KELAFO: Mohammed Hassan Gureh has made up his mind: He’s going to sell the last of his goats and leave his village to find a new life.
Like many herders in the east of Ethiopia, he has been forced to give up his nomadic existence after seeing his livestock decimated by drought.
The 32-year-old says he can no longer bear seeing his animals die. Out of a herd of 250 goats, only 35 are left.
And in his village of El Gel, in a corner of the Somali region of Ethiopia not far from the border with Somalia, two-thirds of the animals have been wiped out.
Gureh, like other nomadic herders across the Horn of Africa, has been waiting desperately for more than two years for rains that have not come.
The last five rainy seasons since the end of 2020 have failed, triggering the worst drought in four decades in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya. And the next rainy season, from March to May, is also expected to be below average.
According to the UN, drought has plunged 12 million people into “acute food insecurity” in Ethiopia alone, where a deadly conflict has also ravaged the north of the country.
More than 4.5 million livestock have died since 2021 and another 30 million “weakened and emaciated” animals are at risk, the UN’s humanitarian agency OCHA said in a January 18 report.
Gureh waited and prayed, but he has had to face the grim reality. “There is no sign of improvement. I think the drought will continue and get worse over time.” So he has decided to sell his goats before it is too late.
With the small amount of money he’ll make from a sale, he plans to leave El Gel and head to the nearby town of K’elafo, hoping he will finally be able to support his wife, his four children, his blind father and his crippled mother.
His plans are vague: He will probably try to eke out a living as a small-time trader selling charcoal, firewood or incense.
“I also want to start adult education and develop my skills in order to find employment opportunities,” he says.
“It’s a very difficult decision to move from a life as a goatherd to a new way of life that I don’t know ... But I have no other option.”