Hutt Rotarian Debbie Mair on mission to help in parched Ethiopia
Lower Hutt resident Debbie Mair travelled to Ethiopia over the weekend with boxes of educational books and other aid items. But her main reason for the trip is water.
Mair is the Director of Special Projects at Rotary Hutt City and the United Nation's paid her airfare so she could attend the UNESCO, Quest4 conference on water harvesting. She will join Rotarians from the United Kingdom, Germany and Ethiopia, plus representatives of Save the Children, and UN groups. The initiative they aim to come up with has backing from 13 international and corporate sponsors.
People are dying in Ethiopia's drought.
Mair witnessed the severity of the water shortfall herself when she and Phoenix Youth squad player Nathanael 'Nati' Hailemariam visited Nati's parents' home nation in August/September.
"We were there [for 25 days] right in the middle of the rainy season and we only saw three days of rain. Normally it would rain every day."
The UN had initially estimated 4.5 million people in Ethiopia would need help to survive the drought. Last week that was revised to 8 million and if the rain doesn't come, 15 million people could be in dire straits by February.
"All the crops are failing, so there's no food," Mair said. "Babies are dying every day."
She and Nati had called in on representatives of the 20,000-strong indigenous Malle tribe on their earlier visit. From contacts she made, Mair has since heard things are so desperate "they're shooting each other over water".
Around $10,000 would pay for a water system that could tap a spring high on hill near the Malle's villages.
Mair said Ethiopia has large inland lakes and the conference will debate the feasibility of trucking water from these locations to the rural areas that are so parched.
Funding reliable water systems for Ethiopia, including installing guttering on school roofs so that water from the rainy season can be stored, may become a three-year, $500,000 project for New Zealand Rotary clubs. Other countries intend matching this, Mair said.
The task is urgent - and overwhelming.
Mair has been in regular contact with Helen Clark at the UN, and a British Rotarian with extensive aid experience, Adrian Brewer. Both have told her she has chosen "a massive, massive project for my first one".
But she is pushing on. "If no-one does anything, it will be even worse."
- Hutt News