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In the past there was plenty of ground water close to the surface, which people could rely on during the dry season when forest streams dried up. Now, they say, some of the water sources have been buried by sand and the water table seems to have dropped significantly.

says they lack access to dirty water, let alone clean water; they travel through the night to distant water points and have to queue for a long time when they get there. Women in particular suffer today, he says: “Now they go long distances carrying jerrycans on their backs.” Arima says it takes from dawn to dusk to collect water.

Huqa gives an example of the cultural impact of worsening environmental conditions and water scarcity. The time-honoured practice of washing a corpse before burial had to be abandoned on a recent occasion as there was no water to be found despite a two-day search.

Duba says drought “has a lot of effects on the culture”, pointing out that it is no longer possible to fulfil all their ceremonies, such as slaughtering the right quantity of livestock at the changeover of the gadaa system.

Iyya is clear that lack of water is the reason “development is regressing”, and he also talks about impact of water scarcity on education; the dry conditions mean few teachers are willing to stay for long.


Water 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