In-depth: Surviving disaster

HORN OF AFRICA: Introduction

Photo: IRIN
The drought and the livestock ban has had a devastating effect in many parts of the Horn of Africa
NAIROBI, 6 November 2000 (IRIN) - Rains have at last fallen in drought-stricken southeastern Ethiopia, greening up pastures which have been dry in some areas for almost three years. But in the Ethiopian Somali Region, many people say they have lost too much to fully recover. Temporary camps for the displaced have mushroomed since the beginning of the year around the main towns in the harsh, desert-savannah environment, and food aid continues to support destitute pastoralists.

Life may be tough surviving the indignities of the camps, but few people have plans to return home. Humanitarian agencies say assistance may have to continue for some time. So what future lies ahead for these people who have watched family members die of hunger and disease, and lost whole herds of livestock?

Starting from Gode, southeastern Ethiopia - where the epicentre of the regional drought hit crisis proportions - IRIN spoke to people affected by the drought and the international humanitarian intervention. In visits to Gode, Kebre Dehar, Kelafo and Warder in the Ogaden area of the Ethiopia Somali Region, people spoke about what they lost and how they survived: displacement, disease and hunger, loss of livelihood, drought and survival, and daily life in the Somali Region of Ethiopia. Their disaster and the response to it are the subject of this IRIN humanitarian webspecial.

Photo: UN
Bronek Szynalski
What happened:

With 355 malnutrition-related deaths in Gode in March 2000, a major international intervention was launched in the capital of the Ogaden region. By July, the number of such deaths had reduced to 100. Catherine Bertini, the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy warned in October that while a regional crisis had been averted by timely humanitarian action, it was far from over. Millions of people were still at risk, she said in her report to the Secretary-General on the drought in the Horn of Africa. Humanitarian needs were likely to continue into 2001 and the affects of the drought were still biting hard in pastoralist areas.

And just as the humanitarian relief operation seemed to be making progress, another disaster hit the recovering pastoralists: due to Rift Valley Fever, the Gulf States slapped a ban on all livestock imports from the Horn of Africa region from October. Many of those who had livestock left, found they were now unable to sell it.

The drought and the livestock ban has had a devastating effect on communities in many parts of the Horn of Africa, and left a heavy burden on the entire Ethiopian Somali Region. The experiences of people visited in a 10-day period in November 2000 are intended to reflect and highlight the hardship and endurance of all the drought-affected, and invite debate on the many issues related to helping them.