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Famined Africans build water tanks, aided by LDS Church

By Jesse Hyde | Posted - Apr. 1, 2012 at 10:25 p.m.


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HORN OF AFRICA -- What happens to a place struck by famine or disaster after the world's attention turns to another disaster, in another place?

A famine in the Horn of Africa, the worst in the region in the last 60 years, has displaced nearly half a million people from Somalia, who have fled hunger and war for a better life. The Horn of Africa is one of the harshest and most unforgiving places on the planet. Three years of punishing drought have left the region bone dry and devastated.

Along the border of Somalia, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is on the front lines of this crisis, along with some of the world's biggest and most respected humanitarian organizations. It's just one of the 100 or so disasters the LDS Church responded to last year, but it may be one of the most important.

Deep in the wild borderlands of Ethiopia and Somalia, is a dusty outpost called Dolo Ado, lives a remarkable man named Abdulahi Mohammed. A Somali by birth, Mohammed is on the front lines of fighting this famine, helping border villages bypassed by foreign aid, which mostly went to refugee camps hours away.

"It is a very painful situation in which I can't do anything," Abdulahi said. "I have no source of water, I have nowhere to drink water. I stay up all the night thinking, ‘Where can I go to get my children water?' And I have nothing I can do.


I have no source of water, I have nowhere to drink water. I stay up all the night thinking, ‘Where can I go to get my children water?' And I have nothing I can do.

–- Abdulahi Mohammed


"It's very difficult for our animals because that pasture may not be available, that migration affects us a lot, our children and our livestock."

For Abdulahi, the crisis is personal. He grew up in the region, herding goats as a boy and had seen the effects of drought.

Drought can force villagers to move, and in the long search for water they may lose half their livestock. It also means village schools close, and for someone like Abdulahi, that is troubling.

If this land has reason for hope it is because of people like him, who against all odds left his small village and got not one, but two, college degrees. He worked as a college professor, but when the drought began he felt a calling to go back home. Today he's the in-country director for International Relief and Development.

September, during the height of the crisis, IRD reached out to the LDS Church, a long-time partner, to pay for trucking water to villages that needed it most -- 20,000 liters a day to 22 villages. Looking to the future, IRD and LDS Charities identified 13 sites to build birkits, or cement storage tanks, that would catch rain water.

The work is grueling and back-breaking. On the construction sites of the birkits law broken pick axes from the ground being so hard they have to burn the rock to soften it up for a jackhammer.

"It's a challenging work," Abdulahi said. "There's a lot of field work, but at the same time when you see the result of what you're doing it is very convincing, it is very satisfying. I'm saving life. I'm doing something. At least people who didn't have water now have water."

Perhaps the biggest difference, however, cannot be seen. Thanks to the work of the Mormon Church and people like Abdulahi, schools in the area don't have to close, meaning that hopefully, somewhere in one of these villages, there is another boy just like him, who will go off to college and come back to help his people.

Email:jhyde@desnews.com

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Jesse Hyde

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