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Last Updated: Friday, 7 April 2006, 00:24 GMT 01:24 UK
Rains only add to Ethiopian hardships
By Russell Smith
BBC News website Africa editor, Moyale, southern Ethiopia

Salade, an eight-month-old Ethiopian girl, is unlikely to be the last person to die of hunger this year in the Horn of Africa.
Boys dragging a dead cow

She was buried a day before aid agencies launched a $426m appeal for the 15 million people they say need food aid in the region.

Salade's family had little to start with and they lost their cattle in the drought.

Then her mother became ill as the rains began and could not breast-feed her.

Her father wept as they stood over her tiny grave.

Salade spent her short life in the small border town of Moyale, which is at the heart of the drought after two failed rains.

Poverty is pervasive in the region at the best of times.

To make matters worse, Moyale lies within the triangle of conflict - an area that also covers northern Kenya and Somalia.

Paradox of rain

The rains have finally come but the situation remains desperate and the downpours do not necessarily help.

For as well as new life and growth, the rains also bring death.

I worry about the creating of a dependency culture because of food aid
Sora Adi

Tari Bonja, in the village of Bokala, saw his entire 27 herd of cattle die within hours, and with it his livelihood. The cattle could not handle the cold that comes with the rain.

Weak from hunger, their stomachs were also unable to digest the new grass which sprouted shortly after the rains fell.

Then on Thursday, the morning of our laptop-link-up, I hear that Ibraham Ali, one of the six participants, cannot make it. His son has been swept away in the floods and drowned as he returned from school on the Kenyan side of the town.

Problems get worse when the rain comes and the drought is far from over.

A few hours of sun and raging torrents of water are transformed into a dry, sandy landscape again.

Porous borders

Some three months of rain are needed before the water stops sinking through the sand, I am told.

This is why the area cannot support much agriculture and is populated mainly by cattle herders.

Tari Bonja with a dead cow
Tari Bonja's cows died after eating new grass
And when drought hits and cattle start dying, the chances of raids talking place increase as stealing another group's herd is a tempting option.

Traditionally the casualties were pretty limited, but now gun traders sell AK-47s across the porous borders and peace does not help them make a living.

Tato, who took part in the laptop link-up, had all her cattle taken in a raid which inspired her to try to establish peace.

Some efforts are being made, both to help those affected by the drought in the short term, hence the appeals, and to try to ensure that people become more able to cope when drought strikes again.

Too late?

Sora Adi works for a local pastoral group trying to pass on traditional survival techniques that have been forgotten: accessing water, tubers, wild berries and honey.

"I worry about the creating of a dependency culture because of food aid," he says.

Horn of Africa map
But there is clearly a sense among many that a traditional way of life is increasingly unsustainable.

A recent report by the US-based Famine Early Warning System showed that in the past six years rainfall levels had fallen. It hinted at the possibility that global warming could be a cause.

Many parents I spoke to expressed their hopes that children would receive education and with it a passport to an easier and more prosperous way of life.

Nineteen-year-old Naima is desperate to get away from Moyale and pursue her dreams of a good job and independence.

"It would enable me to make more money and change not only my life but also that of my parents and family members," she told a British questioner on the laptop link up.

On the subject of aid, Momina said it was too late for many and help for cattle should have come months ago.

Last-minute doubts over whether Ethiopia and Kenya will take part in this appeal suggest that their governments also feel that aid appeals may not necessarily always be the right solution.

The United Nations is already feeding some 155,000 people in the Borena region but local officials say 368,000 people need food aid - one third of the population.

The concern is that if the rains are as short as people fear, then the number of those needing help is only going to rise.

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