Report Visit – Tigray Region

Report of visit to Afar Region’s Tigray border districts: ‘Aba’ala, Magaale and Yallo

 

November 21stand 22nd2020 in ‘Aba’ala, Magaale and adjoining Erebti

November 24thand 25th2020 in Yallo and Guulina

 

Visiting team:

Trip 1: Hamad Md (APDA community economic advisor), Humud Yusuf, driver, Valerie Browning, APDA program coordinator

Trip 2: Ahmad Burhan, driver and Valerie Browning, APDA program coordinator

 

Trip purpose:

  1. To find exacting and up-to-date information from government authorities in border areas to understand how they are affected by the current conflict in Tigray and what plans the government has to cope with the ongoing affect of conflict
  2. To understand from the government authorities and the community what is the effect of the conflict on the community and what plans are in place to overcome those affects

 

People spoken to include:

Heads/ delegated heads of all visited woredas; police heads of each woreda; community members, APDA field workers in Magaale, Yallo and Erebti. Information was also picked up from health centers, Kalwaan hospital, markets and shops.

 

Information in Summary:

 

After now 21 days of the conflict in Tigray, what is evident is that all visited districts were utterly dependent on Tigray for electricity, supplies, market, banking as well as being highly socially linked.

 

  1. ‘Aba’ala

‘Aba’ala was the most northern district on the Tigray border visited and joins to Tigray at Quiha, a border town that leads onto the Mekele Airport and the road into Mekele. The district has 56,000 people (estimate) living in the town that acts as the northern Kilbat/ Zone 2 administration capital. These 56,000 urban and semi-urban people living in 8 kebeles and there are an additional 6 rural kebeles making up the entire district.

 

  • ‘Aba’ala is to date unaffected militarily and has not seen any evidence of conflict
  • The first and major problem is lack of water. The town of 8 kebeles depended on water being pumped from 8 boreholes using electricity from Tigray. Currently, the majority of people buy/ collect river water some 10 kilometers from the town: 15 ETB/ jerrican. Reportedly, this water is now turbid as the river is running low. The district government is negotiating the possibility of getting solar pumps and generators in Samara from the Water Bureau.
  • Report of displacement: Noor Darsa (Head of Police). People are arriving at Quiha from Mekele at the rate of 40 people on average daily: professionals (university teachers, teachers, doctors and so on), Ethiopian and foreign. They travel to Quiha by bus then walk 20 kilometers to the ‘Aba’ala police post where they are searched and screened. The police then write them a letter further on to Samara to go to the place/ town of their choice in Ethiopia. Informally, around 100 to 150 people from Tigray have come into the town and are living with community members with the support of the resident community. When asked if they expected IDPs, both the government and the police replied there was no current possibility of hosting them as they, the authorities were concerned for their ability to support the existing community in terms of food, water and health care. More than 20 Eritrean refugees who were resident in Mekele have come through and sent through the auspices of UNHCR.
  • The district has no communicationwith the exception of police ‘telegram’ strictly for security purpose
  • The electric supplycoming from Mekele was cut for almost 2 weeks and now opens occasionally for a few hours at low power – not suffieince to power the motors for the wells.
  • Tigray was the primary source of foodfor ‘Aba’ala. Now there is limited supplies being brought by government (relief food) and by merchants but the latter at extortionately high prices.
  • There is no fuel– the one petrol station was disabled by the owner before he went to Tigray at the start of the fighting.
  • Bankingwas dependent on the Mekele Commercial Bank so it is frozen.
  • Mekele was a back-up referral hospital and now this is not possible.

 

 

  1. Magaale

Magaale is a woreda of roughly 37,000 people adjoining to the southern border of ‘Aba’ala and connecting to Tigray through Mokkoni. This is a much more rural district where the main concern is that there is no market leaving people from the entire district unable to purchase food. They were marketing goats to Tigray through Mokkoni. Like ‘Aba’ala, they have no access to banks aside from now going far south to Kalwaan in Guulina travelling through Yallo.

Again, electrical power came from Tigray as well as the shortest route to refer a delivering mother in problem.

Ten days previous to the visit, TPLF soldiers had come into the closest border kebele of Tonsa and raided 57 goats that the local people were trying to market. Four local men including the 3rdhead of the kebele tried to resist and they were taken away captured to Tigray. Two houses were burnt in the incident from some sort of firearm.

 

The government of Magaale now strongly fears worsening malnutrition. They already have upwards of 40% of their under 5 year olds with moderate malnutrition but with no goat market, even those who have herds will suffer similarly. Their plea to APDA was to find a way to open the goat market.

 

There is flour in the district just brought up from Nazareth close to Addis Ababa but this sells at 1,500 ETB/ 50 kilograms (normal price around 600 ETB). If they can get a sale for a goat, it sells at around 500 ETB when it should reach up to 3,000 ETB.

Locusts have devastated almost all grazing leaving the animals in a critical condition if vegetation – rejuvenating rain does not fall till around April.

 

  1. Yallo

Yallo adjoins to Magaale going south on the Tigray border. The district is home to the largest market in Afar Region connecting to Alamatta, Gubgudo, Balla and Chercher.

There the news is much more drastic as now 11 days ago, the government launched a 3 – day fight for the border town of Chercher, the town the community has the greatest link to. Apparently the Tigray army had a military base adjoining the town. Rockets were fired from the periphery of Yallo town literally rocking the houses and leaving the 16,000 odd occupants to scatter toward Kalwaan, some 15 kilometers east of Yallo.

With the Tigray army in the town of Chercher and surrounding villages, there was a horrific massacre since apparently this army had use the tactic to hang on to the civilians. Two days after the battle, Afar men went to bury the dead and report burying scores of people among them women, children, elderly and blind., the people who could not flee. Most of the houses are burnt.

310 people did reach Yallo town and were housed in the government school for 6 days, fed and given sleeping mats. Finally, they were trucked back to the border when it was clear the area was under government forces. A further 45 people who had fled from Chercher, sheltering in the border kebele of Gidda’eela were fed, food taken by camel. Again, there is a further number of people in the Gorrisso Riverbed, 7 hours walk from Yallo (no road access). Afar have gone there and given them goats to eat.

 

The Zone administration town of Kalwaan, home to the main local hospital treated almost 1,000 wounded soldiers, government supplies and medical workers having been brought up from as far away as Addis Ababa. Two injured civilians were treated: one 2 year old and a man. The medical director described wounds as horrific since very high powered weaponry was deployed. These people have been referred on for further treatment through Woldiya hospital.

 

The largest animal market in Afar Region in Yallo is now stopped; there is no electricity – the supply they depended on from Chercher is burnt in fighting. The district head described 24,000 Afar pastoralists in need of immediate food assistance since they are unable to sell goats, locusts have destroyed their grazing pasture and there is already remarkable malnutrition in the district.

 

Conclusion:

 

It needs to be noted that ADDITIONAL perspective is occurring as this is being written with the attack on Mekele taking place (November 26th), the government news reporting 80,000 people have left the town of Mekele and more can be expected to do so. These people are likely to flee into Afar Region through Quiha. ‘Aba’ala will need immediate support of water trucking, food and shelter. Afdeera and Soddonta in Bidu are possible sources of trucking water.

 

  1. ‘Aba’ala needs a water solution: repairing of motors and the means to run the motors: fuel or solar
  2. The massacre that occurred in Chercher needs human rights and government investigation and support for the traumatized and dispossessed people
  3. The conflict is adding yet another layer to the food insecurity and consequent destitution of the pastoralists, particularly in remote areas since there is no reasonable working market for the entire northern and central Region of Afar. Afar Region needs animal market outlet through Djibouti or otherwise since there are no slaughterhouses or such that can take the animals within the Region. The government needs to release the banking services that are linked to Tigray so people and local cooperatives can avail funds
  4. Health emergencies such as difficult deliveries need support and referral
  5. Malnutrition in remote settings of all northern Afar needs to be addressed with consistency given this conflict could well grind on for some time.

 

APDA will do what it can to turn around assistance to the most needy situation and is trying to work through the market problem of finding other sources of buyers. This however needs logistics and capital funding.

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Sept.2020

The flood continues to rise. A drastic race against time

September 16th2020

  1. Rising water, rising flood damage

Afar-Regional Government Report as of September 16th:

As of August 2nd, the Awash River, the Region’s major watercourse that flows from the southern tip north and then east to the Djibouti border is in flood. While the Lower Awash was first and drastically affected, now the Middle Awash is massively affected with whole settlements submerged. Now described as the worst flood in living memory, with the further expected rains and release of water from the Koka hydroelectric dam on the Upper Awash, flood waters are expected to continue rising for the coming 15 to 20 days.

The Disaster Preparedness and Food Security Program Head announced this morning that 240,425 people are affected, of these, 144,285 are now displaced having lost all forms of property and housing. Those displaced are in 47 temporary shelters many of them school premises. People simply cling to what they can awaiting a helicopter/ motorized boat rescue. Ami Bara in southern Afar Region, adjoining Hanruka , Gawwaani and Gala’alu are reported the hardest hit with whole sub-districts isolated from any form of communication aside from helicopters.

 

  1. The critical gaps

As reported from the above meeting, food is most critically needed. The government is looking for 86,567 quintal (100 kilograms/ quintal) of food to support 240,425 people over 3 months. Desperate cries for help from now the worst hit districts in the Middle Awash of Gawwaani and Gala’alu are telling APDA people have nothing to eat and have not eaten for up to 4 days and more.

Second to food, the government says 34,000 households have no form of shelter or protection from the full range including rain, wind, at times, high sun, wild animals and so on.

 

  1. Losses with ramification on livelihood

The same meeting described a total of 41,448 hectares of planted farmland as utterly lost. Some of this is commercial farming but also, the small survival plots of the local community are included. Twenty plan nurseries were swept away. Including the drastic losses in the west of the Region, well over 40,000 head of livestock are lost and 85,000 hectares of grazing rangeland is flood – damaged and where plant-life has appeared, locust infested.

106 schools are damaged beyond use leaving at least 25,000 school students unable to return for the new school year as it begins in September. Forty-one health facilities are flooded leaving umpteen medical emergencies at risk including childbirth. 200 kilometers of road are washed away/ damaged.

 

  1. How it affects the household

Perhaps this story from one household given food and shelter assistance from APDA may shed light on this:

Abida’s Story

Abida Makko is a 50-year-old widow now living with over 400 other displaced people in Hummadoyta Primary School. She is only had one girl – child and is now responsible her daughter’s 6 children as well as her daughter. Abida’s husband died an old man some 15 years ago leaving her a young married woman alone with her daughter. Then her daughter had 6 children (the youngest is 18 months) but their father died 1 year ago in fighting against the invading Issa/ Somali clan some 50 kilometers from their home. In her home in Urogubi, Afambo she had 4 cows that had 3 calves; 15 goats; 2 donkeys and a camel. She lost every single animal in the flood.

On August 4th, waters surrounded her house coming in to waste – level. Her daughter and her were holding the children to stop them from drowning. They were rescued by the government helicopter and brought to Humadoyta, another sub-district in their district called Afambo. As they came, they brought nothing with them, only the clothes they were wearing.

She had been in the schoolhouse just 24 hours when APDA came and gave her sugar, ground barley, lentils and wheat flour. This totally saved them, she said as up till then, there was nothing to eat. The ground barley was particularly good as they mixed it with a bit of sugar and water – does not need cooking and immediately got some energy back. Abida said they managed to keep the food and feed themselves for 1 month. Now she is waiting for government food distribution and still in the school. There are no toilets or wash areas and some of the children have diarrhea. She was given one blanket, plastic ground sheeting and a cooking pot. This, she said is hard to look after the children with such few possessions. 

When asked her immediate concerns, Abida replied that they have nowhere to return to: no house, no animals and no farm. She said they need shelter and food. But after that, the children do not adjust to eating shiro (Ethiopian sauce made of ground chick peas and spices) and chillie powder as is common in the town. She says they only know milk. She said she really needs goats or some animal to give back milk to the family. For the older 2, she says she has no idea how they will go to school as she cannot afford any books, shoes or anything that might help them.

 

  1. What to do??

APDA is certainly working and wanting to work further afield and harder: the organization has distributed food in the 1stweek to 87 households in Afambo and now distributed shelter and hygiene/ sanitation assistance to 1,220 households in Assyaita, all the Lower Awash. What needs to happen is today’s needs should be met but recovery is also urgently important as the burden of Afar Region’s dependent poor is now all but doubled.

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Aug.2020

Struck by Flood!!!!!!!!

August 10th2020

  1. 50,000 loose property while 19,626 to date are displaced

The Awash River bursts its banks:

The expected main rains has come with force not seen in the past 10 years: water pouring down from the Ethiopian Highlands and rain falling as of August 2ndhas brought catastrophe for 8,763 households. The rainy season has just started and thick, dark clouds loom again as the Awash River continues to rise…

A rapid government assessment last week is reporting devastating household losses in 10 so far of the Region’s 35 districts, the worst – affected being on the Lower Awash in Assaita, Afambo and the newly – formed district of Garani. To date, 4,699 hectares of irrigation recently – planted farmland is utterly washed away with the worst – affected communities in Koradora and Gala’alu in Assaita and Urogubi in Afambo being utterly surrounded by water, people still clinging to trees, floodwaters having swept away any presence of their inhabitants: house property + food + herd – miraculously, no one is reported drowned till now. Two government helicopters have worked constantly for the past 4 days trying to pull them to safety, dropping food where it is possible.

Indeed, the Awash River has the notorious reputation of flooding annually but by and large those incidents were relatively minor with the waters quickly receding. This year, the Geega River cutting into Afar Region’s western border from Amhara Region brought a raging torrent of water on August 4thactually flooding over the road entry to Logya town cutting traffic from Djibouti for some 8 hours. The Geega joins the Awash at Dubte town and, with waters released from the flooding hydroelectric dam (Koka Dam) on the river’s headwaters outside Addis Ababa, all surrounding communities were immersed and surrounded by August 5th.

While the damage – count is yet to be completed, at least 3,721 households have nothing to return to and stand without food or immediate shelter; disease outbreak of malaria, pneumonia brought on by cold nights and hunger, even cholera is possible. Flies have come out in force bringing any number of infections to small children. Too, Assaita has become a hub of coronavirus transmission with almost 17 cases found in the town. Using schools and other empty buildings to house displaced people is then challenging trying to avoid further transmission.

As the season wears on, the Regional Government has predicted as many as 63,000 people maybe affected and of these, 44,000 people displaced from their homes.

What is urgently needed:

  1. Food and cooking utensils
  2. Tarpaulin and rope to structure immediate shelter
  3. Blankets and mosquito nets
  4. Clothes
  5. Disease preventative support in soap, water purification, household level water storage jerricans
  6. Basic medicines such as rehydration salts, malaria medications, eye ointment, basic antibiotics

Beyond these needs:

  1. People need support to build back their traditional houses of dry palm – leaf mats (daboyta)
  2. Those left empty will need re-stocking with 5 to 10 goats in order to start up again
  3. Farm tools to re-establish crop growing will be needed

 

  1. Rain status beyond the Awash River Basin

This extra-ordinary rain has also fallen in most drought-thirsty areas of the Region bringing immediate drinking water relief but creating numerous flash – floods that again have swept away herds and property.

Some areas have become impassable for example, rain fell mid – campaign in Teeru and Awra for APDA’s health team making it extraordinary hard for health workers to reach flooded pastoralist households to vaccinate children and conduct nutrition surveillance.

The other point of remark is that while a flash flood may fill the land like an ocean for a few hours, as soon as it subsides, small spikes of green grass appear. As they do, desert locusts are poised to snatch them as particularly seen in Teeru and Awra in the past days. Locust swarms have greatly multiplied and daily darkened the sky in Sifra, parts of Tallalak and ‘Adda’ar. The nature of the rain is torrential but not wind-driven thus the swarms actually enjoy this environment to further group. A HUGE swarm is blocking vision the road from Harsis 10 kilometers south of Mille all the way to Mille town as this is being written. For grazing, this is drastic.

While this is a short message, this is to appeal to any organization, individual that can support this emergency, emergency on the back of emergency being that the Afar community were already enduring malnutrition, herd losses and locust infestation. Here, Afar households are giving what they can in terms of clothes household utensils and so on. APDA is looking to immediately assist 700 households in Koradora, 1,290 households in Gala’alu and 510 households in Urogubi as these communities are intimately known to the organization through APDA’s provision of health and education services over the years and these are anyway very hard to reach areas.

Photos taken in the first week of this disaster are posted in APDA’s Face Book page.

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June.2020

24 Hours in Barbara May Maternity Hospital

June 5thto 6th2020

Since the Coronavirus Pandemic reached Afar Region in early April, the situation in Barbara May Maternity Hospital (BMMH) has changed: deliveries have doubled and the weekly clinics continue to see up to 50 antenatal mothers and up to 20 gynecology cases each Tuesday and Thursday. It appears the community perceives it is safer to deliver away from Logya, Dubte and Samara (75 kilometers from Mille) where the Region’s main quarantine center is in Samara University and COVID cases are treated in Logya hospital government hospital. Also, 10 days ago, a doctor who had worked in Dubte hospital and studying surgery in Tigray was found COVID 19 positive. This has added to the fear.

The hospital now has 35 – inpatient capacity in 3 rooms: the large initial inpatient room; 5 beds in what was firstly the antenatal clinic and 8 beds in a closed verandah area and one intensive care/ anesthetic recovery bed in a room that was the laboratory. Constantly, from 20 to 24 beds are occupied with a daily turn – over of delivering mothers as well as patients requiring longer – stay treatment.

Recall of 5thafternoon till 6thafternoon, June 2020

The 4 mothers who had delivered without complication the previous day are discharged in the morning leaving a total of 18 inpatients by mid-morning.

Mother of 3 is in labor in the delivery room having been found with twins: the first presenting a head and the second in breech – each baby has its own placenta, the delivery is a ‘piece of cake’ but of course, there is fear of postpartum hemorrhage. Already there are 2 other mothers in the ward with twins: one who had 7 previous deliveries and did bleed defying all medical treatment to the extent the only option was a hysterectomy in order to save her life. Through the drama, blood was picked up from Samara blood bank after considerable overlay of bureaucratic obstruction: 4 units were poured into her. Still weak from the trauma, this mother is now doing well with 2 very vigorous twin boys.

As the day’s 3rdtwin case is delivering, a phone call begging ambulance help comes in: a mother some 120 kilometers away on extremely rough road has delivered but now dying of anemic.  The ambulance driver is located and he is on the way getting back to the hospital at 1 AM with not one but 2 extremely anemic mothers.  Off the asphalt road, it took him 4 hours to do 80 kilometers t reach the settlement of Magadayto inside Geega. Both mothers are found to have enlarged spleens: one with a haemaglobin of 2.8 and the other 3.2. Their respective babies are alive and active, the mothers can hardly hold their heads up. The hospital must start a course of choraquine to reduce the chronic malaria and the spleen before they can transfuse them – they will need up to 10 days in the hospital and 6 months treatment to reduce the spleen.

Meanwhile, Khadiga, 18 year old primagravid from Logya is admitted in labor. She has severe facial odema. In her first delivery, the labor is longer and harder and when the baby is ready to come out, Khadiga has a convulsion – she has eclampsia like 2 other cases in the ward. The staff control the eclampsia but her blood pressure resists going down. Dr Omar decides on using a vacuum – ‘Kiwi-cup’ to pull out the baby as fast as possible. Her daughter is fine at birth but after 5 hours, little Faatuma begins convulsing. Medicating her gives her a hypoxic episode and the body twitching persists. She is unable to latch on to the breast and the decision made to ring the pediatrician in Dubte hospital and refer mother and baby by ambulance for a better treatment for Faatuma.

On ward rounds, Omar is confronted by 2 patients waiting for a solution: one who has had 2 previous caesarians and can only safely deliver by a 3rdcaesarian and a young mother that had a fistula repaired in 2019 now suffering with a huge bladder stone. He decides to take both to surgery on Friday morning despite the fact there are another 2 mothers laboring in the 3 – bed labor room. The caesarian takes much longer than normal as the mother has extensive adhesions that need to be released, the baby is delivered in good condition. ‘Adey’s father had brought her to the hospital after seeing her in agony passing urine for some months. The 18 year old had lost her baby in the rural home delivery that resulted in her getting a fistula. With the fistula, quite unusual to Afar people, her husband deserted her leaving her a discredited, divorced woman.  When her father saw the 7 cm diameter stone removed from her bladder, he said he would show the whole community and campaign for better maternal health where he lives.

Dr Omar is still writing up the patients’ surgical records when the labor room midwives ask him to check a breech mother – she is not progressing and they can feel a foot. The family from Logya (educated people) refuses the caesarian saying they only want the mother to survive. Mother has NO living children having had 2 other newborn deaths. Eventually, they are persuaded and 3rdoperation is undertaken, live boy!!            

Where she was, another laboring mother is admitted. This mother is complicated with repeated urine infection which turns out to be the reason of her supposed labor.

Meanwhile a mother who delivered in the hospital 8 days previously is admitted with severe anemia, enlarged spleen and liver – she seems to be complicated by heart dysfunction due to the anemia and the infection she has totally reduced her platelets as seen on the blood film. With high concern on what vicious infection she has, the hospital manage to locate her relatives and take her, a second referral to Dubte hospital. She comes from Mille town, is alone without a partner and been working in house cleaning.

The final delivery for the 24 hours is a 16 year old. Her family is from Eritrea and now living in Logya – Haalima is seemingly a well – primagravid with no real alarming symptoms. Like most such young girls having their first, her labor is not easy but she is very well controlled. Just as the cervix reaches full dilation, her blood pressure rises to 103 diastolic. The staff act and give her medication to reduce the blood pressure. However, just 20 minutes after the birth she convulses and has to have the full treatment for eclampsia, her baby, another boy, is fine.

On Saturday evening, another 2 delivering mothers are admitted with hemoglobins of 4.2 and 3.5 respectively. Again, another tussle to get the blood from the Samara blood bank.

The challenges and the actions:

APDA is deliberately working to keep the hospital as safe as possible from Coronavirus and enforcing  less people in the hospital. Local population likes to have up to 7 to 12 per patient – all the family and friends come. Also, all people entering the compound are checked for fever. Awareness is being given on the hospital health education TV screen.

The process to open a mini-blood bank has been slowed by difficulty to communicate with people in Addis. APDA is in process to try and overcome this.

With the additional beds, there is need for hand-basins to be put in on 2 positions. Also floor tiling needs repairing. This will be done.

The head nurse, a health officer acts to assist Dr Omar who is now alone after Dr Margaret returned to UK in April but he is not trained yet in emergency surgery. There is a need for a doctor able to cope with such emergencies as the hospital faces: either an Ethiopian doctor but this is not feasible under the current needs due to the pandemic in the country or a voluntary doctor.

 

May 2020

Living under the Shadow of Coronavirus

May 13th2020

  1. Coronavirus and the challenge of determining its movement

As of May 11th, Ethiopia has recorded 250 cases of COVID 19: 23 from Afar Region, 6 from Somali Region; 4 from Tigray and the remainder mainly found in Addis and dominantly travellers as well as a few from the nearby town of Dukkum, from Nazareth and Dira Dawa. Overall, 105 cases have recovered and there have been 5 fatalities staggered over a period of time.

 

In Afar Region, there are now 13 quarantines at Djibouti border entry points as well as in Samara, Gawwaani and Gala’alu. As of a week ago, the Region got reagent to test for the virus and so far, 281 tests have proved negative. However, to be actually sure of the situation is a near nightmare: a mother in Sifra died as the ambulance had almost reached her from placental retention and second man died in another area. Their relatives have broken the lines and walked into Afar Region from Djibouti for the funerals and so now the hunt is on to find them and their contacts and test them. In Djibouti, there have been well over 1,000 cases and, under the condition of deportation order, Ethiopian traders have been and continue to cross into Ethiopia through any entry they can find on the border. These people are living under the stress of walking through desert land into Afar Region as well as being possible cases/ contacts of the coronavirus.

 

APDA has to date printed awareness raising material (information flyers, posters and banners) on what not to do and what to do to protect from infection with one poster given to highlighting the problem of spitting being that it is Ramadan and it is so common for people to idly spit what they have in their mouths. Now with microphones, there are people allocated to raise awareness in towns, markets and areas where people gather. An extra-ordinary challenge is upon us as, when Ramadan closes, the celebration is a family-gathering involving purchase of clothes for children and so on so people flock in droves for the coming 2 weeks to the roadsides. Again, the organization has made 2 locally – filmed dramas that currently are being displayed on the health education TV screen in the Barbara May Maternity Hospital depicting typical Afar response to the Coronavirus threat. Should the hospital treat a Coronavirus suspected case, it is equipped with adequate oxygen cylinders and very basic staff protection material (masks, gloves and gowns) as well as infra-red temperature recorders. Currently, the only ventilator in the Region is in Assaita Hospital, some 3 hours drive from Mille.   

 

  1. Needed government restrictions and their effects on the community wellbeing

In a Region like Afar, town connections are vital: markets (especially now with Eid coming), relatives, possibility of daily laboring work and much more. However, the tool the government has to control disease transmission is to close the transport and restrict any movement. For a population so intertwined in community life as the Afar, this is inconceivable thus very difficult to police and to maintain –  a funeral without the relatives and the clan attending let alone a person sick not visited; a birth without a minimum of 4 to 5 caretakers is all inconceivable. Borders mean little and the name of the clan is shamed if you are NOT socially interactive. Hence securing even quarantine areas is hugely challenging.

 

There is, as WHO has cautioned, the danger now of health teams paying less attention to the pregnant delivering mother and the sick under 5 year old for all the fears and restrictions this situation has thrown on us. Almost 95% of patients attending APDA’s Barbara May Maternity Hospital must travel some distance to reach the institution. Under the current conditions where numbers in vehicles are highly restricted leading to doubling of the transport cost, this for many mothers is prohibitive.

 

Children across the Region are now bored and crying for the opportunity to go back to school, schools having closed as of mid-March and now not to open till the new academic year in September. Without a readily graspable alternative method of teaching children in the home due to lack of technical accessibility and that most parents are illiterate, the children simply are biding their time. APDA is scrambling/ struggling to establish a system of simple teaching card handouts to be delivered house to house in its alternative basic education program. The Afar rural is certainly NOT online!!

 

  1. Locusts, malnutrition and measles: all under the Corona shadow

The community needs and depends on a multitude of other treatments that must continue such as tuberculosis, AIDS and malaria. Now there is plethora of outbreaks of measles but apparently no place for responses. Children are dying. Boyna in Teeru reported 4 children of around 5 to 8 years dying of measles in the last month all had migrated back from Mabay where there is almost no vaccination coverage. Even adults are affected by whooping cough as well as measles due to the overall dismally poor vaccination coverage in Afar Region. The ‘unseen’ preventable diseases such as hepatitis B, pneumonaccocus infections must be spiraling in the community. Then the altogether silent killer, malnutrition still has a fierce grip on many remote communities.

 

The short rains are over and the hot season is in full fling with temperatures constantly over 40 degrees, Overall there were 2 main rainstorms not producing on pasture rejuvenation. Quite the reverse: encouraged by the rains, desert locusts came back around 7 weeks ago now and are busily increasing and expanding: 4 sub-districts of Sifra are heavily effected and swarms have gone down into Tallalak in Zone 5 on the western border and are affecting 3 sub-districts in Mille. APDA is anxiously contacting FAO on the matter and the Regional authorities are beginning to spray the affected areas. This indeed adds to the overall food insecurity since these pastoralists will be stressed to move their herds to find pasture. It seems the locusts have laid eggs and have great potential to spread.

 

  1. APDA response and what more is needed

As mentioned, malnutrition is widespread and particularly severe in remote areas. The organization is responding in northern Dubte (Geega, Dagaba, Saha), a project now able to continue until August 31st. House to house nutrition surveillance has identified an initial 154 severely malnourished children and provides supplementary food for 800 malnourished pregnant and lactating mothers. Human nutrition response is matched with veterinary response: those with less than a ‘survival herd’ of 15 goats are now receiving alfalfa hay to stop their further animal deaths and the herd in general is being treated halting the progression of animal diseases.

 

Using this tandem strategy of human nutrition and veterinary support, a second project has opened on the Eritrean border in Bidu among people who have reached destitution/ semi-destitution through droughts as well as political isolation over the past 20 years. The people of Alaab, Moggores and Aggum are now critically food insecure and the project aims to bring them through the remainder of the dry season until there are hopefully pasture – rejuvenating rains in August/ September. Malnutrition is rife and the herd is all but emaciated. Therefore screening and treatment of severe malnutrition, supplementary food support along with animal treatment and hay in houses almost destitute is planned.

 

In an adjacent area on the Eritrean border, northern Eli Daar the desperately weakened herd there is about to receive 6 months support in treatment and supplementary animal feed (government – supplied alfalfa hay). This will prevent further animal loss and thereby support the family to have their survival herd.

 

Finally, in Teeru and northern Awra where shocking malnutrition and critical livelihood loss has plagued the district since around November, APDA will work on seeing the remaining herd survives as described above and supporting households to de-contaminate drinking water and store it, have soap under this threat of Coronavirus as well as get support to overcome malnutrition. This district is extremely affected by the invading weed shrub, prosopis juliafora. There is no longer access to animal grazing, road transport or even water supplies due to the density of this thorny thicket. Thus 100’s of households are displaced into southern Teeru and those who were unable to move are dangerously isolated.

 

With the dark clouds of Coronavirus dominating our horizon, it is utterly needed to look beyond to the recovery and the emancipation back to a productive livelihood: enormous work remains to facilitate the rehabilitation of the environment the pastoralists depend on and to truly connect them to productive interaction in the market so that food insecurity is overcome.

 

  1. APDA’s program of development, how it is faring

Having an utterly rural program that uses foot-transport house to house is primarily a great advantage. Any discussion, learning happens in the open air under a tree and so most of APDA’s primary health, women’s empowerment including stopping of harmful practices continues – not unimpeded but continues. Not more than 8 people gather and practice sitting well away from each other and the Coronavirus awareness takes center stage but leads into all manner of discussion. Literacy teaching also continues in small groups and mobile teachers are keeping up with their alternative basic education students. Reports and interaction with the field office is more phone – orientated, SMART phones are not universally found. Only the field office has the opportunity of interacting with the world on ‘virtual meetings’.

 

Actually, APDA has seen Corona as an opportunity to really work with the community on behavior changes reducing respiratory transmission of disease. Aside from the social distancing that is so hard to translate here, stopping spitting of anything from the mouth is a big one. If this can really become adapted in the society, then tuberculosis will slow down enormously along with other respiratory transmitted diseases such as measles and whooping cough.

 

As no doubt you are, we too are learning enormously as the world does mental summersaults and gymnastics. Our fear that humans are isolated is less than that of your circumstance but nevertheless communications are changing and evolving. May we all benefit from the opportunity to re-think that this extra-ordinary pandemic is offering staying safe in a different perspective of ‘protection’ as it determines. The big hope now is the time you can visit and we meet again in the flesh!!!

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Feb.2020

A Brief Overview of a Huge Food Crisis in Afar

February 5th2020

All traditional drought areas of the Region and more are now in the grip of an extremely strong food insecurity that has manifested in either generating more malnutrition begun malnutrition in normally ‘safe’ areas. The Eritrean border including northern Eli Da’ar, Bidu and across to northern Afdeera; parts of the Dakka Plateau and as far as Obno in Afambo and the newly – formed district of Garani; northern Dubte and Kori and inland to Teeru and northern Awra are badly affected. Stories of adults barely eating to try and save food for children are now widespread.

The winter rains did fall in a small area in the Region’s northwest from Barahale to Konnaba and Dallol as well as in the southern Zone 3 but not beyond. While afternoons and nights, the skies are cloudy, there is no precipitation but apparently, the climatic condition is very favorable for the desert locust. The next expected rainy season from March to April is also unreliable normally yielding only a couple of storms if that.

The most grievous outcome of course is the malnutrition: government screening of all districts in January put 24 into the dangerous category of ‘hot-spot no. 1’ and the remaining 8 as hot-spot no. 2. The very worst of the region by this report is Teeru with an under 5 year old severe acute malnutrition rate of 5.3% and secondly Afdeera with 4.2%. APDA had been working on malnutrition and vaccination in remote areas of these 2 districts up until September 2019 but unable to find resources to continue. Again, both woredas are severely affected by locust damage as well as having the multiplicity of problems including the ever-increasing prospopis juliaforainvasion in Teeru basin, animal diseases, contaminated water and really no where to migrate to.

  1. How this happened: lack of rain and the locust story

The above is the result of a combination: the main rains of 2019 from July to September were patchy. Then, as soon as the first rejuvenated blades of grass appeared, the locusts began their consumption. This went from August to November 2019 stripping several important grazing lands of all pasture leaving them dry well before the expected dry season. Added to this, the market prices have soared without recall reaching over 1,000 ETB per 50 kilograms of wheat and the animal price slumped with the deterioration of animals for sale to around 300 to 800 per goat. This food price insecurity is linked to the fact there was very little food grain on the market: the government relief assistance through the Pastoral Safety Net Program (PSNP) is only 6 out of 12 months from February to July and the harvest of grain in Afar was poor this season as the government reported in mid-January. This for destitute and almost destitute pastoralists is intolerable as their normal back-up coping mechanism of assisting each other is now barely possible so many animals having died due to lack of pasture combined with disease.  Animals could not be taken to graze into the western border as previously as conflict with Amharas, Oromo and even Tigray in the north has become highly belligerent. Thus then the locust crisis fell upon the Afar when there was very little food in the house and the pasture was not well rejuvenated. To top the misery, animal treatment support was only available through emergency campaigns rather than being a regular service to the people.

 

What’s more, the locust story is not over. As is predicted and already declared by Somalia, the locusts are laying eggs for the second generation and are appearing in small swarms so far in far – flung areas according to a brief government assessment of 7 of the 32 districts. In fact, FAO and the Regional government will conduct a desert locust damage assessment aimed at completion by February 29th. Meanwhile, the fear is there as the locusts literally strip the acacia trees of any foliage.

 

  1. The different but stunningly awful situation on the Afar border with Eritrea

The volcanically active district of Bidu that straddles the Eritrean border is just emerging from utter isolation as endured during the 1998 to 2018 border conflict between the two countries as the most food insecure in the Region. Once a strong community of goat and camel herders that traded with Eritrea and Djibouti, they are reduced to eking out an existence for one another with their remaining herd, their dried forest (the river feeding the Alaab plain diverted in 2010 drying up a pristine forest that supported as many as 5,000 households). One woman from Moggoros expressed the heartache of no food saying how the previous night she had cheated her children by continually boiling water on the fire telling them the food would cook until from exhaustion of crying they fell asleep. She had sent a couple of remaining goats by camel caravan to Buure in northern Eli Daar with the hope they could buy a bag of grain – the camel trip takes 8 days. The camel brought back the almost dead goats saying there was no food to be purchased in Buure or just south in Eli Daar – they had also failed to get food from Afdeera just north of them. She said the crisis had reached NO FOOD. They had killed a goat to eat but the children refused the meat finding it impossible to swallow without the porridge they are used to. This woman said they had never had government relief help and as of 2018, only APDA had come and assisted them with supplementary food help, screening them and their children for malnutrition. As Afar do, she concluded hers and her children’s fate was ‘in the Hand of God’.

 

  1. Who is doing what

Government relief assistance as part of the annual 6 months food program will begin this month in February. This indeed will put both wheat grain and oil into the market at a lower price since merchants by up supplies.

Bureau of Pastoralism and Rural Development with FAO will conduct a desert locust damage assessment as of February 17thfor 10 days.

APDA has completed supplementary support to pregnant and lactating mothers in Bidu for 3 months and is completing a further veterinary treatment and animal fodder project in some of the most affected areas. Three months of alfalfa hay as grown and provided for by the government is distributed to prevent animals dying where there are less than 15 remaining goats in the house.

 

  1. What APDA’s strategy is for immediate relief with the ability to hold on to the hope of recovery

What APDA has tried out and believes is the best a local NGO can do under these extraordinary times is to

  1. Conduct government – protocol nutrition screening in the affected community on a house to house basis and concurrently treat all those found with severe and moderate malnutrition
  2. Given there is a shortage of moderate malnutrition supplementary food and being that the aspect of the pregnant and lactating mother is doubly serious in that, without treatment, the mother will give birth to and raise at best a child with growth stunting, then identify all pregnant and lactating mothers in the community with moderate malnutrition and treat them with supplementary food
  3. In parallel in the same community, treat all remaining animals and provide government – supplied alfalfa hay that the goats do not die and even go on to produce milk for the household.

Assure disease prevention through awareness, provision of soap and water purifying chemicals to the most vulnerable households to prevent them getting an outbreak of acute watery diarrhea or other waterborne diseases as they may well get with such low immunity and such challenging drought-stricken environment.

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Dec.2019

Greeting you all for Christmas and the New Year as 2019 Slips into 2020!!

December 19th2019

Our sincere thanks for walking through a difficult year with us..

As we pause on the brink of another 12 months, APDA is utterly aware the struggle we face is neither unique nor are we alone. It is thanks to the dedication and commitment of your organization and you yourselves that we are able to face the issues of community development against the odds of obscurity from world view; the ever-increasing fierce climate and in a world where the economic race dominates actual humanitarian need. Indeed starting with the long dry season that lasted from mid-September 2018 to late May 2019; then marching head-on into a plague of locusts that have consumed much of the pasture on the western and central grazing lands topped up with a brief encounter with cholera and more substantive attack from measles and whooping cough outbreaks and the age-old conflict between the Issa (Somali clan supported from Djibouti) and the Afar that has been whipped up to fury in the past year, life has not been easy!! In all, it has been a tough year. Your visits, your interaction to really learn of the issues that affect the Afar people as well as your time to think through with us how Afar can come through as self-sufficient being a relatively tiny spot in the extremities of world need and suffering have strongly encouraged and enabled us.

 

Indeed, all of us in APDA wish you time to re-charge as the world winds down to celebrate Christmas and New Year. May you be uplifted and encouraged to journey on into 2020 with us!!

 

  1. Breakthroughs achieved with your support in 2020

While it was a tough year, there were some breakthroughs that APDA needs to emulate into 2020. These include:

  1. Getting another 4 boreholes sunk in Mille woreda aiming to facilitate these communities to use the water for crop planting since they are close to the Awash River
  2. Managing to get some of APDA’s alternative basic education facilitators trained by the government teachers’ college establishing a track for recognition and grading them up to professional quality
  3. Vaccinating in extremely difficult terrain in Teeru, Afdeera and northern Dubte breaking a cycle of child-disease outbreaks. Teeru and Afdeera communities were also supported in emergency treatment of severely malnourished children
  4. Supporting communities in Bidu on the Eritrean border who otherwise were absolutely isolated with the beginnings of recovery through constructing a dam and then working to reduce their suffering in malnutrition
  5. Giving Erebti district access to water through 6 cistern rehabilitations; 6 new dams and also establishing rangeland rehabilitation bringing back indigenous trees and grasses.
  6. Establishing the first-ever borehole for Kori district reaching well over 2,000 households, one of the top ‘thirsty’ districts in the Region.
  7. Engineering improved techniques of bringing stopping female genital mutilation and in general, gender-based violence to an end: aside from actually physically screening under 5 year old girls as to whether and how they were cut, locating the cutters in northern Dubte that they can be stopped (there is now a list of 129 practitioners with full details of how they work); giving youth increased vocal position in schools and the community to oppose violence against females; giving clan leadership the role of prosecution and punishment for perpetrators where the government legal system does not reach.
  8. Curbing the death of animals in almost destitute households through animal treatment campaigns and feeding them alfalfa hay produced by the government.
  9. Supporting children in hostels that they can continue learning. There are now 8 children in levels 11 and 12 and Geega community brought 13 young girls to educate who have quickly mastered the skills of learning – they will be the first-ever female school graduates in a community of around 22,000 people.

 

  1. 2020 prospects, where best to turn

The outstanding aspect of the current status of the pastoralist community is their food insecurity: the herds have very little remaining pasture due to relatively poor rains in 2019 and then the locusts and daunting food costs in a country of soaring inflation. Actual reports of malnutrition are now widespread.

APDA is treating animals and distributing hay to the most desperate households. This needs to continue so that mass – death of animals is prevented and, as far as possible, milk can resume in the household for children and child-baring mothers. With annual winter rains being an almost lost season, rain cannot be expected before March/ April. As the dry-season winds on, the emergency status will sharpen taking on life-threatening thirst for several communities by January/ February.

The emergency flash-points of the Region are increasing including the northern border with Eritrea where drought has been constant and communities ostensibly isolated; Teeru where not only drought but the weed-shrub prosopis juliaforais decimating the livelihoods of the pastoralists; Kutubla in the east where Issa conflict and the diversion of the Awash River has reduced previously self-sufficient herdsmen to malnutrition and then pockets malnutrition are arising in nearly all districts where destitute and semi-destitute households have not recovered from previous drought shocks.

While responding to the emergency, APDA needs to build back recovery into affected communities that the cycle of destitution is broken. Urgently Afar pastoralist children and mothers need to gain food diversity to avert the growing trend to child growth stunting; local economy needs to be created within the communities and the pastoralists need to be the masters in the market rather than the victims.

 

Another high priority for APDA is to carry out routine vaccination in remote communities since the overall Afar Regional coverage is so shockingly low at 20% according to government figures. However, it is also essential to maintain health workers in these remote communities. In 2019, APDA has lost a total of 75 health workers from utterly remote sites due to the fact the project that supported them ended. Despite now 7 attempts to apply for support to bring back some of these precious people, nothing has been forthcoming, a symptom of the seemingly shrinking donor-environment. Maternal death as aware – communities devoid of their health worker carried their bleeding mothers to try and reach institutional help have already been reported in 2 sites. This brings to mind the necessity and urgency of both the remote communities themselves and APDA achieving self-sufficiency to continue both health and education services in remote areas until such time the government services can reach them. For this, APDA has written a strategic plan from 2019 to 2023 that aims to focus on the capacity of self-sufficiency and now wants to kick start social enterprise that these aspects of the program can be funded. Then the primary aspiration for APDA in 2020 is that it is able to turn the corner to generate local funding from the many opportunities that are apparent here. The organization has its own registered Social Enterprise called ‘Gabat’. The issue in not using this to generate funds is the absence of start-up capital.

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2019 Report

Afar Pastoralist Development and

Relief Assistance Program,

Afar Region

     APDA remains the primary organization addressing the needs of the pastoralist community in remote areas at their household base through mobile health and education services; empowering women and girls to secure basic rights while living free from harmful practices; community economic development through microfinance and disaster response linked to livelihood recovery and growth. 2019 was the 26th implementing year of this dynamic program, strategy being built on modeling and adjusting to fit the lifestyle as well as the environment. However, funding challenges emerged in the year that the organization had not previously experienced. With 3 specific development projects coming to an end in June and September respectively, the program lost as many as 76 community health workers, 62 women extension workers and 45 community teachers

. All effort to find replacement funding failed leaving the affected remote communities (people unable to reach government services) without primary health, Afar literacy and alternative basic education as well as support end harmful practices. While APDA has maintained contact with these communities heartened that some of the respective community based development workers who had lost employment are struggling on to work voluntarily, there is a clear drop in basic service coverage with some dire consequences, particularly in community maternal health service delivery. As of December 2019, APDA development program is being implemented in some 192 communities in some semblance: of these communities, 45 no longer have basic primary health services.  

In the now drastically changing world wherein donor agencies no longer support long-term development, APDA continues to seek an alternative for these otherwise marooned communities. Again, to find a way forward is all the more incumbent on APDA since the spiral of downward household food security and livelihood reached an all – time low by mid 2019.

Following below average rainfall and food insecurity spiked by food – cost hikes and herd loss with the additional affront of locust infestation from July to November 2019, the program launched appeal to assist both the malnourished humans and their herd under stress of perishing. These projects will hopefully find funding in early 2020.

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