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GOAL Ethiopia Emergency Response to El Niño Drought


February 14, 2017 • 4 min read

The GOAL Ethiopia Country Director and I catch an early morning flight from Addis Ababa to Mekelle, the capital city of Tigray region in the North of Ethiopia. We are travelling on a monitoring visit to some of the locations where GOAL has been responding to the 2015-2016 El Niño-induced drought. With funding from ECHO, the European Commission’s Humanitarian Office, we’ve been implementing emergency water, sanitation and hygiene projects in Tigray region since mid-2016. Activities included rehabilitating springs and water points, carrying out hygiene promotion activities, and constructing wells to access ground water.
Tigray was one of the worst affected areas in 2016. Last April when I visited here the fields were dry and stony, many water points had dried up, and communities were desperate for assistance. On the flight I try to imagine how things will look now almost a year later.
A short while later we land in Mekelle and are greeted at the airport by some familiar faces from the GOAL team working in Tigray. I feel an immense joy at having the opportunity to return to this beautiful place and see for myself the work our team has been doing on the ground.
We begin our journey to the field sites, winding uphill across the mountains of Tigray. The scenery is strikingly beautiful, although the fields still look dry and barren for the most part, but I am told this is normal. It’s not rainy season yet, and communities are still benefitting from the decent harvest of late 2016 – which provided much needed relief after the previous year’s drought that had left over 10 million people in need of emergency assistance across the country.
After an hour or so the car stops at the side of the road and we’re told the rehabilitated spring that we have come to visit is not accessible by car so we’ll have to walk to it. The walk provides a welcome relief from the bumpy drive. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, the view is spectacular. I lag behind the others, taking photos, admiring the scenery, and chatting with Shiferaw, our Regional Programme Manager, who explains to me that some of the families who access this water point on a daily basis live a few kilometres away and walk every day to fill up their jerry cans at the spring. It’s hard to imagine a life where much of your day is taken up just walking to get water.
When we finally reach the spring, some twenty minutes later, we are warmly greeted by a dozen members of the community, eager to talk to us and express their satisfaction with the project. “This used to be an unprotected water source” they told us, “the water was dirty and contaminated, people were often sick”. They tell us about the difference GOAL’s work has made in their lives. Drinking clean water has meant their children’s health has improved, and they are so thankful. This is a community who are invested in their own wellbeing – they themselves helped carry the construction workers’ equipment across the hills from the road as they couldn’t access the site with their vehicles. Shy children watch from behind the trees on the hill as we check out the construction work and discuss the project with the Water Committee (community members assigned to managing the water point and collecting household user fees to ensure that there are funds available to pay for maintenance). Dinkneh, the Country Director, and I are delighted with what we see and hear – the contractors have done a great job with the work, and it’s obvious to us that GOAL’s work here has made a meaningful impact on this community’s lives.
We are asked to visit one of Water Committee member’s households nearby, and have coffee. Tigrayan people are known for their hospitality, and they don’t disappoint! Endless cups of coffee and tea, and plates of bread and injera are served up to us, and finally to my absolute delight, local Tigrayan honey. Delicious! As we are tucking into our lunch we remember that this community benefitted from one of GOAL’s emergency seed distribution projects in 2016. So there we are, eating bread made from GOAL-distributed seeds and drinking coffee made with water from a GOAL-rehabilitated water spring. I feel a strong sense of injustice. Climate change and global inequalities have plunged so many communities into a cycle of poverty that is very difficult to escape from; and there is no doubt that without GOAL’s assistance last year so many hard-working communities just like this one would have faced disaster. But I also feel a strong sense of pride that my organisation, working alongside our communities and local government and with thanks to our generous supports and donors, such as ECHO on this project, has been able to alleviate much of the suffering.
It’s been a successful visit that I know I won’t forget. We are all in good spirits and re-energised after our delicious lunch, and I am ahead of the group on the way back, where I duly proceed to lead the team the wrong way up the mountain!
Lesley Ann Devereux
GOAL Ethiopia Desk Officer