Drought is a natural disaster; starvation is a man-made tragedy. Preventing the first can go a long way to alleviating the second, but not without the political will, as Ian Mathie makes clear in this gripping memoir of the 1974 humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia. 'Dust of the Danakil' is a true story of an ill-conceived project in the violent, drought-stricken Danakil region of Ethiopia. The author,...
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Publisher: Mosaique Press (June 24, 2013)
Publication Date: June 24, 2013
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This true story woven from a young British man’s daily journals kept me turning the pages. The memoir tells of his time in the desert of Ethiopia during the 1970’s drought. The British government gave him the job of finding water in the desert to sus...
government pen-pushers to harness seasonal flood water and turn the notoriously aggressive Afar herdsmen into farmers, discovered a hostile environment - in more ways than one - that almost cost him his life. Intrigue, ingenuity, coercion and corruption make 'Dust of the Danakil' an unforgettable story of hope and despair which provokes an indictment of the relief and aid industries.In the 1970s, Ethiopia was struck by drought. By 1973 more than a million people were affected, their numbers increasing daily. The international relief agencies got to work and were soon caring for vast numbers of people in the mountains of Wollo province. Dramatic pictures filled the world’s TV screens every night.The people of the Danakil, the Afar, were as badly affected as others but because of their murderous ways, their region is a backwater to which nobody wants to go. Little thought was given to their plight until it was almost too late. A project was proposed, aimed at persuading the Afar to adopt seasonal agriculture, rather than simply following their diminishing herds round the disappearing grazing grounds. The idea was to catch seasonal floodwater coming down from the mountains and use it to irrigate fields.Unfortunately little thought had been given to the project and nobody was even certain that there would be any flood water. Even so, a British-financed team led by the author was sent to survey, design and build an irrigated farm, using Afar labour and paying them with food for their work.Working with the Afar, people with a reputation for savage hostility to strangers, proved challenging, as did working around a government bureaucracy that didn’t really want to be involved, a project manager who wanted the scheme to fail, tribal and clan rivalries and the complications of drought, disease and cattle raiders from Somali.Against all odds, the team built an irrigation system and a sand dam. They taught the Afar to grow vegetable crops and thereafter, until the watercourse being used got completely altered by eroding floods, the Afar carried on trying for a number of years.Sadly, all this happened immediately before the revolution which removed the Emperor Haile Selassie and the new government, the Derg, cut all further support to the Afar. TodayWhile the international agencies undoubtedly did good relief work, nothing was done to prepare the population to face future droughts. Worse, nobody was interested in even discussing such ideas. In 1983 drought came again, more severe, over a wider area and affecting over three times as many people. Still nobody did any development work to help people cope. Today it is happening again. History continues to repeat itself and the people of Africa continue to suffer.