By Kathy Mueller, Canadian Red Cross

It is normally a busy homestead. There are fences and thatched roofs which need repairing, crops which need tending to, water to be collected, and livestock to be put to work on the land.

But in the district of Kindo Koysha in southern Ethiopia, these are not normal times. Failed rains since 2015 have resulted in missed sowing seasons, depleted stockpiles of food, and an extreme shortage of water.

Adumasu Lulalu, his ever-present blue hat protecting his head from the blistering sun, frets about his family’s future as he surveys his dry pasture. Five of his cattle have died during the ongoing drought. The skeletal remains of two lie nearby. “Everything has changed,” says Adumasu. “My cattle have died. I can’t grow anything. We can’t change our clothes. Look how they are torn. Before we had good shoes, now, none. This is the truth of truths.”

At least seven rivers have gone dry in this district. Drought, which used to come every decade, is now appearing every couple of years, pushing families into deeper cycles of vulnerability.

“My crops were last full four years ago,” says Adumasu. “Since then, there has been almost nothing. It comes and goes.”

The lanky farmer stands at his fence, watching for his two daughters who have gone to collect grass. It is something the girls have done as long as they can remember – even before the drought – however, “now we have to walk further,” explains Andnesh. “There is no grass nearby.”

Some of what they collect is given to the livestock. Some is sold to help pay for the ever-increasing cost of food staples.

The two sisters attend school in the afternoon where, through a government supplementary feeding programme, they receive a meal which can include maize, beans or grains. “Last year, when the rains were failing, the dropout rate at my school was 60 percent,” says Meriken Manuka Madebo, director at the Dede Kare Elementary School. “Since the feeding program was introduced, enrolment has increased and the dropout rate has fallen dramatically.”

It is sometimes the only meal of the day for Andnesh and her sister. “I am very hungry,” she says quietly. “We used to eat three times a day.”

“We are waiting for God to give us a miracle,” adds Adumasu. But even if the rains do come, it will be too late. “I have missed the sowing season. Maybe I can get water for my livestock and my family, but my cultivation is already damaged.”

The Ethiopian Red Cross Society (ERCS) began transporting water into 25 kebeles (collections of villages) in Kindo Koysha in late February. 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.

In partnership with ERCS, the Canadian Red Cross has launched a three month project which will expand the distribution of emergency water through the use of three trucks to close to 29,000 people. Fodder and medication will also be provided to approximately 175,000 livestock which are nursing their young, to provide nourishment and to ward off disease. For more information on the project or to donate to the Canadian Red Cross Africa Drought Fund, visit www.redcross.ca.

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.