Fraternity in Frat: Ethiopian community that has overcome drought and famine faces growing threat of climate change

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WaterAid has collaborated with photographer Joey Lawrence on a gallery of stunning, inspiring images from Frat, a community in Ethiopia that has shown strength and solidarity to overcome many challenges and is now facing the threat of climate change.

Many people from the villages of Frat, which line a small mountain in the Amhara region in Western Ethiopia, moved here during the drought and famine of 1983-85, and through determination and resilience, have supported each other to carve out a good life for themselves. However, a lack of basic facilities like clean water, exacerbated by the changing climate poses insurmountable challenges.

Families spend hours each day collecting dirty water from a river. Women and children are afraid to go alone or at night because of thieves in the area, and the dirty water causes sickness. The changing climate is making life harder. Some water sources are depleting over time, while the hotter summers and unexpected storms are destroying crops, their only source of income.

Six in ten Ethiopians do not have clean water close to home. The country ranks in the bottom quintile Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative Country Index for its vulnerability to climate change and its readiness to improve resilience.

Through its winter appeal, Future on Tap, international charity WaterAid aims to raise £3 million to help transform lives with clean water in Frat and other villages in Ethiopia and around the world, improving lives and livelihoods and building resilience to climate change.

During the appeal, which runs until 4 February 2021, the UK government will match public donations up to £2 million making double the difference in climate-vulnerable communities. With clean water, lives and livelihoods are protected. They can meet their basic needs, stay safe and healthy, have time to go to school or work, and can grow food even when the weather is unpredictable.

Kemal Hussein, 55, owns farmland in Frat where he has lived since childhood. He saw families move here during the drought, and has noticed the climate changing, which is having an impact on the water sources:

“There was a severe drought in the Wollo region, so people were forced to come here. We welcomed them because they were suffering. As far as I remember, we have been using river water. We were also able to use springs in the early days, but they’ve dried up. Year after year the weather is getting hotter.”

HawaYimam-Mohamad, 44, moved to Frat as a child after being displaced by drought. Her first memory there is walking down the mountain to collect water and falling and cracking her head on the rocks. She still has the scar today. She is an inspiring mother and ambitious women’s group leader, and has dedicated much time to helping develop the community. She said:

“We are worried a drought could happen again when we see how the climate is changing. We have seen the weather change and become more unpredictable; when we get unexpected rains, it destroys our crops and our fertiliser. If we had clean water, we could plant vegetables and fruit trees in our gardens so we would have food even if our crops failed. We could also improve our hygiene and all be healthy.”

Henock, 16, a member of the environment group at Frat school, helps his fellow students by selling grain to buy books, and thinks education is key to stopping climate change, “we know the global temperature is getting warmer and the environment is being polluted by carbon emissions, and there is deforestation all over the world. I feel the lives of people might get worse – the rain might be more unpredictable, our production might dwindle. I believe education is key for solving problems. Everyone should be aware and do their part to conserve the environment.”

Tim Wainwright, Chief Executive, WaterAid, said “our changing climate is impacting poorest countries the most, despite them doing the least to cause it, meaning communities like Frat are facing an uncertain future. Without access to clean water, people are defenceless against changing weather patterns and will be unable to escape poverty to create a better future for themselves and their children. Clean water and decent sanitation are the building blocks out of poverty. These basic human rights improve health and livelihoods, afford children the time to go to school, to have fun and to pursue their dreams, and also play a vital role in helping people become more resilient to climate change. By bringing sustainable clean water to a community, you can help bring hope and peace of mind, that no matter what the future holds, the taps will always work, no matter what the weather.”