Hagayya rain failed, the Ellas dried up and Bona strikes again

The community’s worst fear becomes a reality…Bona (drought) strikes again.

Demissew Bizuwork
Bekere Huqa in Lafto Keble, Dubuluk woreda, help lift her weak cow
©UNICEF Ethiopia/2021/Demissew Bizuwerk
05 January 2022

Dubuluk, Borena Zone, Ethiopia 9 Dec 2021 – “I lost 27 cows, I don’t know how we are going to survive,” says Bekeri Huqqa, mother of 6 children, while helping her weak and bony calf to stand on its feet.  

The small village of Lafto in Dubuluk woreda (district) of the Borena zone is almost deserted. Only a few women and little children, two elderly men, sick and weak cows are left behind. The men took the cattle far away looking for water and pasture. 

When the Hagayya (the short season rain) failed to materialize in September, the village elders gathered and did their rituals, hoping and praying that the rains will come, but they didn’t. Soon, the Ellas (ponds) began to dry up.  

The community’s worst fear becomes a reality…Bona (drought) strikes again.  

One after the other, Bekeri’s cattle started to perish, actually 27 of them. Her husband and her sons had no choice but to move the rest to where they can find water and pasture. “Some people even have suicidal thoughts. But I left everything to God,” she says in despair.  

Further in the village of Lafto, cow carcasses are scattered around, an indication of how drought severely hit the Borena zone.
©UNICEF Ethiopia/2021/Demissew Bizuwerk
Further in the village of Lafto, cow carcasses are scattered around, an indication of how drought severely hit the Borena zone.

In the same village, 28 years old Dabo Jateme wonders when her husband will return with the cattle. He left days after they lost seven cows.  

“I have never seen a Bona of such magnitude,” she says. “If we don’t have our cattle how are we going make it?” she asks. 

The Borena zone of the Oromia region is prone to recurrent drought. It is common to see Bona in Borena. But lately, its frequency and intensity are increasing. A recent rapid assessment by FAO indicated a delayed start to the rainy season. This marked the third consecutive poor rainfall season resulting in loss of assets and severe food insecurity. Borena is one of the lowland areas of Ethiopia that have historically faced severe drought and the resilience of communities has been seriously tested. Households are yet to fully recover from the impact of the back-to-back droughts which have also been exacerbated by desert locust infestations in ten woredas. 

The zone’s Disaster Risk Management Office indicated that nearly 85,000 cattle deaths are reported affecting the livelihood of more than 32,000 families. The chronic shortage of water and pasture forced many to move far from their usual migration route.  

“This is unprecedented,” says Fitsum Degemu who coordinates the emergency response of NGOs in the zone. “For communities in Borena, their survival is closely linked with their cattle. They depend on them. Loss of cattle means loss of livelihood. Even the price of cattle dropped because their condition deteriorated significantly.” 

The drought has its toll on children’s education, health and wellbeing.  

For 11-year-old Adi Kure, life is hard with the drought. As the first-born girl child, she is responsible for fetching water, cooking and taking care of her mother who recently had a baby. Her father, like the other men in the village, is away with the cattle. “I help my mother at home. I fetch water with this [pointing to a 20 littler jerry can on her back] and carry it home. I also prepare the meal. I go to school in the afternoon, but I don’t have time for studying,” says Adi.  

Adi is at least lucky to stay in school despite all the challenges. According to the zone, out of the 124,000 students who were registered to attend class at the beginning of the year, nearly 14,000 of them are out of school mainly because they move with their family and cattle.  

Adi Kure, 11, stands holding a jerrycan on her back after fetching water
©UNICEF Ethiopia/2021/Demissew Bizuwerk
Adi Kure, 11, fetches water, cooks and do all the household chores. Her mother recently gave birth and her father is away with the cattle. More work at home means less time for school. For many pastoralist children like Adi, the recent drought further complicate their future.

Nearly four months into the drought, health extension worker Ade Godana observes that the number of children who are admitted for malnutrition is increasing. “Malnutrition is not that common here [because of the Borena culture of feeding children] but in October alone, seven children were admitted here for Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM),” she says while attending to little Harobo Guya, a 7-month-old severely malnourished baby. In fact, the zone health office reported 1,628 cases of SAM between July and October.  

Harobo needs close follow up. She is taking ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) but her mother Dereme Guya is worried that the child’s appetite is still weak. 

Climate change and its resulting effect of enormous land degradation and significant depletion of pasture in Borena zone are commonly explained by the pastoralist communities in one word: Bona. Historical records show that severe Bona occurs in the zone in a span of 5 to 7 years on average. But that seems to change. Currently, the occurrence is more frequent while the recovery is much slower.  

Little Horobo Guya, seven months old, is getting treatment for severe acute malnutrition at Lafto health post.
©UNICEF Ethiopia/2021/Demissew Bizuwerk
Little Horobo Guya, seven months old, is getting treatment for severe acute malnutrition at Lafto health post. She is one of the many children affected by the recent drought in Borena Zone. UNICEF support drought-affected people in Borena Zone by providing critical life-saving supplies such as Ready-to-Use Treupetic Food (RUTF).

To help communities affected by the recent drought, a coordination task force has been established in Borena zone which deals with both emergency and development activities.  

Since the onset of the drought, UNICEF is providing water to affected communities. Water containers and water treatment chemicals are also distributed to the communities. To prevent disease outbreaks and treat children with malnutrition, UNICEF makes sure that enough supplies such as therapeutic food and medicines are stocked in health facilities. UNICEF also trains health workers to strengthen screening and treatment of children with malnutrition.    

Bekeri does not want to dwell on her losses. She hopes that the rains will come, and things will improve. Though it takes a long time to recover and restock her cattle, she wants to start over with what is left. But for young Adi, her education is a priority. She is in the fifth grade and wants to go on further.