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Older narrators all speak of how healthy they were in the past. Arima claims: “A long time ago we did not know diseases.” Diramo is not alone in linking current levels of ill-health with the change in their diet: “Animal products are preferable for our strength and health.”

Like Arima, she says there were no diseases in the past and women used to drink as much milk as they could after fetching water and collecting fuelwood. Now “they become skinny because they get nothing”.

Poor nutrition as a result of the lack of milk and other animal products, and inadequate crop yields is mentioned by many. Iyya also feels they are more vulnerable to ill-health than they used to be due to lack of animal products. Parents now have to give their young children tea instead of milk, and Duba links this to increased illness: “They are attacked by common colds and are faced with diarrhoea…”

Persistent drought and “crazy heat” have also brought new health problems, including an increase in malaria. Many people, including Ibrahim, mention suffering from a ‘cold’. The symptoms they mention vary; it seems that health officials use the term for a variety of illnesses including ‘flu, respiratory infections and tuberculosis. Several narrators complain about the way that health institutions “indiscriminately tell you you have a cold” and fail to offer the right treatment.

Gurracha says women used to regain their strength after giving birth by drinking lots of milk and blood; now they remain weak. Chuqulisa says miscarriages occur as a result of excessive labour combined with poor nutrition; nursing mothers become weak and thin.


Health is a key theme of the Desert voices: Ethiopia oral testimony project.


Arima: punishment from God

Chuqulisa: love is lacking

Diramo: tied to our cattle

Duba: solutions to problems

Gurracha: conflict devastated it

Huqa: pleasure from family

Ibrahim: the crazy heat

Iyya: conserving the forest

Loko: farming from necessity

Rufo: goodbye to farmland

Key themes

Introduction to the project




Food security




Social institutions

Government assistance