Failed rains have disrupted life here in ways seismic enough to register – if barely – on the Richter scale of global disasters. The government estimates that nearly 8 million people are in urgent need of assistance. But at close range, drought does even more than leave people hungry or far from home.
In another life, it would have gone like this: Duniya in a floor-length dress, something gauzy and loudly colored; Muftah tall and slender and serious beside her.
Duniya and Muftah. They had known each other since they were kids, when they spent long, slow days together walking their families’ cattle and camel herds across the scrubby brush to pasture or water. For a long time, they were friends, close ones, until one day they were not only that anymore. It was that simple, she says, and that obvious.
She thinks of it often, that wedding that would have been. There would have been seven days of dancing – the entire village gathered around them – and fresh roasted goat every night. She would have eaten soor, a soft corn porridge, mashed with milk, butter, and sugar, and worn a different new dress each night. And then, when it was done, she and Muftah would have slipped quietly into the rest of their lives.
Instead, she is here – in a sun-baked settlement of displaced persons near the market town of Gode (Somali Region) – and he is there – 40 miles away in the parched village where they both grew up. She hasn’t seen him in two months. She worries, she says, that she never will again.
Since rains first failed to fall in this eastern region of Ethiopia in early 2016, drought has disrupted life in ways seismic enough to register – if barely – on the Richter scale of global disasters. By April, nearly 300,000 people had been displaced from their homes by drought in the Somali Region, and country-wide, the government estimates that 7.81 million people are in urgent need of food, water, and other humanitarian assistance. Aid groups and Ethiopia’s government have warned that food aid may run dry as soon as mid-July.