Catholic charity: Ethiopians in agony as water crisis deepens

CRS foreign aid People wait outside a distribution point to receive aid rations in Oromia Region, Ethiopia, in February 2018/ Will Baxter/Catholic Relief Services

Residents of various parts of Ethiopia are trekking for miles and spending days in long queues to get water far away from home, a Catholic charity in Ireland reported.

In a Friday, June 17 report, the leadership of Trócaire, the overseas development agency of the Catholic Bishops of Ireland, expressed concern that those adversely affected by drought and water shortage in the horn of Africa are also suffering from mental challenges owing to the shortage of water and their futile search for the precious commodity.

The organization detailed the experience of Abba Tesfalem, a 58-year-old Ethiopian Orthodox Priest who lives in Tigray, the northern Ethiopia region that has been besieged by armed conflict since November last year.

“When you don’t have water, all you think about is water. When you queue for water, all you think about is the water you hope to get. You worry that you won’t get water. It plays on our mind, it’s like a sickness. We all feel this way here. It’s a very difficult situation to think only of water,” Abba Tesfalem told Trócaire.

“The lack of water in the region is having a severe psychological impact on locals in Ethiopia like Abba Tesfalem and his family," Trócaire explained.

Abba Tesfalem narrated the rough ordeal of spending days on the road in search of water, spending more time at the well and going back home empty handed, and said that the experience is having a toll on the people who continually search for water and do not have any time left to do other jobs.

“There is a hand pump not far from here, so we use donkeys, and we send our children there to get water or we go ourselves. Then we bring the water,” the Tigray resident stated.

“When the well dries up, there is a water supply system in the sub-district which is miles from here. There, we wait for days for water. If the water has run out in between, we go to that hand pump.”

In a message on World Desertification and Drought Day celebrated on June 17, the leadership of Trócaire reported that Ethiopia is also experiencing its worst hunger crisis in 20 years.

As drought worsens across Ethiopia, collecting water is the main task of the day for 23-year-old Abdellah from the Afar region of Ethiopia, the organization reports.

In the Afar region, people who are desperate to get water are forced to drink the water that has been contaminated by animal urine and fecal matter.

“Afar is extremely hot, the water is dirty, contaminated by monkey urine and the trek to collect it is horrendous,” Trócaire reported, adding, “Afar townspeople like Abdellah who are surviving on little, if not nothing, find it a challenging journey to navigate in the extreme heat and with no sustenance.”

Abdellah noted that the journey for water is long, and explained, “We have to leave early from the village while it is still dark. We walk through the riverbed, then climb the mountains, then go down into a valley, then climb another mountain a little way to finally get to the water. That is the journey.”

“We drink water that monkeys go to the toilet in. It’s bad water. It makes us sick. You can see the animal dung at the other points of the journey. Monkeys and hyenas have been there,” Abdellah said.

Abdellah is acutely aware of the struggle he is faced with every day. It is not something he is just used to and without help or support his situation won’t improve.

Without water, it is difficult for many people to get jobs and for children to go to school. Instead of going to school, children are sent on long trips to search for water.

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“I don’t have any more words to express how hard it is,” Abdellah told the charity organization. “I find it hard collecting water like this every day. I collect so little, then what I do get is not good. It has made us sick. What we need most and what we ask for is water.”

Ethiopia has already endured 10 major droughts since 1980, Trócaire reported, a number even more significant because 85 percent of Ethiopians live in rural areas and most rely on subsistence farming for survival.

This article was originally published by ACI Africa. It was adapted by CNA.

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