Desert Locusts, they are back in force ‘as big as birds’
January 23rd 2021
- Despite the dry, locust swarms are back and eating through sprouting twigs..
As of January 18, the first phone calls came in of the dreaded locust swarms coming back to Afar Region. They had been poised ready for re-entry in Somali, Oromo and Southern Peoples Regions of Ethiopia but no one believed they would come in the dry, pasture-scant season of winter!! As they flew in, fully grown beasts described by some Afar as ‘as big as birds’ punched fear and dread back into the hearts of the herdsmen. All there is for them to eat is the sprouting twigs of the acacia bushes, the grazing shrubs in the cycle of rejuvenation to produce flowers and pods that normally produce a source of protein food for goats and camels. Now the fear is these shrubs will be ruined but immediately the reality is there is NO grazing for the herd. This is devastating since 2020 was marked by progressive natural shocks to the landscape: drought as the year began, then floods in August lasting till October + locust infestation on any green blade of grass/ shrub imposing a further drought by the close of 2020. This along with the market catastrophe resulting from the abrupt break from Tigray left the herdsmen standing bewildered: limited of no grazing and no market to sell off the herd with food and household commodity prices souring in a spiral of local and national inflation.
The first locust news came in from the Kori community in central northern Afar, already reeling under the shock and stress of thirst as of December. Kori at best is a forbidding land of ancient volcanic flows with one of the lowest rainfalls in the Region. There the community is already showing a famine – like nutrition surveillance result.
Then the well – known grazing lands of Sifra on the Region’s central western border reported the sun was blotted out by the swarms. They are also in northern Dubte and Teeru where APDA spent the better part of 2020 fighting off the ravages of malnutrition as well as in the eastern fertile area of Assaita, the far north on the Eritrean border in Eli Da’ar as well as in the Region’s south, Ami Bara and Hanruka. Geographically, the plague is dispersed and poised to wipe out any possibility of the herdsmen resuming good grazing. All through these mentioned areas, APDA has very recently supported pastoralists with animal treatment as well as hay where possible but now the need is much more glaring.
- Immediate answer in animal fodder
The government Bureau of Livestock, Agriculture and Natural Resources along with FAO are planning a two -prong assessment as of the coming week in view of re-launching the spraying of poison. However, the community is now left with no pasture and without a solution for the most vulnerable households, more herdsmen will sink into abject destitution. To feed 10 breeding goats in a house for 1 month will cost around $92 USD. Comparably, it costs around $642 USD to restock a household with 10 goats when all the goats have died. APDA envisages at minimum 2,000 households need this rescue for the coming 2 months.
- Tigray people harboring in Afar Region
While the Federal Government has declared an end to ‘military operations’ in Tigray in late December, the residue appears to be multiple militia forces inflicting terror and pain on local communities since the number of displaced people from Tigray in Afar Region has now reached 89,000 people according to OCHA estimates in mid January. For the most part, these people are living among the local Afar using the house facilities of the community. The border is most porous perhaps in the far north where reportedly upwards of 150 people are crossing daily into Konnaba fleeing militia fighting in the mountainous areas adjoining Konnaba at Kadda Hara. The Konnaba authorities report the crossing area is road inaccessible but fighting is a daily event and both Afar and Tigray houses and property is being incinerated. They also state that those coming are mostly women with children and young girls – coming escaping rape and other inhuman acts. Several, they said have come in with malnutrition as they have spent up to 3 weeks on the road to reach Konnaba and have no sources of food in Tigray.
Thus the needs are multiple: nutrition, safety, shelter and recovery of their basic possessions. APDA is preparing to assist 605 households with shelter and hygiene support in the coming week but the need is quite overwhelming.
- The Afar local market, what can be done?
With the Regional government, APDA has assessed the immediate and medium term needs of reviving the main animal market in Yallo on the Region’s central western border. From early November when fighting broke out till just 2 weeks ago, the market fell from selling up to 24,000 goats weekly to merchants coming from Tigray to a mere 300 goats sold locally per week. The merchants who apparently sell into Sudan have now begun to return and, according to the officials, the market is back to 70% strength, buying goats at around 60% the price they were fetching. This however is a concern since there is total dependency on the relation with the Tigray merchants. There are no Afar merchants as such and also, while there are strong cooperatives bringing in food and household items to the market, none of them actually deal in goat sales.
What was discussed and agreed as an ideal solution was to form up to 4 to 5 local cooperatives that bought goats locally selling them out through Djibouti, perhaps Somaliland and even into Eritrea. There is more information that infers the Eritrean border may open to marketing in the not too distant future.
APDA therefore needs to plan to work at establishing cooperatives with strategic rural links that develop a functional animal market trade associated with the availability of animal drugs and fodder as needed assuring the animals marketed are in good condition. Overall food prices in Afar Region as with the entire country continue to soar with the recent substantial rise in fuel cost leaving the community less and less able to assist themselves, pregnant mothers and children in particular who are in an already precarious condition of malnutrition and anemia. Therefore it is essential that the market give the service it should to the households.
- APDA’s overall program
The overall program continues to function whether in Afar education, primary health and women’s empowerment in remote areas or support to rehabilitate damaged livelihoods as well as implementing a 35 – bed obstetrics and gynecology hospital. The organization is staying afloat despite the huge stress and the apparent ogre hanging over the community of further deterioration toward famine – like conditions. What the organization is very sensitive of is that while emergency work is essential, recovery should run beside it to prevent the huge plummet in livelihoods the community is now faced with. As the Region’s leading voice on pastoralist development, APDA plans to tackle the hindrances to education, the embracing of female rights, the securing of health for under 5 year olds and delivering mothers. In so saying, the organization will firstly address these issues to the pertinent bodies in the government so that there can be a shared vision and real partnership in progress.
The person addressed as the traditional leader of the Afar will address all senior clan elders on issues related to gender inequality and violence in an APDA – supported gathering in a week launching the year’s advocacy efforts. Indeed, the race must be run together and support is needed at all angles.