Lemn Sissay creates inspiring new poem for WaterAid highlighting the impact of climate change in Ethiopia

Author and broadcaster Lemn Sissay MBE has collaborated with WaterAid to create a new thought-provoking poem telling the story of communities like Frat in his maternal homeland of Ethiopia, where people’s lives and livelihoods are threatened by the changing climate.

The poem, Hope Spring Eternal, is at the heart of a short film created by the international development organisation to launch its fundraising appeal, Future on Tap, which aims to raise £3 million to help transform lives with clean water in Frat and other villages around the world.

During the appeal, which runs from 5 November 2020 to 4 February 2021, the UK government will match public donations up to £2 million to help even more people in Ethiopia. The match funding will bring clean water and decent sanitation to poor families, schools and health centres in drought-prone areas in Berbere.

Many people from the villages of Frat, which scatter the hills in the Amhara region in Western Ethiopia, moved here after being displaced by the drought of 1983-85, and through strength and solidarity have carved out a good life for themselves. However, a lack of basic facilities like clean water exacerbated by the changing climate poses insurmountable challenges.

Families spend hours each day collecting dirty water from a river at the bottom of the hill, which is their only option. Women and children are afraid to go alone or at night because of thieves in the area, and the dirty water causes sickness. The changing climate is making life harder. Some water sources are depleting over time, while the hotter summers and unexpected storms are destroying crops, their only source of income.  ​

Nearly two thirds of Ethiopians do not have clean water close to home. The country is one of the most vulnerable to climate change – ranking in the bottom quintile of the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative Country Index for its vulnerability and its readiness to improve resilience.

Lemn, who was the official poet of the 2012 London Olympics, wrote:

In the past when the rains stopped
The world put its hand to its mouth in shock.
Young and old sought new homes
New pastures told of new seeds sown.

And built upon and tilled the land
And willed life from skilled hands
Roots search deep, crops grow high
Shoots dare greet the bittersweet sky.

The changing climate pressures earth
With scant regard for human worth
Once more the long walk and bodies immerse
In unclean water unfit for thirst.

Let us rise to the challenge, let us stand tall
If a future is for one, it must be for all
Let the aged flourish and water nourish birth
And hope spring eternal and sing from the earth.

Lemn Sissay said:

“I’m proud to be working with WaterAid on their Future on Tap appeal and using my poetry to represent some inspiring stories from Ethiopia and bring to life the issue of water and climate change. When reading accounts from the families in Frat, I have been struck by their strength and solidarity, which has helped them overcome immense challenges. Their lives and livelihoods are now threatened by the changing climate, a global crisis impacting poorest countries the most, despite them doing the least to cause it.

“We can all help tackle this injustice by helping get people clean water. Water is life; it enables people to not only survive, but thrive, and it builds resilience to the changing climate, whatever the future holds.”

Kemal Hussein, 55, owns farmland in Frat where he has lived since childhood. He saw families move here during the drought, and has noticed the climate changing:

“There was a severe drought, so people were forced to come here. We welcomed them because they were suffering, and it was nice to have more people. As far as I remember, we have been using river water. We were also able to use springs in the early days, but they’ve dried up. Year after year the weather is getting hotter.”

The unpredictable weather has destroyed crops for Medina Ali, 24, and the water has made her young daughter sick: 

“The climate has been changing lately. In the last rainy season, there was more rain, so that destroyed all the red pepper I planted. The river water causes illnesses, especially for children. With clean water, we can be healthy, we can be productive and improve our lives.”

With clean water, people will be healthier and able to grow fruit and vegetables in kitchen gardens, so they can have nutritious food whatever the weather. Children will have more time to go to school, to have fun and to pursue their dreams, free from the burden of collecting dirty water every day.

Tim Wainwright, Chief Executive, WaterAid, said:

“The combination of Lemn’s evocative words and the striking film from the strong communities of Frat is a powerful call to action that climate change is destroying lives and livelihoods in many vulnerable communities not only in Ethiopia but across the developing world.

“Without access to clean water, people are defenceless against changing weather patterns and will be unable to escape poverty to create a better future for themselves and their children. By bringing sustainable clean water to a community, you can help bring hope and peace of mind, that no matter what tomorrow brings, the taps will always work, no matter what the weather.

“We are delighted to have the support of renowned author Lemn Sissay, helping promote our work and highlight the impact of climate change on water access. Together, we can help transform lives across the world.”

To support WaterAid’s Future on Tap appeal, visit www.wateraid.org.

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