By Kathy Mueller, Canadian Red Cross

Holding her youngest daughter with one hand and carrying a 20 litre jerry can full of water with the other, Abebech Ayanu struggles under its weight to make the short walk home.

With drought conditions having shifted from northern Ethiopia to the southern district of Kindo Koysha where Abebech lives with her family, she does not want to spill a drop of this precious commodity.

“The drought has affected my family, my children, my husband. My husband went to work on the road construction as a daily labourer because there is nothing to cultivate. There is no rain and there is nothing to grow,” explains Abebech, as her emaciated cattle scour the arid ground for something to eat. “Before we used to sow maize but since more than one year ago, there has been no rain, so no cultivation. Some of my livestock have already died. My children are now starving and there is no water.”

Like all droughts, this one has been a long time coming. According to farmers here, rains have been coming progressively later in the season for years and, in 2015, began failing altogether. Unable to sow crops, families have now used up their stockpiles of food. Having traded in his farming tools for a shovel as he works as a daily labourer on the local road construction, Abebech’s husband earns 35 Ethiopian Birr ($1.50 US) per day. With prices of staple food rising at the market, the money does not go far.

“To get some cereal grains from the market has become very expensive,” says Abebech. “To buy them, I want to sell my cattle but there is no market for them.”

The mother of five had returned to school to complete her grade 5 but has dropped out because of the drought. Her children too, are often kept home. “The drought has affected the health of my children quite a bit. They are not able to go to school because they are tired. Even if they go, when they return, I have nothing to feed them.”

Since late February, the Ethiopian Red Cross Society has been transporting water into numerous villages, including Abebech’s. With only one truck due to limited resources, communities are reached once every four days, sometimes longer. A family of five receives 40 litres of water, which they share with their livestock. As of 31 March, staff and volunteers had delivered 1.32 million litres of water to more than 93,000 people.

Abebech’s family has been affected by the drought. Livestock have died, crops have not been sown and she has dropped out of school. She had gone back to get her grade 5. She uses the water she receives, in part, to wash her children.

In partnership with the Ethiopian Red Cross Society, the Canadian Red Cross is also launching a three month project which will include expanding the distribution of emergency water through the use of three trucks to close to 29,000 people in Kindo Koysha, and installing 14 storage tanks.

As she washes her youngest daughter – without soap as she cannot afford it – Abebech worries about not being able to provide for her family. “Sometimes I feel like I would just like to disappear from here so that I don’t see my children suffering. But I just can’t leave them. So, I pray to God to bring better times.”

The Canadian Red Cross has launched a public appeal to help support the estimated 15 million people across eastern Africa who are facing devastating levels of food insecurity. For more information on how to donate to the Canadian Red Cross Africa Drought Fund, visit

See more on the crisis in East and Central Africa