When Hawa Hamud told us she had “lost everything”, we asked what exactly had been taken from her. “50 camels, 20 goats” she said.
I immediately realized that none of the people we met at Fedeto camp would actually be at a much better place even if there was no drought.
There are currently 10,000 men, women and children at this facility for internally displaced people.
There is a school, a medical unit and a food storage. But that’s about it.
And according to the camp’s water supply expert, only 10 people work here.
Fedeto is 75km from Dire Dawa.
There’s no road. The only way to reach this forgotten place – is if you know someone who knows the way.
And we knew Mohammed.
In order to be granted access to drought-affected areas, we were asked to fly to Jigjiga, the capital of Ethiopia’s Somali region, and meet the local government representative, Engineer Edris.
Edris told us we were wasting our time – there was no way we would be able to film film everything in such a short window – we had only two days.
Not sure if it was a curse, or just his knowledge of the region, but in either case we shook hands with him and respectfully decided to ignore his words.
A really long journey
The trip for this particular story is representative of what we have been experiencing since we first imagined this project in Ethiopia.
It has been long, complicated and bureaucratic. But totally worth it.
Edris gave us the contact details of Mr Abdulakhir, some sort of local administrator.
After driving 150 kilometers, Abdulakhir made us wait for another hour. And he showed up telling us we were late.
After much deliberation, he agreed to put us in touch with Mohammed Abdi Colombi, the water supply expert, who was going to show us the way.
“Drive straight ahead for 12 kilometers, you will find a police station, call Colombi then.”
It took us 11 hours to get to Fecondo from Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. But, once again, traveling here was the easy part.
The worst drought in 50 years
Sitti Zone was one of the worst affected by the series of failed rainy seasons that killed nearly 90% of the crops in certain areas – and 1 million livestock.
Sitti is located in Ethiopia’s Somali region – which explains the amount of people we had to meet to be able to film here.
Some say the central government in Addis has limited authority around in Somali. And, to some extent, that seemed to explain a lot.
Addis’ strategy to grant exceptional power to the regional government is easily explained – this region has been disputed with Somalia for years and could not be kept as part of Ethiopia if there wasn’t enough people in loco to defend he territory.
Culturally, it is another country.
It is administered through a system of elders and casts. And it is crazy bureaucratic – even by African (and Ethiopian) standards.
Despite having spoken to three different people and having two different documents authorizing us to film – we were detained in Dire Dawa, and expelled from the city.
The UN says El Nino – as well as climate change – have had a devastating impact and increased the frequency and ferocity of natural disasters such as the drought in Ethiopia.
Now flash floods have added to the problem and the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation is appealing for $3 million by September to help Ethiopians recover.
Reports from Ethiopia’s National Flood Task Force show that close to 690,000 people are affected.
The government – which was initially criticized for taking too long to ask for international help – has finally recognized it won’t be able to deal with the crisis alone and launched a plea for $1.4 billion in aid.
Meanwhile those we met in Sitti Zone continue to hope for better days. And a chance to go on with the lives they once knew.