By Kathy Mueller, Canadian Red Cross

Tadelech Gontena dreams of the day when she can again have fun. A single mother of five, she struggles under the weight of deciding where to dedicate her meagre resources during the ongoing drought in southern Ethiopia.

“I am the father and mother of this household,” says Tadelech. “My husband left us during a previous drought. So, I have to cultivate, I have to grow something to feed my family. It is very hard.” But with rains failing since 2015, she and millions of others across the southern part of the country are going hungry. Planting seasons have been missed. Stockpiles of food have been used up. Livestock, upon which many families earn a living, are dying.

Tadelech has three youngsters at home to feed. One son is in university and needs support. Another son has gone to the capital of Addis Ababa to look for work. “We are struggling to survive,” she says.

To ensure her family does survive the worsening drought, Tadelech has turned to collecting wood and grasses. She walks to the Omo river which, unlike seven rivers in her area is still flowing, and gathers what wood she can carry. It is a four hour journey; one which she makes twice a week. A bundle will sell for 10 or 20 Ethiopian Birr ($ .43 – .87 USD). With prices at the market rising, the money does not go far.

“This is my only alternative,” says Tadelech. “If I didn’t collect and sell the grass and wood, there would be nothing for us to eat.”

For water, she, and her community rely on the Ethiopian Red Cross Society, which began distributing water rations in their district of Kindo Koysha in late February. By the end of March, more than 93,000 people had benefitted from more than 1.3 million litres of potable water.

The water truck rumbles into communities once every four days or so, supplying a family of five with 40 litres of water. Runoff water is collected for the livestock. A volunteer with the Ethiopian Red Cross Society for the past two years, Tadelech helps organize the water distribution. “I have a strong will to support others,” she says. “I know the Red Cross exists in so many other countries and I know they want to support people. That’s why I wanted to become a volunteer. We have much hope on the global Red Cross. If we don’t get support, I am afraid we are going to die.”

In an effort to support and expand the Ethiopian Red Cross’ emergency water distribution, the Canadian Red Cross has launched a three month project. It will ensure more than 29,000 people in Kindo Koysha receive the globally accepted amount of water daily. Fourteen water storage tanks will be installed, and purification tablets distributed. With the outbreak of disease always a risk during a drought, local Red Cross volunteers will also be trained on promoting proper hygiene among villagers.

For more information on how you can donate to the Canadian Red Cross Africa Drought public appeal, which aims to support drought-affected people across eastern Africa, visit

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has revised its Emergency Appeal upwards to 13.7 million Swiss francs to support the Ethiopian Red Cross Society in assisting nearly 320,000 people through the end of 2017.  The expanded operations focus on health, water, sanitation and hygiene, livelihoods, nutrition and food security.

See more on the crisis in East and Central Africa