Travelogue

Watershed Protection Creates Oasis in Ethiopia

A delegation of 14 US-based CRS staff members and Church partners are currently visiting projects in Ethiopia. Steve Pehanich, senior director of advocacy and education for the California Catholic Conference, shares more from the field.

Much of the lowlands we visited are deforested, forcing pastoralist communities to take their livestock further east or south for grazing.
Photo by Steve Pehanich for CRS

After seeing the midlands and highlands near Dire Dawa on Tuesday, we toured the lowlands Wednesday — much hotter, with a rocky road that was incredible to travel. It took more than an hour each way on the road, which added to the tiredness of the day.

Before reaching the project site, we stopped on the grueling road to look at the surrounding desert. Zemede Abebe, program director for Haraghe Catholic Secretariat (basically the local equivalent of Catholic Charities and CRS’ partner in the area), explained that a watershed is a self-contained micro environment. Start at the top of a mountain and follow the water down until you get the lowest point — a valley is a good example. Then picture a series of valleys, each with its own micro-shed. All of them combined form a macro-shed.

The watershed along the road had been destroyed by deforestation and overgrazing, resulting in stunted plant growth and barrenness. Zemede wanted us to note the conditions here so we could appreciate the difference when we arrived at the community of Legedini.

First, though, we stopped at a man-made pond where livestock drink. Cows, sheep and goats were coming and going like clockwork. It was quite an idyllic setting and soothing to see the animals come and go.

The community of Legedini is now an oasis due to watershed protection efforts. Photo by Steve Pehanich for CRS

Finally we arrived at the community of Legedini, the site of many CRS-supported projects. By helping Legedini residents to manage their watershed, HCS has been able to return the land to its original state before it was deforested. One of the things I found most startling was the coolness. We went from a hot desert to a pleasant temperature just by crossing a ridgeline.

The protected watershed has recharged the groundwater, providing the community with clean water for multiple uses. Crop yields and the health of livestock have also improved as a result. One of the farmers told us that he had substantially improved his family’s condition by growing crops and raising and selling livestock with CRS’ and HCS’ support. Through income gained by selling some of these assets, his children now attend school. It’s amazing how little additional work it takes to transform the life of a family in Ethiopia — hard work for sure, but no harder than what these people are already used to.

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