Gesunde Tiere – Gesunde Menschen – Gesunde Umwelt

Side by Side with the Pastoralists in Ethiopia: The Drought Strikes Again!

VSF- Suisse, 22.10.2015



Nicole Litschgi is Vétérinaires Sans Frontières Suisse’s programme manager for West Africa and Ethiopia. This summer she went to Ethiopia for a few weeks and visited VSF-Suisse’s regional offices in Addis Ababa, Gode, and Moyale. She experienced and learned much, and came back with a lot to tell. A short travel summary as well as an extensive elaboration on the major risks occurring due to the drought can be found on our website. You might also want to check SAT | ASMS magazine’s November issue: Here.


Ethiopian Administration in a Nutshell: Kebeles, Woredas, Zones, and Regions

Families and neighbors live together in kebeles. Multiple kebeles constitute a woreda. Multiple woredas constitute a zone. Finally, multiple zones constitute a region, for instance the Somali region (not to be confused with the country of Somalia or the region of Somaliland in the North of Somalia).

There are 9 regions in Ethiopia altogether. Hence the country has 97 million inhabitants which is almost 12 times the number of Switzerland’s population.

The Somali region is on the country’s East side. It contains 9 zones. Imagine a zone as something like a Swiss Canton, just with a lot more people. 5.3 million people live there.


The Ethiopian Somali Region


In the Jijiga zone there’s Somali region’s capital city: the city of the same name, Jijiga. By the way, there’s a university in Jijiga that participates in a North/South partnership with the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute of the University of Basel (Swiss TPH)!


In Gode zone there’s the former capital city of Somali region which is also called Gode. The zone is characterized by deserts and looks the way we’ve got to know Ethiopia from past years’ media coverage: Vast, sparse, and dry.

Sitti: Drought on the Rise

The northernmost part of Somali region is called Sitti zone (former Shinile zone). There has been an ongoing drought for many months. The pastoralists are being put to the test on a daily basis. Their livestock, which are mostly their sole source of nutrition, are dying; Water is scarce. The next rainy season is expected to occur in spring 2016. VSF-Suisse has just started with emergency interventions there, and is being supported by Swiss Solidarity in doing so.

Moyale: One City, two Countries

The city of Moyale lies in Moyale woreda. That’s just outside Somali region. Moyale city is a special case: One half of it lies in Ethiopia, the other half in Kenya. Since VSF-Suisse is engaged in development cooperation in Ethiopia as well as in Kenya, it is unquestionable to have an office in the city of Moyale. There’s a stable field team that’s continuously managing projects in the fields of drought resilience, disaster prevention, and cross border cooperation.

From Addis Ababa via Jijiga to Gode, and back again

Firstly, Nicole spent a few days in Ethiopia’s capital city, Addis Ababa. There she visited VSF-Suisse’s country office. She was doing field research for her master thesis in Public Health. Later she drove on to Jijiga, which is 600 kilometers east of Addis Ababa. After a whole day’s drive through Ethiopia’s vast and colorful lands, she finally reached Somali region.


Camels against the Drought of Sitti Zone

As Jijiga is very close to Sitti zone, Nicole got great insight into the prolonged drought there: Usually there are two main rainy seasons per year. These are mandatory to sufficiently water the grasses and bushes. If there’s not enough rain in order to let the plants grow, the pastoralists’ livestock don’t have enough food!

Unfortunately that’s exactly what had happened last year: There wasn’t enough rainfall. The animals didn’t have enough to eat, and now their numbers have shrunken so that the pastoralists don’t have enough left over animals in order to have balanced meals themselves. What’s there that we can do?

In order to prevent malnutrition, VSF-Suisse does a great deal of emergency aid: The field staff provide direct food assistance and give food as well as food vouchers to the people. These interventions secure at least the peoples’ nutrition.

The next step in emergency aid would be extensive feeding of the livestock so these can be as healthy as possible. As we all know, only healthy animals can be the base of life for the pastoralists. Which animals are suitable for this job?

Camels**! A healthy camel is able to live quite a long time without water supplies, and it can carry heavy weights across vast distances, and… it also provides the pastoralists with an excellent meat source. That’s why camels are being distributed during times of crises as well.

**In German and English we’re speaking of “Kamel” and “Camel”, but the distributed animals are really so-called Arabic Camels, or dromedaries, with only one hump. We’ll continue to simply call them camels though…

Early Recovery in Gode Zone

After her field research in Jijiga, Nicole went on to Gode. Gode is approximately 600 kilometers South of Jijiga, thus Nicole spending another whole day on the road.

There’s a lot of short term emergency aid going on in Gode right now, as the zone is in the phase of “Earlier Recovery”. On the basis of “Nutrition Sensitive Livestock Intervention” and “Nutrition Sensitive Agriculture”, Vétérinaires Sans Frontières Suisse sees for the pastoralists to have enough to eat. How are we doing this?

Whenever there’s a drought coming up, our field staff downsize the herds. This is to make sure the pastoralists don’t have so many animals to tend to that it would exceed their capacities (“Destocking”). The livestock is bought from the pastoralists and being distributed to people in need by the field staff. Thus everyone’s compensation and nutrition is ensured.

In better environmental situations, when there are no droughts to live through, there are enough water and pasture plants, hence we give healthy milk goats to the people. The pastoralists can drink the milk as well as trade their goats for something else. Therefore they are able to build their entire life bases by themselves!

Pastoralists and their Livestock

The pastoralists in Ethiopia keep cattle, camels, donkeys, goats, and sheep. The complete pastoralists’ life bases build on their livestock. If one has healthy animals, they can live off their animals’ products like milk. Additionally, they can sell healthy animals and buy other nutrients from the money. The livestock follow the pastoralists wherever they go, and stay with them wherever there are enough water stations and pasture plants.

How can we best support the pastoralists? VSF-Suisse assists the pastoralists according to their life patterns and beliefs. Our projects are being managed in the field, and our field staff consists of people coming from pastoralist communities. The objective is always to enable pastoralists to live their lives the way they choose to.


Healthy Animals – Healthy People

The most important factor are healthy animals, as everything else is dependent on them. That’s why it is so important to educate and train lay veterinarians: It is imperative that they notice diseases quickly thus being able to treat the animals in good time. Moreover, it is important that the animals are being vaccinated and dewormed.

In the future the vaccination against sheep and goat plague (“PPR: Peste des petits ruminants”) will be important in minimizing livestock loss. We are looking forward to starting a project against PPR soon. It will be operated from Gode. The information on what exactly PPR is, and what the possibilities are in vaccinating sheep and goats against it, will be accessible through our “Projects” page shortly. So come back soon and check it out: Here!


Text: Kerstin Köffel


Tags: Addis Ababa  africa  camel  cattle  donkey  Drought  emergency aid  Ethiopia  goat  Gode  Jijiga  pastoralist  roadtrip  Sitti zone  Somali  VSF-Suisse 

leake Dawit

so You Can Call Me Via 0949447373 Am In Addis Ababa This Time

leake Dawit

It Gives Me Great Pleasure To Tell U Well Come To Ethiopia. As We Know In Ethiopia In Some Region Drought Happend As A Result Many Animals Died But How Can I Contribute My Profession To Help Animals Since I Am A Vet Doctor. If You Give Me chance I Can give vet Service 24 Hrs.

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