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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