Worsening Ethiopian drought threatens to end nomadic lifestyle

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People gather prior to a food distribution at the Internally displaced person camp (IDP) of Farburo in Gode, near Kebri Dahar, southeastern Ethiopia, on January 27, 2018. (AFP)
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People gather prior to a food distribution at the Internally displaced person camp (IDP) of Farburo in Gode, near Kebri Dahar, southeastern Ethiopia, on January 27, 2018. (AFP)
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Picture taken on January 27, 2018 shows the Dabafayed Resettlement project for Internally displaced person (IDP) in Gode, near Kebri Dahar, southeastern Ethiopia. (AFP)
Updated 13 February 2018

Worsening Ethiopian drought threatens to end nomadic lifestyle

DABAFAYED, Ethiopia: Down a sandy track past a desiccated animal carcass lies a cluster of half-built huts that Ethiopia’s government and aid agencies hope will blunt the worsening toll of repeated droughts.
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.”

Former Indian PM Vajpayee dies after prolonged illness

Updated 46 min 39 sec ago

Former Indian PM Vajpayee dies after prolonged illness

NEW DELHI: Former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has died after a prolonged illness. He was 93.
Vajpayee was a Hindu nationalist who in 1998 ordered nuclear weapons tests that stoked fears of atomic war with rival Pakistan. But he later launched a groundbreaking peace process with Islamabad.
That was not the only way in which Vajpayee seemed a political contradiction. He was a moderate leader of an often-strident Hindu nationalist movement, and a lifelong poet who revered nature but who oversaw India’s growth into a swaggering regional economic power.
Vajpayee’s supporters saw him as a skilled politician. Critics accused him and his party of stoking public fears of India’s large Muslim minority. Both sides agreed he was that most rare thing in Indian politics: a man untainted by corruption scandals.


Pakistan Invites Vajpayee to Regional Summit

Publication Date: 
Sun, 2003-09-21 03:00

ISLAMABAD, 21 September 2003 — Pakistan said yesterday it had formally invited Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to a regional summit in Islamabad in January.

The invitation was handed over to the Indian deputy ambassador in Islamabad on behalf of Pakistani Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali, the Foreign Office said.

“The letter of invitation from the prime minister was delivered by Director General (South Asia) to the Indian deputy high commissioner at the Foreign Office today,” the office said. A summit of the seven-nation South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) will be held in the Pakistani capital on Jan. 4-6.

The summit was originally planned for January this year, but was postponed after India declined to attend because of tension with Pakistan over the disputed Kashmir region.

The invitation came after Pakistani Foreign Minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri dropped a plan to visit New Delhi to deliver an invitation after India said his journey was not necessary.

India has indicated that Vajpayee will attend the summit but Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha said recently the meeting would not necessarily provide a forum for bilateral talks between Pakistan and India.

The nuclear-armed South Asian rivals have fought two of their three wars since independence over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir and came close to a fourth in 2002.

Relations have thawed slightly since Vajpayee issued a call for talks in April, but attacks by separatist rebels in Indian-administered Kashmir, who India says are backed by Pakistan, have undermined chances of peace talks.

Pakistan denies the accusation that it is stoking the 14-year rebellion in Indian Kashmir, saying it only provides political, moral and diplomatic support to what it calls a legitimate Kashmiri freedom movement.

The other members of the SAARC are Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Both India and Pakistan have pledged to move toward long-suspended dialogue but no dates have been set. The last formal talks were held in July 2001 at Agra in India.

Ambassadorial and transport links were severed by India after it blamed Pakistani-based militants for a fatal gun attack on its Parliament. Nine people and the five gunmen were killed in the December 2001 attack.

In Indian-administered Kashmir, troops killed six suspected militants in a gunbattle yesterday. The battle in the Shopian area south of Kashmir’s biggest city Srinagar began after troops combing the area challenged a group of rebels, a police spokesman said. Three soldiers were also injured in the incident.

Police said the six belonged to the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba group. There was no independent confirmation of that.

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Vajpayee Meets Kashmir Leaders

Nilofar Suhrawardy • Agencies
Publication Date: 
Sat, 2004-01-24 03:00

NEW DELHI, 24 January 2004 — Kashmiri separatists paid a courtesy call on Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee here yesterday evening, the first ever meeting between an Indian premier and separatists.

The meeting between five moderate members of Kashmir’s main separatist group the All Parties Hurriyat Conference and Vajpayee at his residence here lasted around 40 minutes, reporters at the scene said.

The meeting follows substantive talks on Thursday between the Hurriyat moderates and Vajpayee’s deputy, Lal Krishna Advani.

Omar Farooq, one of the five separatist leaders, overnight told the Press Trust of India that the delegation would convey the Hurriyat’s “complete support” to Vajpayee’s efforts to improve ties with Pakistan.

“We are going to tell Vajpayee that the beginning he has made in Islamabad, the entire leadership in Kashmir, the people in Kashmir are with the process,” he said.

“We intend to see that this dialogue process is taken forward so that even at the India-Pakistan level things will move forward because that does have a direct impact on the situation in the state,” he said.

During the icebreaking talks Thursday, Advani and the separatists agreed that violence from all sides must end and said the second round of negotiations will be held in March.

Advani also said there would be a “rapid review” of the cases of political prisoners.

After Thursday’s talks, Farooq said India may halt security operations in Kashmir by early next month, coinciding with the festival of Eid Al-Adha.

That meeting marked the first time the separatists and the government had held such high-level talks and came only two weeks after nuclear rivals India and Pakistan agreed to resume discussions next month on a host of disputes, including Kashmir, the trigger of two of their three wars.

Kashmir analyst Tahir Mohiudin said the talks had “begun on a satisfactory note”.

“For the first time India has agreed to hold step-by-step talks to resolve the dispute of Kashmir,” he said, adding that Advani’s assurance on reviewing cases of detainees “was a big concession”.

However, militants yesterday rejected calls for an end to violence.

“We will not silence our guns against Indian troops and their paid agents,” Jamiat-ul-Mujahedeen’s field commander Gen. Mohammed Umar said in a statement circulated among local newspaper offices.

Jamiat is one of a dozen rebel groups fighting Indian troops in Kashmir. It wants to merge Kashmir with neighboring Pakistan, which along with India holds the region in parts, though both claim it in full.

Umar said the group would continue fighting Indian troops “until we achieve our goal of forcing India out of Kashmir.”

Before the talks Jamiat had threatened the moderates with a “bad end” if they “bowed” before India.

“It (Thursday’s meeting) has been a total flop show,” said Syed Ali Geelani, head of the Hurriyat’s hard-line faction. “Nothing has emerged out of these talks,” he told AFP.

Geelani, who has the backing of militants in the region, where Indian officials say more than 40,000 people have been killed in the revolt, also defended the violence by Kashmiri rebels.

Meanwhile, suspected militants killed four people, including a pro-India political worker while Indian troops shot dead a militant, police said yesterday.

Maqbool Jan, a worker of pro-India political group Awami League, was shot dead by suspected militants in the town of Bandipora in north Kashmir yesterday, a police spokesman said.

Jan was close to Usman Majeed, a militant-turned-lawmaker from the area.

The Awami League was formed in 1995 by former militants, who changed sides and worked with Indian troops to counter Kashmir insurgency.

They have been on the hit list of militants fighting to secede Kashmir from India and join it with neighboring Pakistan or remain independent.

Suspected militants overnight shot dead a retired police inspector in the village of Kawachak in northern Baramulla district, of which Bandipora is an important town.

Police said the body of a Muslim youth was recovered in the southern district of Pulwama yesterday. “The body had slit marks on the throat,” a police spokesman said, and put the blame on rebels for the killing.

Another Muslim was also killed by suspected militants in the same district, police said, adding a rebel was shot dead by security forces during a gunfight in Poonch district, further south.

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