Many of you requested we run Wraps from our Ethiopia trip last year. So before we begin our next on-the-ground series in Eastern Europe, we are running back one of the most popular installments from Ethiopia. We hope you enjoy!
“We will get malaria this summer.”
That’s what a member of the Kara tribe, which lives on the banks of the Omo River in southern Ethiopia, said. “Every person gets malaria every summer,” one Kara man told Roca. The government gives out mosquito nets every few years to prevent it, “but then they forget about us.”
That man said that foreign aid groups occasionally stop at the village with mobile clinics to treat those suffering from malaria. Still, some percentage of children die every summer.
Malaria is a fact of life in these parts, but it is not the main concern. The deadliest illness is Yellow Fever, another mosquito-borne illness. “If you get yellow fever, you die,” that same man said.
Statistically, that’s not true. According to the CDC, “Most people infected with yellow fever virus do not get sick or have only mild symptoms.” But in remote places like the Omo Valley, people don’t know they have it until they’re extremely sick, and by that point, it is often fatal.
While malaria is typically deadly only for children, yellow fever can be deadly for anyone.
There is a yellow fever vaccine, and Roca’s team received it in the US before going to Ethiopia. But a dose costs hundreds of dollars and the rural Ethiopians we spoke to didn’t know it existed.
Mosquito-borne illnesses are the downside of living near a river, as the Kara do. But that location also comes with many benefits: Other tribes have to walk miles for water, struggle to grow crops, and rarely eat protein. The Kara have ample fish, use the riverbanks to farm, and have to just walk down a hill to get water.
When we visited, a topless Kara girl with bright yellow and red bead necklaces was fishing for catfish. She saw us and took us to see her recent catch: A large catfish that may have weighed 20 pounds – a huge amount of meat in those villages.
Because of those benefits, the Kara – unlike other tribes in southern Ethiopia – are not nomadic. Whereas the others must constantly move in search of soil and water, the river lets the Kara stay put. Yet it’s unclear how much longer they’ll be able to do so.
The area used to be crawling with wildlife, giving rise to a hunting tradition among them. One Kara hunter proudly showed us his AK-47, which he had bought for hunting just over the border in South Sudan.
Today, though, most of the animals are gone – so much so that a nearby hunting lodge is rotting away, having closed because there were no animals left to attract visitors.
The water is under threat, too.
A new sugar plantation and processing factory had recently opened a short distance upriver from the village. Sugar farming requires a lot of water, though, including routine flooding of fields, and to enable that, a dam had been constructed.
The Kara people believe – and independent reports have found – that the dam is causing the Omo River to shrink, reducing the amount of annual flooding, which they need for agriculture.
The government has billed the dam and nearby farms and factories as a major development project that could bring hundreds of thousands of jobs to the impoverished region.
Indeed, the village, unlike most in the area, now has a school, and many of its residents are working in the factories. Most locals we talked to said it was too soon to know if the projects were good or bad.
Either way, they mean the Kara’s way of life is bound to change.
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