Ethiopian Drought and Climate Change

An Article by The Guardian

Maheder Haileselassie spent time with girls in the Somali region in eastern Ethiopia, capturing their experiences on the frontline of climate change. Girls in parts of the country hit by drought and food shortages are increasingly being forced into child marriage, with rates rising by 119% in 2022. Bone-dry water sources, decimated crops and dying livestock have combined with vicious conflict to make early marriage a threat to them. Mahader said: “Listening to the girls’ experiences of child marriage it struck me that each story was linked to the changing climate. Recurrent drought in the Somali region means that the earth no longer provides families with the water and nutritious food that they need. This is why I made the drought-affected landscape and dried river an integral part of each portrait, to represent how child marriage and climate change intertwine.”

A new report by Save the Children – Girls at the centre of the storm: Her planet, her future, her solutions – reveals that the number of girls living in high-risk “hotspots” for child marriage and climate change is set to increase by a third, to nearly 40 million by 2050.

Asma, 15, has managed to avoid early marriage. Her family lost their livestock due to drought in the Somali region, and her parents believed that early marriage could offer her a better life.

"...when I was 14 years old, a man wanted to marry me and my parents agreed. I became unhappy and withdrawn at school, I was depressed. Because he was a wealthier person than us, my parents advised me that if I got married to him my life would become better than theirs.

It would be a comfortable life and I could get whatever I want. So that’s why they were pushing me to marry him. But I declined and told them that I wanted to continue my education. I wanted to complete my studies [and] I was uncomfortable about getting married at 14."

Salma, 13, campaigns against early marriage in her community in Ethiopia’s Somali region.

"I have some friends who have been married early, when the drought affected their family, they think that they are helping their families by marrying early. I don’t want to be like my friend in school who got married last year when she was only 15 and her parents forced her to marry. She is not happy with what happened. The primary justification for marriage that many parents give their kids is the financial difficulties they experience. They are unaware of the harm it may do to their girl’s physical and mental health. Early marriage is still a big problem in our village, and we need to do a lot to address it."

Twenty-year-old Aida (all the girls’ names have been changed) was married at 15 after being displaced due to conflict and drought. She was devastated at the time and had to leave school. After a few months in this forced marriage, she became depressed and with the support of her uncle, she fled to the nearby city to escape before returning to live with her family when it was safe.

Halimo believes that the climate has changed in her lifetime and as a result, her family are no longer having three meals a day. She is a member of Save the Children’s anti-violence club and campaigns against female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage in her community.

"Yes the climate has changed in my lifetime. Before the drought we eat three meals a day but now we only have two but it’s hard for us to even get two meals a day."

Saeda, 16, lives with her parents and her younger sister. Her family were displaced by drought two years ago when they lost three camels, six cows and five goats. Saeda has witnessed the negative impact of drought on girls in her community, including increased rates of gender-based violence during water collection, and friends who have been forced to drop out of school to marry early.

Aisha’s family lost 25 out of their 30 animals in the drought – this had a big impact on them and their community as they are pastoralists who depend on their livestock for income. Save the Children helps all six children attend school (by providing them with books and school supplies) and also runs a parenting without violence club at Aisha’s school, where she learns about the risks of early marriage and FGM. Due to the drought, Aisha’s family have to pay for water for their five remaining animals.

Fifteen-year-old Lelo’s family are pastoralists who used to depend on their livestock for income, but since the droughts began her mother has opened a tea shop in their community to support their family. When Lelo was 14 years old, an older man asked her to marry him. Lelo’s parents agreed to the marriage because their family were struggling economically during the drought. However, Save the Children’s anti-violence school club negotiated with her mother to cancel it.

Fardowsa, 12, is in seventh grade at a primary school which is supported by Save the Children. She is one of the young activists working in her Somali community to end child marriage and other harmful traditional practices including female genital mutilation. The photographer uses a yellow flower in this image which grows close to Fardowsa’s home, as it represents the new year in many parts of Ethiopia.

Using Format