Ethiopia: Life in the Desert

It’s been about three weeks since I returned to the cool northern highlands but I’m still not taking my escape from the heat for granted. I spent nearly two weeks wilting in the extreme heat of Ethiopia’s Afar region, home to the Danakil Depression – the hottest place on earth at 100m below sea level.

I’d never experienced heat like this before. When our car broke down in the desert we ventured out with a thermometer and weren’t surprised to see it read 43°C.

A traditional Afar "ari"
A traditional Afar "ari"

Afar is a desert region bordering both Eritrea and Djibouti and has been home to the Afar people for centuries.

The Afar are a nomadic people who rely on their herds of camels, cattle, sheep and goats to survive and frequently move around in order to find water in the dry harsh deserts.

They live in curved huts called “ari” which are ingeniously designed for the harsh desert winds to roll over and are easy to transport on top of a camel.

Collecting animal feed in Teru
Collecting animal feed in Teru

The failure of rains last year created a dire situation for the Afar and the consequent food shortage has had a disastrous impact on the availability of animal food and the health of their livestock.

I was in Afar to support a project which is responding to this emergency by providing food (hay, straw and mineral nutrient blocks) and veterinary services to livestock including training community animal health workers.

I travelled with some of our project team to Teru – one of the most remote and severely affected districts in the Afar region.

Save the Children is the only organisation working in Teru with a team of about ten staff enduring the heat and frequent dust storms to implement our projects.

To say the conditions are basic is an understatement – there is no electricity, no water, no telephone network. The town consists of a few wooden huts and donkeys, goats and sheep wander everywhere.

Teru - one of the most remote desert towns in Afar
Teru - one of the most remote desert towns in Afar

I was so impressed with the resilience of our team who live and work in these conditions to deliver such essential services to the local people. I managed to survive only 24 hrs.

It was such an eye-opener for me to see people living in this harsh desert life day-in, day-out.

And when I was falling asleep under the stars in the middle of the desert, I realised that this was the most valuable experience I’ve had so far in Ethiopia.

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  • Semahegn

    Thanks Vicky for publicizing the “unseen” way of life and efforts of Save the Children UK and the committed team in Afar. Children of Teru have now got access to potable water through the determined and coordinated efforts of the team with government partners. The livestock are feeding the animal feed which was under distribution during your visit and are giving more milk to children of Teru. The livestock body and health condition is being improved through the veterinary services being given through the emergency response. Efforts are also being exerted to improve the overall livelihood condition of the community through the long term PSNP project which is being implemented through Save the Childern UK.

    Thank you again!