Mercy Corps in Ethiopia: Overcoming drought with a life-changing resource
KEEN has paired up with global humanitarian organization Mercy Corps to make a difference in the lives of people in need around the world this holiday season. For every pair of shoes purchased at keenfootwear.com from November 20 to December 24, we’re donating $5 to help rebuild communities, transform lives, and create lasting change. Here is one of five stories highlighting the power of possibility and human potential, and how Mercy Corps empowers individuals by connecting them to the resources they need to build better, stronger lives.
Written by Mercy Corps staff
Photographed by Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps
Meftuha bends low over the water, gently scooping cup after cup into a large yellow jerry can. It’s a scorching May afternoon, and the Ethiopian countryside around her is a landscape of cracked clay.
For the past several months, Ethiopia has been experiencing one of its worst droughts in a generation. Meftuha has never seen anything like it; her husband, Abdi, lost four of his five oxen. It’s not uncommon for agropastoralists like them to have to walk four or five hours to find water for their animals.
Cattle skulls and bones dot the ground, reminders of how precious a resource like water can be here — and how thankful Meftuha is to have it.
Not long ago, Meftuha woke every morning at 6 a.m. to join the other women in her village and walk five hours to find water her family could use for cooking, cleaning, washing, drinking, and caring for their animals.
“When they would go to far away areas,” Abdi says, “they would fall down on the road because they were so tired.”
Rehabilitating a community
That was before Mercy Corps rehabilitated this pond next to their house. Now that the rains are slowly starting to return, the pond is nearly full, providing enough water for Abdi, Meftuha, and their two boys, as well as many other families in the village.
“Mercy Corps rehabilitated this pond, and we are thankful,” Abdi says. “Our wives are resting. It affected our lives so much. Now we are free to fetch from the pond Mercy Corps rehabilitated.”
Animals are some of the most valuable things Ethiopia’s pastoralists have—living bank accounts that often represent a family’s total assets. Drought here has made animals extremely vulnerable: Many herders in this part of Ethiopia live hours away from town, meaning they have to walk dangerous distances in the heat for basic medicines and vaccines.
A farmer can go miles without seeing even a sign of water. The ponds and water holes they have known their whole lives are dried up, baking under the midday sun. Some farmers have lost as many as 50 animals to the drought.
It’s a way of living that depends on the rhythms of nature, and in drought, it can be deadly. It isn’t just the animals who are under threat, but people like Abdi, Meftuha, and their two sons.
Pond rehabilitation is a powerful way to help families meet their urgent needs and become more resilient. For years, this pond was unusable due to the embankment, which spilled dirt and mud into the water. Mercy Corps helped reinforce the sides, allowing the pond to safely collect rainwater the whole community can use.
You may not be able to see the bottom of the pond, but it’s a life-changing resource for families here. As Meftuha scoops the water, she happily pours it through a makeshift filter into the can, eliminating enough dirt and sediment for her family to be able to safely use it for cooking and drinking.
This is just one intervention Mercy Corps has used across Ethiopia to help vulnerable people meet their urgent needs during a once-in-a-lifetime drought. From investing in rural veterinary clinics to training new mothers how to properly feed their children, our interventions are helping Ethiopians build a stronger tomorrow, even in crisis.
In a nearby town, Mercy Corps rehabilitated 40 deep cement basins that are once again starting to collect rainwater. Throughout the day, farmers arrive from all over to use them, paying the owners 10 birr—about 41 cents—to fill up their containers.
It represents a remarkable contrast: a pool of clean, cold water in the Ethiopian desert. But it also represents something bigger, for them and for people like Abdi and Meftuha across the country: The chance to overcome crisis and build a stronger, healthier future.
“I want a better life for my children,” Abdi says. “I want change for my life and I want my child to go to school.”
To learn more about our holiday campaign and partnership with Mercy Corps, visit our Pair With Purpose campaign site. Thanks for pairing up with us to build a better world.