Livestock project saved lives as drought struck Horn of Africa

In rural Ethiopia and across East Africa, cattle are essential to the livelihoods of families, whose survival was put at risk when an historic drought struck the region in 2011. World Vision responded quickly to save these animals — and the children, families, and communities whose lives depend on them.

By Fasil Damte, World Vision Ethiopia
Published January 16, 2013 at 12:00am PST

Livestock are the foundation of pastoralist communities in southwest Ethiopia. They provide wealth, income, milk, meat, and usually, a buffer against hard times.

But the Horn of Africa drought of 2011 took its toll on many of the region’s livestock, eroding the ability for vulnerable families to cope with the failed rains.

“Last year was very serious; it was the worst we have seen in at least eight years. It killed a lot of cattle,” says Jilla, whose family lost 10 cows and 14 goats and sheep in the early days of the crisis.

“There was no grazing land, and the animals produced no milk,” she recalls.

Jilla and her family live in Halake Elema, a handful of huts in between the gently rolling hills of Borena in Ethiopia’s remote southwest. Her husband is away with the animals, leading them to more fertile pastures. He may be gone for weeks before she and her eight children next see him.

Rapid interventions to save animals — and human lives

When the 2011 drought began to claim the lives of livestock across the region, World Vision responded with a comprehensive plan, seeking to save the lives of the animals on which communities such as Jilla’s depend — but also to insulate vulnerable families against the shock of losing these assets.

As part of the response, Jilla was given animal feed by World Vision to sustain the livestock until the next rains. “Our cattle became healthy again after the feed was given to us. Even the unhealthy animals became healthy again,” she says.

About 22,000 people within the Borena area benefited from this project. Cattle that were irrevocably harmed by the drought had to be put down, their meat distributed to spare the lives of the people in the community, and a fairly reasonable amount of money given to the owners of the cattle.

“The people of Haleke Elema village would have lost all their cattle, had World Vision not intervened,” remembers Roba, a beneficiary of the project. “There were places where all the amimals died and the whole village turned out to complete poverty from the drought.

“We are better off now, thank God,” he says.

Need still great in the Horn region

Though Jilla and Roba were spared the worst of last year’s drought, thanks to interventions like World Vision’s livestock project, there is still much work to be done to secure the future of the children of this village. A muddy pond on the periphery of the village is shared by both people and cattle, forming the only water source within easy reach.

“We treat the water before cooking and drinking,” says Makeda, one of three women at the pond when we visit. She lowers herself down beside the swampy waterhole, scooping cup after cup of the murky liquid into a container to carry back to her hut, from which she will cook and wash.

Despite attempts to purify it, this water will nevertheless remain a potential threat to the health of the children of Halake Elema — underscoring the precariousness of life for this pastoralist community.

Similarly, the livestock project has offset the worst affects of last year’s drought for the families of this village, but attention must now turn to strengthening their own ability to cope with future shocks and droughts, which may be just around the corner.

Three ways you can help

Please pray for children, families, and communities in the Horn of Africa, where recent rains have brought some relief but the humanitarian needs remain great. Pray that those affected by hunger would find a sustainable source of food, and pray for the health of cattle for families who depend on their livestock for survival.

Make a one-time donation to support World Vision’s work in the Horn of Africa. Your contribution will help us provide critical assistance to this region still deeply vulnerable to food shortages and drought, through interventions like food aid, agricultural support, clean water, medical care, and more.

Sponsor a child in Ethiopia. By investing in the life of a boy or girl in need, you’ll help deliver basics like nutritious food, clean water, medical care, education, safe shelter, and more — providing the foundation for a future free of poverty and need.