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Norwich priest sees climate change impact in Ethiopia

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Like many others, I have been impressed and encouraged by the school strikes and the passion and urgency of young people raising awareness of the climate emergency. The climate emergency can seem remote; I am aware that our climate is changing, but it has little impact on my day to day life. I am grateful to Christian Aid for enabling me to see first-hand the way in which climate change is already devastating lives in Ethiopia.

We travelled to Ethiopia at the beginning of October, where we met the dedicated and impressive staff of Christian Aid Ethiopia. Our time was spent in some of the most remote and isolated areas in the South Eastern Peoples Region, close to the border with Kenya.

My chief impressions of the journey south were the numbers of people, mostly women and children, spending large parts of each day collecting water from rivers. At every stage of our journey, we passed children of around nine or older carrying the ubiquitous 20-litre yellow jerry cans. Collecting water requires significant amounts of time, often meaning children cannot attend school. More shocking still were the people digging down into dried riverbeds to find their daily water. Eighty per cent of people in Ethiopia have no access to safe, clean drinking water.

One day saw us journeying out into a desert region. The people were tribal and kept herds of cattle and goats which provided food and an income. Historically the people lived with a 10-year cycle of drought, but now the droughts come every two to three years. A particularly severe drought lasting 1.5 years exacerbated by the El Nino effect, occurred in 2016/17.

To provide water, Christian Aid and their partners Action for Development have worked with local groups to provide water collections systems. Villagers set up Water Management groups and built a large catchment area to catch rain in the rainy season. Water drains down the slope of the catchment area into a 250,000-litre cistern, from where it can be hand-pumped into jerry cans for use in homes. The pumps are restricted to those in the village.

Close by, a large barn has been constructed by the villagers to store fodder for the cattle. As the rains become more and more unpredictable, the grazing is scarce, and a new invasive weed unpalatable to livestock smothers the growth of grass when the rains come. It is harder and harder to find grazing, and men and boys are taking their cattle further away to feed them. Competition for the scarce grazing inevitably leads to conflict. The fodder is used for the milking cows and ploughing oxen which are left in the villages with the women and children to provide food. The government is providing drought-resistant Sudan grass seed which is planted in hand cleared areas and harvested for fodder.

Life is very hard. The 2016/17 drought saw hundreds of thousands of animals lost, forcing their owners to survive on government handouts. People are immensely grateful for the support offered by Christian Aid and AFD, but also very concerned for the communities that have not yet benefited. Good practice is already spreading though, with other communities storing fodder to provide for their animals when there is no grass.

We asked what the farmers would say to the people causing climate change, and they responded: “We are human beings. We are dying due to your impact. Our children are dying. Our livestock is dying.  While we wait for the irrigation system we are dying. We are human beings. Please consider your impact on us pastoralists.”

Fiona will be sharing more about her trip at a Christian Aid Climate Justice event at St Luke’s in Norwich on Saturday 14 March. Please book a free ticket here.