After several seasons passed without any form of rain, Malicha Guyo (66) tried all he could to keep his cows alive by feeding them hay. But he did not succeed as his savings could not support a herd of 130 cows. The La Niña–induced drought in Ethiopia further resulted in dried ponds and pasturelands, worsening the situation at his village.
“I took all my cows to a nearby district called Miyo [situated] about 50 miles from my village. I found the same situation there and immediately returned,” explains Guyo, a pastoralist and community leader based in Ego village in the Borena zone of Oromia region, Ethiopia.
“The cows started dying on the road. Altogether I lost 130 cows. I also lost 30 of my 40 goats because of the drought. Now I am left with 10 goats,” he says. To date, 10 000 cows died, and more continue to die in his village, which mainly consists of pastoralists.
Food hard to come by
The drought has affected his family’s food security and livelihood as they sold the cow meat to generate an income. But the cows did not only provide an income, the livestock sustained their livelihoods through milk and meat. “Now we only eat once a day. We just mix water and wheat flour and put it on the fire to bake. That is our one meal of the day. And that’s not even available every day,” says Guyo.
With two wives, four grandchildren and a daughter-in-law living in his compound, a sack of wheat flour provided by the government on a monthly basis is inadequate for such a large family. When speaking to HelpAge, a global network of organisations working for the rights of older people, other pastoralists living in the Borena zone shared similar sentiments to Guyo.
“If we don’t get food support, there will be no question that we could die just like our cows did,” says pastoralist Aba Boru Berchi (68), who has four cows with calves. “Most of my cows died just three months after the drought hit.”
The most severe drought
Over 286 000 people in Ethiopia have been displaced since April as a result of seeking access to water, pasture and humanitarian aid. A report released this month by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), has described the situation as the “most severe La Niña-induced droughts in the last forty years”.
There has been a lack of rain during four consecutive rainy seasons from late 2020, negatively impacting livestock-based livelihoods, increasing food insecurity and malnutrition.
“Between October 2021 and mid-April 2022, more than 344 000 people have been displaced in search of water, pasture, and assistance, including 175 000 people in Somali region and 139 000 people in southern Oromia region,” stated the report.
How La Niña works
La Niña-induced droughts are the results of a decrease in below-average rainfall during the rainy season. In such instances, the dry season is prolonged and the respective areas experience above normal temperatures.
“Climate change is amplifying the impacts of natural climate variations: human-induced warming in the western Pacific has driven a large post-1998 decline in East African rainfall, and these rainfall reductions are most prevalent during La Niña events,” wrote Kiersten Johnson from USAID Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance.
“At the same time, increasing air temperatures worsen droughts by increasing the atmosphere’s ability to pull moisture from plants and soil. Together, these influences set the stage for dangerous but predictable sequential droughts,” added Johnson.