BORENA, Ethiopia, (October 6, 2011) — The women and children of Melbena Village anxiously await the arrival of a water truck in the drought-stricken Borena zone of the Oromia Region in southern Ethiopia, along the border with Kenya. The area has not received decent rainfall in over two years and the impact has been devastating for the largely pastoral community.
"If the water truck did not come we would have to move from here, that is how bad things are," said Kurfa Wario, 22, and a mother of two, who has lost nine of her ten heads of cattle during the worst drought in recent memory.
Eventually, the long-awaited vehicle arrived, sending up a cloud of dust which blanketed the gathering of women and children. As the collection pit filled, Kurfa - one of the stronger women in the village – began to haul loads of water to fill the empty jerry cans.
"As long as the truck brings us water, we will survive on that," said Kurfa. "If the water truck is delayed by two or three days, then we go thirsty."
Every three days the truck delivers 16 cubic meters of water to some 500 households in Melbena Village, which is just little more than 15 liters of water per family a day. Emergency water rations are provided free of charge to the community.
"Due to the severity of the drought we have to distribute water by tanker truck," said Abiot Kassa, head of the Water, Mineral Resources, and Energy Desk in Mio District, which oversees the emergency water operation. The water transport is supported by the Borena Zone Emergency Water Taskforce, of which UNICEF is a member.
The implications of the continuing drought for the Borena pastoralists are grim.
"As it is well known, the Borena livelihood is pastoralist," said Mr. Kassa. "The living situation has reached a critical danger point, especially for women and children, they are not doing well."
Godana Wario, a mother of seven children, has also come to collect water from the truck.
"I don't remember when it started, but this drought has been going on for a long time now," said Godana. "In the past we made our living raising livestock. Now we have lost everything."
Having no cows left at home means that her two-year-old son Roba no longer has access to cow's milk - his main source of nutrition. As a result, he recently became severely malnourished and was admitted to the Melbena Health Center where he received care through the UNICEF-supported outpatient therapeutic feeding program (OTP).
Nurse Abdelnasser visits the family to check up on Roba's progress. For the past few weeks Roba has been feeding on a regimen of ready-to-use therapeutic foods provided by the outpatient program and his condition has improved. Once Roba is discharged from the program, however, the challenge will be to ensure that he does not fall back into a condition of severe malnutrition.
As part of his work with the OTP, Abdelnasser counsels Godana on how she can better feed her children using the resources available at home, including advice on how to store her water safely, and to either boil the water or use water purification tablets before drinking to prevent diarrhea, which can be deadly for a malnourished child.
UNICEF and partners are supporting the Government of Ethiopia to respond to the immediate needs of drought-affected communities like Borena, which will require support to recover from the drought, build resilience and diversify their livelihoods.
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