The failure of both of the main rainy seasons last year had a devastating effect on an area where virtually every family lives off the land.

It has left almost every household dependent on food parcels from the Ethiopian government and, by prompting many young men to conclude they must leave, it has caused a surge in the number attempting long and dangerous journeys, primarily to Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Europe, in search of work.

Of 962 households in the village of Agere Lokema, 40km from Adigrat, 286 are headed by women.

“We women would migrate as well if we thought we could find work,” says Abeba Teklehaymanot, whose husband’s departure for the Middle East left her looking after their children and half hectare of land.

At night, when the children sleep and the temperature dips, Teklehaymanot joins teams of locals working to irrigate land – part of a project, co-run by Trócaire, aimed at diverting water for use by the community.

Further down the valley, the work is beginning to bear fruit: a series of stone and wire-mesh dams has trapped water and increased soil fertility, allowing livestock to feed and landless families to plant crops.

Recalling a sequence that began with the failure of the harvest and the gradual depletion of families’ food reserves, Teklehaymanot says it was the elderly who first felt the effects of the drought. Then she noticed the animals weaken.

‘Women suffer’

“We used to have a lot of cattle but, because of the drought, there are far less,” she says. Before long the flow of outward traffic had increased.

Men would leave with the hope of sending money home, but it was always a long-term and dubious bet, Teklehaymanot says firmly, her frustration plain.

“The husbands leaving is making the women suffer more. It’s not making anything better.”

The Tigray region of northern Ethiopia is one of the most drought-prone in the country.

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