Ethiopia

Ethiopia: Journey to Afder zone

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Oxfam International media officer Rachel Stabb reports on the desperate situation in Afder zone, which neighbours Gode in the Somali region of Ethiopia
It's difficult to believe there's a place worse off than Gode, but in Afder I believe we saw it and felt its urgent needs. This forgotten corner of Ethiopia hasn't seen food aid for two months.

I travelled to Afder zone after Oxfam Canada heard that the zone was even worse off than Gode. They have a development programme in neighbouring Liben zone, and wanted to see what they could best do to help. Our group, comprising Oxfam staff from the Addis Ababa office, a journalist, a photographer and myself, set off for the remote area, which no journalist or non-governmental organisation had yet visited.

Cherreti lies 1,060 kilometres southeast of Addis in the Afder zone but the two places are worlds apart. While Addis is busying itself with the crisis in Ethiopia's Somali region, the people of Cherreti are out on a limb, desperately trying to survive the worst drought of their lives.

Everywhere we went, women pleaded with us for food. The simple gesture of raising their cupped fingers to their mouths was language enough to express their need.

Officials here told us they'd received a telegram that day, advising them of their monthly allocation. 2,500 metric tons. The only problem is, it takes at least two months for the full consignment to arrive. And officials say wearily, the target number of people for this food has reached 300,000, up 50 per cent since the allocations where first agreed.

Afder seems to have been struck by a series of problems that leave it in need of everything. Water is now desperately scarce. We went to the Weib river, never one to dry up even in the dry season. But it's become a dusty wadi for the first time in living memory.

The fish are dead. Crocodiles, we were told, had resorted to scaling the river bank in search of goats to eat. Only goats, I silently hoped. All along the river bed, women dig tirelessly. They spend hours scooping up water from tiny pools. And the smell of rotting carcasses is everywhere.

But the people are as resilient, resourceful and dignified as elsewhere in the Somali region. One woman told us she'd been using meat she dried earlier in the year when her animals still had some meat on them. Another showed us the palm tree root she was now using to make broth.

Perhaps, the most difficult thing for Cherreti and for the main town, Hargele, is the lack of communication with the outside world. There's no telephone in the 1,100 sq km zone. No journalists have come this way and the lack of proper roads or airstrips makes it unlikely they will.

I believe Oxfam's visit will make a difference. As we speak, there are plans afoot to move much needed high energy food for under-fives into Hargele and Cherreti as soon as possible. What we saw told us we had no time to waste.