IRC Rebuilds Dams in Drought-ravaged Ethiopia, in Time to Capture Heavy Rains

Situation Report
Originally published
May 22, 2000 - Heavy rain has brought desperately needed relief to the parched southeastern Somali region of Ethiopia - an area where the three-year-old drought has been particularly severe.
Predicting the rainfall, the IRC began work last month on construction projects to capture rain water and rehabilitate water systems. Speaking from the town of Jijiga in the remote Gashaamo district, emergency coordinator Art Carlson said the IRC's recently completed hafir dam (an artificial pond constructed to collect rainwater) was already full and ready to serve the local population. He said construction of a second dam was underway, as was work on a number of birkas, which are cement-lined cisterns that are also designed to capture rainfall.

The IRC 's emergency program aims to increase, improve and protect water supply for the Gashaamo district, which is home to tens of thousands of refugees from Somaliland and Kenya, internally displaced Ethiopians fleeing war and searching for food and water, as well as a mostly pastoral indigenous population. The IRC is also monitoring the operation of several water tanker trunks, constructing drainage sites and sanitation facilities and providing for water chlorination.

The drought has led to mass migrations of people, in search of water and food.

The government of Ethiopia estimates that several million people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance in this area. Compounding the dire situation, Ethiopia is engaged in a raging border war with neighboring Eritrea.

Reporting on conditions in southeastern Ethiopia, IRC director of emergency programs Gerald Martone says the drought has resulted in an extraordinary loss of livestock, the main livelihood and means of sustenance in the Somali region. "Villagers often cite the death of camels as a proxy for the severity of water scarcity," he said in a report from Gashaamo. "The demise of these drought-hardy animals is a testament to the wrath of this drought." Martone also warns that local populations will suffer considerable increases in mortality and morbidity as the effects of heard depletion are realized.

Aid for Ethiopia

The International Rescue Committee has extensive global experience in supplying needy populations with water in emergency conditions and in austere settings, including a massive relief effort in Ethiopia during its famine of 1984. Donations to support IRC's emergency relief programs in Ethiopia can be mailed to International Rescue Committee, 122 East 42nd St., New York, NY 10168-1289. Please be sure to note "Ethiopia" on the memo portion of your check. You can also donate on-line.

For more information about the IRC's programs in Ethiopia, contact:
Gerald Martone, director of emergency programs
212-551-3061 or

Media inquiries can be made to:
Melissa Winkler, director of communications
212-551-0972 or

=A9 Copyright 2000 International Rescue Committee