Worsening Ethiopian drought threatens to end nomadic lifestyle
Worsening Ethiopian drought threatens to end nomadic lifestyle
The soon-to-be village of Dabafayed is intended as a new, permanent home for once-nomadic herders made destitute by the country’s back-to-back droughts.
The lifestyle change is drastic but necessary, officials say.
“We can’t talk about a normal state of affairs anymore when drought has become almost perennial,” said Achim Steiner, head of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), during a recent visit to the resettlement site.
If predictions prove correct, Ethiopia will soon face its fourth consecutive year of drought, with the lack of rain hitting pastoralist herders worst.
Robust responses by Ethiopia’s government and foreign aid agencies, and the absence of war, have prevented a repeat of the disastrous famines of the 1970s and 1980s that killed hundreds of thousands.
Ethiopian officials argue the policy of relocating rural communities to areas closer to roads, clinics and schools — known as “villagization” — drives development, but rights groups say it is forced displacement designed to better control the population.
With competing humanitarian emergency demands the UN and aid agencies are seeking strategies to enable drought-prone areas, such as the southeastern Somali region where Dabafayed is located, to weather the months when water cannot be found.
Though they have trekked this arid region with their livestock for generations, some ethnic Somali herders say they are ready to settle down rather than face what seems like drought without end.
“You can count on the government, and the NGOs are there giving us assistance,” said Halima Hussein, a resident of a displaced persons camp for herders such as herself whose animals have died of thirst.
“It will be at least better than staying in the bush and herding animals.”
Somali herders can lose everything during drought: from their wealth in the form of animals, to their portable homes, which need pack animals to carry them.
Halima experienced all of this. “We lost our animals. Where will I go back to?” she asked, waiting in line with dozens of other women to draw water from a borehole.
Ethiopia is drought-prone but the Somali region has been badly affected in recent years, forcing aid agencies to last year seek $1.4 billion (1.1 billion euros) to respond to the water shortage.
Donors pledged all but a fifth of the money asked, but Ethiopia’s humanitarian situation worsened when fighting intensified last September between the Somalis and Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, the Oromos, killing hundreds and leaving a million homeless.
The UN believes it will need $895 million to respond to this year’s drought and Ethiopia’s parliament this month chipped in five billion birr ($182.7 million, 148.9 euros) for disaster response, state media reported.
These emergency funds pay for food, water and fodder that keeps people and animals alive, but officials say it ultimately does little to alleviate the privation of drought-hit nomads.
“The climate is changing, there’s more people in this region, and new ways of making a livelihood are going to be needed if we’re going to find a way through this problem,” said Mark Lowcock, the UN’s top aid official.
The Somali region is desperately poor, lacking the economic dynamism of other parts of Ethiopia. The UN says it will assist resettled herders to become farmers.
More than four million people are estimated to live across Ethiopia’s Somali region.
Aid workers are trying not only to get emergency food to hungry people but to come up with ways to prevent them from starving in the first place.
Beyond just cushioning people from future droughts, the UN’s Ethiopia head Ahunna Eziakonwa-Onochie said the strategy is to offer services such as schools to nomadic communities that were otherwise hard to reach.
“How do we turn a crisis into an opportunity?” Eziakonwa-Onochie said.
“Now that they are forced, actually by the circumstances... into sedentary kinds of lives, we start to see that opportunity to provide education in a more consistent way for the kids.”
The nomadic herder lifestyle is common across Africa and has long defied government attempts to change it.
But Ethiopia spends more time and money exerting control over its people than most, and officials say they believe they can reshape Somali herders.
“If we give pastoralists water and they don’t have to go 50, 100 kilometers to find it, is that not good?” said Anwar Ali, humanitarian adviser to the Somali regional state.
“We’re not changing the nomadic lifestyle, we are just improving it.”
Halima is among those eligible to live permanently in Dabafayed. Despite knowing no other life but the nomad’s before the drought took it all away, she’s ready for the change.
“I’m not going anywhere, I don’t have any place to go,” she said. “This will be my permanent arrangement.”
US sanctions on Iran threaten vital Afghanistan trade project
- Chabahar is among a number of projects of transport and energy networks projects designed to boost Afghanistan’s trade
- After 17 years of US-led invasion to oust the Taliban from power, Afghanistan remains one of the world’s poorest countries, highly dependent on foreign aid
WASHINGTON/KABUL: US President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear accord and re-impose sanctions on Tehran threatens to derail a project to help build Afghanistan’s economy, endangering a key goal of the US strategy to end America’s longest war.
The Indian-backed Chabahar port complex in Iran is being developed as part of a new transportation corridor for land-locked Afghanistan that could potentially open the way for millions of dollars in trade and cut its dependence on Pakistan, its sometimes-hostile neighbor.
Building Afghanistan’s economy would also slash Kabul’s dependence on foreign aid and put a major dent in the illicit opium trade, the Taliban’s main revenue source.
But Trump’s decision to re-impose sanctions on Iran and penalize financial institutions for doing business with Tehran is clouding Chabahar’s viability as banks, nervous they could be hit with crippling penalties, pull back from financing.
“President Trump’s decision has brought us back to the drawing board and we will have to renegotiate terms and conditions on using Chabahar,” a senior Indian diplomat said. “It is a route that can change the way India-Iran-Afghanistan do business, but for now everything is in a state of uncertainty.”
The White House did not respond to requests for comment.
Launched in 2016, the joint Iran-India-Afghanistan Chabahar project already was facing holdups. It has yet to see significant traffic apart from some containers of donated wheat from India, and the first shipments of Afghan dried fruit to India are not expected before July.
At least three contracts to build infrastructure at the port now have been delayed, with two Chinese companies and a Finnish group left hanging while bankers seek clarity from Washington before approving guarantees, a person close to the project said.
In addition, Afghan traders, who were hoping for an alternative to Pakistan’s port of Karachi, now find themselves cut off from funding and forced to rely on the traditional hawala money transfer system, which is insufficient on its own to transform an economy. Hawala is a trust-based system commonly used in Afghanistan that involves the movement of funds between agents in different countries.
“We know our correspondent banks would not let us pay for imports coming through that port,” said a senior executive at one major Afghan lender.
Chabahar is among a number of projects of transport and energy networks projects designed to boost Afghanistan’s trade and lay the foundations for a mining industry capable of exploiting its billions of dollars in untapped mineral reserves.
Bypassing the border with Pakistan, which last year was closed for some 50 days over various disputes, Chabahar is seen as a way for Afghanistan to consolidate its relationships with India and other regional powers.
“The only way to get India more involved” in Afghanistan’s economic development “is through Chabahar,” said Barnett Rubin, an expert with New York University’s Center for International Cooperation and a former adviser to the State Department and the United Nations. “Our Iran policy is headed for a train wreck with our Afghanistan policy.”
Some 17 years after the US-led invasion to oust the Taliban from power, Afghanistan remains one of the world’s poorest countries, highly dependent on foreign aid.
Apart from illegal opium exports estimated at some $2 billion by the International Monetary Fund, its main products are dried and fresh fruits, and carpets, none of which amount to more than a fraction of the value of the drugs trade.
Initially, Afghanistan would export agricultural produce – such as pomegranates and grapes — through Chabahar, utilizing a section of a road India paid for and then an extension to the Iranian border that New Delhi built, experts said.
Eventually, those exports could expand to mineral resources, something Trump has expressed an interest in gaining for US firms. For India, this would mean using a planned railroad to Chabahar to export iron ore from two tracts at the Hajjigak iron mine in central Afghanistan that it won the rights to exploit, the experts said.
“The economic piece is really important to get a glimmer of hope for Afghanistan to move beyond a land-locked, poppy-based economy. We are now shooting that in the head,” said Thomas Lynch, a National Defense University expert and a former US Army officer who advised the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on South Asia policy.
“There is no other legitimate and reliable way to do that. You can’t do it by air, you can’t do it through Pakistan because they just extort for everything they do,” said Lynch. “The lifeline runs through Chabahar.”
In addition, by hindering the development of Chabahar, the United States will leave Afghanistan dependent on Pakistan, historically its main trade partner and outlet to the world.
That would undermine another Trump goal of pressuring Islamabad to shutter Afghan insurgent sanctuaries on its side of the border and force the militants into peace talks.
Afghan officials have lobbied hard for exemptions to the sanctions for Afghan companies operating through Chabahar without success and are waiting for clarity from Washington.
“Now the uncertainty is that we don’t know what’s going to happen with Chabahar,” said Atiqullah Nusrat, Chief Executive of the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “We haven’t heard anything so we have to wait and see what happens.”