Bilisuma school in Oromia region in Ethiopia copy

Ethiopia: Water shortages destabilize region

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We became Humanity & Inclusion on 1/24/2018

Children gathered at the Bilisuma school in the Oromia region of Ethiopia.

A major food crisis triggered by drought and conflict is affecting more than 20 million people in East Africa. In Ethiopia, drought is greatly affecting the region, putting nearly 5.6 million people in dire need of aid. Handicap International is working to ensure that vulnerable people in Ethiopia–older people, people with disabilities, and pregnant women–have access to humanitarian aid. Our teams are providing mobility aids, raising awareness of the risks of domestic and sexual abuse, among other actions. Fabrice Vandeputte, Handicap International’s program head in Ethiopia explains: 

The drought in eastern and south-eastern Ethiopia mostly affects people who are forced by water shortages to move their livestock–cows and sheep–elsewhere, creating tension between villagers who, overnight, have to share the same land and water points. 

Vulnerable children 

Many schools close because of water shortages. Even if they do stay open, many children don’t go because they have to do domestic tasks such as fetching water. This makes children more vulnerable and exposed to domestic and sexual violence. 

Our teams are raising awareness of these dangers by visiting schools and sharing information with students. We also work in coordination with the police, the justice department, and health facilities to effectively manage cases of abuse and violence.

Basic necessities: water and food 

It can take hours to reach a well. The closest water point to the Bilisuma school–which I visited a few days ago–is six miles away. Our teams are working to make sure that water points and sanitary facilities are accessible to people with reduced mobility. 

Food is also in short supply because harvests are bad in some parts of eastern Ethiopia. And the short rainy season–which usually starts in early March–hasn’t arrived yet. This rain is vital for the next crops. Some 5.5 million people–5% of Ethiopia’s population–are affected by the food crisis.

When villagers receive drought-resistant seeds, Handicap International is making sure that people with disabilities are included in the distributions.  We also supply crutches, wheelchairs, and other mobility devices, so that people with disabilities can move around and work in the fields.

If there’s a risk of flooding, HI staffers use flags to alert people with hearing impairments, making them aware of the dangers.

Refugee camps

Another factor specific to Ethiopia is the presence of hundreds of thousands of refugees who are fleeing civil war and famine, mostly from South Sudan, Eritrea, and Somalia.

The region of Gambella–in western Ethiopia–is not affected by drought, but currently welcomes more than 250,000 South Sudanese refugees fleeing war and famine. Beginning in May, our teams will start providing stimulation physical therapy for severely malnourished children under the age of five to prevent them from suffering developmental delays and the onset of permanent disabilities.

Handicap International in Ethiopia

Since 1986, Handicap International has worked in Ethiopia to improve the quality of and access to physical rehabilitation and orthopedic-fitting services, livelihoods facilities for families of children with disabilities, and assistance for refugees and displaced people. Learn more about our work in Ethiopia.