Helping Families Displaced by Floods in EthiopiaFeb 16, 2021
Flooding, one of the many natural hazards threatening the livelihoods of Ethiopians, causes social, economic, and environmental disruption, and often results in injuries and death, damage to property, destruction of crops, and the loss of livestock. This in turn leads to severe food shortages, psychological distress and, most commonly, internal displacement.
Southern Ethiopia’s South Omo Zone is home to a colourful mix of tribes and is a popular tourist destination. Bisected by the 475-mile-long Omo River, which runs to Lake Turkuna on the Kenyan border, the region is characterised by breath-taking dry savannah and natural beauty. The people here make their living through farming, cattle herding, subsistence agriculture, and fishing. Members of the indigenous tribes in this area traditionally wear body art and are heavily adorned with beads and bracelets, making them distinct from other tribes in the country.
More than 60,000 people affected by floods
In August 2020, the Omo River flooded, affecting 62,790 people and displacing many residents of Omorate Town in the district of Dassenech, just 35 kilometres from the Kenyan border. Women, children, persons with disabilities, and the elderly were forced into temporary shelters with poor living conditions. Much of their property, along with their livestock and crops, was washed away, leaving them economically vulnerable and impacting their access to adequate nutrition.
In response to the floods, People in Need (PIN), With funding from the European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations and Czech Development Cooperation, has worked with local government officials to identify the most affected and vulnerable populations. Emergency shelter, hygiene products, and other non-food items were distributed to 1,050 households with a total of 5,250 internally displaced people in South Omo.
Asnakech, leader of the local emergency support unit office, says: “It’s the first time we’ve seen the Omo River flood twice in one year. The first flood occurred in April 2020, and the second in July, when people were still recovering from the first.” When the river flooded for the second time, people rushed out with the few household items they were able to salvage. They were transported on traditional boats with the capacity to carry up to 25 people. Asnakech notes that “due to the urgency of the situation, up to 40 people were crammed onto the boat, causing it to tip over a number of times. Four people died as a result.”
Even those who managed to rescue and transport their livestock faced difficulties after they fled, as they ended up migrating to a very dry area. Traditionally, they depend on the Omo River’s natural flow to maintain their livelihoods. Now, keeping their livestock alive has become a challenge.
A flooding river is our enemy
Andargech Koko, a 25-year old mother of five, saw her life upended by the flooding of the Omo River. When the flood struck in the middle of the night, she had no choice but to evacuate, carrying only her children. “A flooding river is our enemy,” she says. “There was nothing in the day that indicated the river would flood at night, so it caught us all by surprise. My husband wasn’t at home at the time, leaving just my oldest son and I to carry the rest of my children out of there. We left behind our belongings and our cattle; it would have been impossible to try and save them or even to go back for them.”
Andargech adds: “We had nothing, just the clothes on our backs, which we now use as a mattress to sleep on.” With no sheep to sell or cattle to milk for dairy, life became very difficult for Andargech’s family.
Andargech and her family are not alone. Most of the people displaced by the floods are dealing with very poor living conditions; they use twigs and tarpaulins to build shelters and are heavily reliant on their host communities for survival. “Because of the flood, I have lost contact with my former neighbours. I don’t know where many of them are. But the community here is very good to us, they feed my children and share some of their items with us,” says Andargech. She adds: “Infants from flood-affected families suffer the most as they no longer have access to a balanced diet.”
Now that the floodwaters have receded, many of the displaced have gone back to cultivate their land and prepare for their return. But for Andargech, the fear lingers. “My husband is there now, he wants to go back and live there but I don’t want to risk losing our livelihood again.” While her family remains displaced, she notes that as a result of the PIN intervention, “Our new home is better equipped now; we have better materials to sleep on and cook with. Thank you for helping us.”
The continued provision of emergency relief items has helped minimise health risks and maximise people’s resilience within their new communities. With funding from the European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations, PIN is providing much-needed humanitarian assistance, helping families recover from flood-affected areas.