Goraye, Ethiopia - Putrefying cattle carcasses line either side of the wind swept road leading to the lone watering hole in the extinct Goraye volcano in the southern Ethiopian region of Borena, where animals have succumbed to a scathing drought that is also threatening people with starvation.
For the last five years, the region has only been receiving scanty rains and this has caused the drying up of hand-dug wells and underground water reservoirs.
"It is a real massacre, we cannot any more count the number of animals that we have lost in the past weeks," said Diide Tadi, head of Dire district, which is among the worst affected areas in Borena region.
At least 100,000 animals have died in the last two months in Borena, home to nearly 100,000 pastoralists, while some 250,000 people out of about one million residents in the larger Oromo region currently depend on relief aid, officials said.
But according to United Nations predictions, the number of those needing relief assistance is likely to double next month.
At least 5,000 people depend on the Goraye watering hole, which was recently repaired by the UN agency for children (UNICEF) and also serves herders from Kenya who travel for about 100 kilometres (60 miles from the south of Ethiopia.
With the fast dying animals, international relief group CARE hurriedly put up an abbatoir to buy dying stock from the herders and then distribute the meat to the hunger-stricken locals.
"Because of the drought, we slaugter up to 100 cattle a day because they are too weak to walk," said Gilma Liben, an official with CARE.
In addition to Ethiopia, a severe drought that has gripped the east African nations of Kenya, Somalia and Djibouti has put some 11 million people on the brink of starvation according to the UN.
The situation is mainly affecting children of the pastoralist communities as they depend on milk from the cattle now falling in the wake of the scorching drought.
Meanwhile according to Dejene Benti of the US Medical Corps International, infant malnutrition is hovering near 20 percent which he warned is critical, resulting in about 30 children being hospitalised at a health centre in Goraye due to drought-sparked malnutrition.
"When animals die, it is the children who are directly affected because in this pastoral society, 60 percent of food is from milk," said Marc Rubin, an official with UNICEF.
However, with the light rains that have fallen in the region recently, the situation remains critical and worse still, the showers risk sparking infection as run off washing rotting carcasses drains into open pans and other water holes that are used by local communities.
"With all the carcasses lying along the roads, the rain will collect all the dirt and contaminate the ponds and the wells where people drink, this will be problematic as it could cause a lot of disease," Dejene warned.
Residents here say the current drought is the most severe in recent times with some 1.5 million people in the country's eastern and southern regions having no access to potable water since January.
"I cannot remember ever having seen such a severe drought in at least the last five years," said Gaarso Lema, a 25-year-old herder who said he has to, on certain days, trek for between 10 and 15 kilometres in search of pasture.
"Three years ago, I lost 14 animals, but this time I have lost 25. I only remain with five and I fear that they will all die," he added.