Accepted Paper:

Lifeblood: water, psychological suffering, and the end of time in Ethiopia's lower Omo valley  

Author:

Edward Stevenson (Durham University)

Paper short abstract:

The end of the flood of the Omo River as a result of a large dam has rendered local people's lives newly precarious. Understanding the implications of this change for mental health and well-being requires us to think anew about the relationships among bodies, minds, environments and food systems.

Paper long abstract:

Anthropologists have documented a wide range of ways of living, working, and ageing that are compatible with health and well-being. The people anthropologists have studied also provide lessons about the limits of human adaptability - human vulnerability in the face of radical changes in material and social ecology. In this paper I consider the impacts of one such radical change: the end of the annual flood of the Omo River, as a result of the building of the Gibe III dam. For centuries, the flood of the Omo provided water and sediments that made it possible to grow food in an otherwise semi-arid environment. With the end of the flood, the lives of the people who call the valley home were rendered newly precarious. Drawing on ethnographic work among the Bodi (Mela) of the lower Omo in the years immediately before the end of the flood, and on a structured survey of psychological distress, I consider the implications of the end of the flood for mental health and well-being. Understanding these implications requires us to think anew about the relationships among bodies, minds, environments and food systems. The study calls into question assumptions built into conventional measures of mental health, and reminds us of the biocultural costs of modernity.

Panel Body03
Corporeality & material ecology: the affordances of stuff and wellbeing