Foreboding Crisis…




Address: P.O. Box 592, Code 1,110, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Office location: Samara, Afar Region – Liaison Office, near Global Hotel, Addis Ababa

Liaison Officer – 251 911170092/ 251 911246639;

Facebook address: Afar Pastoralist Development Association (APDA)

Phone numbers: 251 912840017 – Executive Director; 251 911642575 – Program Coordinator;

251 333660058/60, 251 912667437 – Administrator



Foreboding Crisis…

April 23rd 2019


  1. It rained and yet it did not rain….

The situation in Afar has gone from ‘trying’ to ‘full – on critical’. There has been a few spots of tantalizing rain but in the end, no relief for communities in thirst and threatened with dramatic loss of animals. Some rain has fallen along the western border in places: in southern Zone 5, for example bordering to Amhara Region, only Dawwe, one district out of 5 has had any meaningful rain. April is almost over, the short rainy season is slipping away and the Region has already plunged into the annual hot season with temperatures constantly over 40 degrees. The fight is on to keep the remaining herd alive and get drinking water daily from distances as long as a 24 hour round trip. The worst affected are in the Eritrean border areas as explained below but there is hardly a community untouched: animals are already dying due to combined lack of treatment and pasture as well as being stressed having to walk distances for water. Diseases such as trypanosomiasis are becoming rife as well as pasteurolosis, both highly contagious and related to the stress of animal malnutrition. After having had NO winter rains from December to January, Afar are looking at this as a bleak year.


Malnutrition is sharply rising, diseases such as measles, whooping cough, pneumonia are taking a toll from the most vulnerable and, since this realty is all to real in the year of the Afar, APDA sees itself and that of other NGOs and the government as unprepared for the disaster we now face.  


  1. The Eritrea border area

The strikingly worst – hit areas straddle the Eritrean border for up to 50 kilometers inland. Starting on the north-east side in northern Eli Daar, Daabu, Wahan, Akule, Lamassan and Aba’a are critical as well as kebeles in Bidu and Afdeera such as Alaab, Mogorus, Daboore, Harsuuma, Namma Gubi. For these communities, food crisis began in February/ March when briefly food prices quadrupled to 1,000 ETB for 50 kilograms of wheat grain rather than 150 to 250/ sack. Since then, these communities have only declined with added problems of intensifying thirst along with the struggle to keep their remaining animals alive.

Bidu, as APDA has discovered is a story unto itself, the border communities amounting to around 4,000 households that have existed frozen in time. For them, there was no government contact for all the 21 years of the Eritrean/ Ethiopian border conflict from 1998 till August 2018 when Ethiopia’s Prime Minister negotiated an end to the dispute. Living in one of the most inhospitable landscapes close to the Bidu volcanic peak, their once productive, marketing lifestyle was abruptly interrupted so that they were no longer able to trade on the Eritrean Red Sea or into Djibouti as they had done for centuries. Very recently, APDA visited around 900 households in Alaab witnessing their hunger, extreme malnutrition and thirst – the thirst was relieved to some extent the night before the visit: the river coming in from Eritrea that normally watering the Alaab forest brought its watershed to stop 60 meters from the 7,200 m3 pond APDA had etched out 2 weeks previously. The community immediately began drinking this water rather than walking a return trip of 12 hours to collect water. – see the pictures below:



  1. APDA’s responses so far

In early April, the organization began water-trucking in 8 remote locations in northern Dubte and Eli Daar. There is currently need for another 2 trucks to assist people adequately.


In Kutubla/ Afambo, Teeru, Afdeera and Alaab in Bidu district, APDA is working to undertake weekly nutrition surveillance and treating those found with malnutrition. Again, in all of these districts with the exception of Alaab, Bidu, APDA health workers are vaccinating using the 10 routine antigens that children in inaccessible communities get coverage against killer – diseases such as measles, whooping cough and pneumococcus infection. There is a need to extend this assistance to communities in Gawwaani and Gala’alu in southern Afar Region as well as in Erebti and northern Awra where malnutrition is significant and child-diseases are evident.


Animal diseases are being treated in a wide range of communities. Since there is no pasture, diseases are daily becoming more widely spread and supplies of veterinary medicines are all but exhausted. While the Region does have stocks of lucerne/ alfalfa hay, there is urgent need for logistic support to deliver it to herdsmen fearing loosing their remaining animals.


  1. The likely scenario of IF it does not rain until the next rainy season in July to September
  • Water trucking should continue beyond the current 60 days for another 2 months to prevent death by thirst. Around 22,000 people in endangered
  • Food for around 5,000 households (30,000 people) on the Eritrean border:
  • Animal medicine supplies need to be re-enforced and fodder is URGENTLY needed
  • School feeding is needed to keep 3,342 ABE children learning until late June/ July when the school year closes. Porridge – mix called ‘Faffa’ is ideal
  • Malnutrition in Gawwaani needs urgent address along with child vaccination in Gala’alu where measles outbreak is set in.


On the development side:


Despite the above – mentioned crisis, Afar and APDA must move forward. As per the new organizational strategy of building community sustainability to withstand the shocks of drought and herd loss, APDA needs to launch into holistically assisting some of the remote communities it knows well to develop sustainable food security and living. An example of this is the Kutubla community of around 27,000 people who very recently have been allocated the status of ‘woreda’ or district. They were known to the government as one sub-district of 5,500 people isolated from the rest of Assaita by the terminal bends of the Awash River. In recent times, their once pristine environment has become subject to water shortage and drinking polluted water, drying of the major grazing forest and inevitable herd loss (mostly cattle are dying). Water normally flowing into their forest was diverted for commercial farming. Five years ago, they were self-sufficient yet without any form of developed local economy only connecting to the market for subsistence means. They traditionally farm growing a mono-crop of maize. Yet Kutubla is a highly potential area of fertile river soil that could grow a range of vegetables, fruits, fodder crops that can broaden their highly restricted diet at the same time feed into local markets such as Dubte, Assaita, Logya and even more distant markets providing local produce alleviating the local market’s dependence on food crops coming down from the adjoining highlands.

To achieve this, not only do these people need a kick start of crop-gardening but they need to be trained in income generation: cooperative formation and accounting; marketing and finance planning.

While this plan is now no better than a dream, it is part of the potential ways that Afar pastoralists can be lifted out of crisis mode.


The Barbara May Maternity Hospital expanding:


With the opening of a further 15 beds facilitating inpatients, further equipment to support the various medical services being rendered and rehabilitation of buildings improving kitchen and laundry services, the hospital is gaining momentum. Recently, a further 9 fistula cases were treated and several very desperate and difficult cases handled: eclampsic mother with triplets safely delivered and the smallest of the three, 1.4 kilograms sent home well; another mother arriving unconscious delivered and revived; 180 women from the Gawwaani community assessed for early cervical cancer, 7 advanced cases found and assisted and a worryingly high number of women with cervical changes found who were given immediate treatment. These are just the highlights of what the Afar community need for the hospital in terms of services.


The fight to prevent school drop – outs


The APDA education program quarterly report of late March showed the alert of upwards of 8% drop-out of students. As noted above, the program needs school feeding to avert this as well as back-up in all aspects to see that all education sites are adequately equipped and supported – if possible, with solar lights that night-teaching is a reasonable possibility.


Plans to strengthen community resolve to leave FGM


While female genital mutilation (FGM) is a punishable offense in the Ethiopian law, in fact the system to detain and prosecute is not there in most rural sites. For this reason, APDA is now discussing with clan leaders that they take on the role as much as they always have to punish the community for other offences. This then gives the leadership actual ownership of the problem and the onus to find the solution for the girl affected as well as the community as a whole that they are led to stop the practice.



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