November 13th 2022 The northern conflict over, so we all hope…
As has been well published, as of November 2nd a peace agreement between the Federal Republic of Ethiopia and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front has been brokered with the conditions of disarmament, returning to the constitutional understanding of regional relation with the federal government and so. Within Afar Region, this is greeted with tentative joy given the horrors that have taken place over the past 2 years, the utter disruption to livelihoods and the destruction of infrastructures. Indeed, it is a reversal of the aggression so many communities adjacent to the borders of Tigray and Amhara Regions in western Afar have endured repeatedly. As of writing, there is growing confidence that peace indeed in Tigray and with Tigray will become reality with excitement in Mekele, the Regional capital as prices of commodities drop daily to within country – costs and freedom of movement is restored. Moreover, there is talk of a federal reconciliation to be established between the warring factions leading up to election in Tigray. However the country continues to endure conflict in western Oromia (Wollega) and in other Oromo areas, ethnic crimes being perpetuated. Too, the Issa/ Afar conflict appears far from over although the Issa- Somali occupancy of Awash roadside towns in Afar came to an end in September, Issa having been pushed back into their adjoining Somali Region ending the decades – long contraband trade of the Issa from Djibouti and the Arab states into Ethiopia having a market base in the 3 towns now freed to Afar control. Djibouti-fired insurgency again flared in late October adjacent to Guddamyto, one of those former contraband towns causing severe casualty.
In Afar Region, all districts that were under Tigray – fired conflict are now accessible with the exception of Hidda, Tonsa and Araadu in Magaale and Gil’aaso in Aba’ala, all kebeles still claimed by TPLF occupancy. Being that Afar who had joined the TPLF maintain this presence, it is expected that there will be a resolution and again, these people will return to government control.
The trail of disaster
The trademark of this conflict has been the utter, systematic destruction of community livelihood through rendering any service infrastructure useless and destroying both the homes and the assets of the local communities (killing and driving off goats, shooting camels, looting shops and burning bee-hives). With the count on all 13 conflict – affected districts, some having endured upwards of 7 months occupation of the TPLF, around 20,000 households are now in abject poverty with no possibility of production or income generation in sight. The government is giving an overall figure of 30 billion Birr (around 6 billion USD) to rehabilitate damaged infrastructure. Conflict destroyed/ looted all health services in its path, most schools, most major water schemes, grinding mills and markets servicing northern Afar Region. So far the north has 3 ambulances, 5 partially functional health centers, a primary hospital in Barhale town converted from a health center serving around 600,000 people. Aba’ala hospital is slowly resuming functionality having been laid to ruins. People away from roadways remain without basic services for treatment, delivering mothers, vaccination or malnutrition surveillance and treatment. Schools are yet to begin, local markets have no real source of commodities that people can afford and malnutrition in Konnaba, Magaale and Erebti is around 42% among pregnant and breast-feeding mothers and 35% among under 5 year olds.
What are hurting communities most?
- Well over 1,000 Afar women and children as well as young men are traumatized having experienced the horrors of war now finding it hard to adjust to their losses, many being widowed and having seen their own children incinerated. This trauma needs community resolution that positive thinking and activities can replace the trauma of daily recall.
- There are those living with imbedded shrapnel wounds from the ferocity of weapons used as well as disabilities particularly limbs severed and the scars of severe burning.
- Food is simply not available in much of northern Afar as well as central western Afar prices affected by uncontrolled inflation as well as exorbitant transport costs. Hunger is highly evident. Numerous check points on the road going north, the inflated price of the food and rising fuel costs are preventing merchants to take food to the north at reasonable price
- Schools are unable to open due to damage, highland teachers not returning and children cannot attend due to extreme cost of exercise books and pens. Time is slipping past so many children and youth.
- Shelter recovery is far from adequate as Afar winter sets in: to re-build their army-destroyed houses, northern Afar need up to 12 traditional mats to cover their larger house frame and in Yallo/ Guulina, 6 mats is adequate. Blankets are also required.
- The majority of the over 1.5 million people affected by the various conflicts cannot get health services as they were accustomed to particularly affecting delivering mothers.
- Drinking unprotected water is bringing out various diarrheal diseases with the threat of cholera coming up from Oromo and Somali Regions.
- Children are unvaccinated for 3 years due to conflict allowing measles, whooping cough and other diseases to flourish.
The way to recovery
The need for emergency/ informal learning
An estimated 65% of all Afar school children are yet to join the new school year starting as of later September. They have been in displacement; the school they were learning in is still unsafe to accept students, they live in a traumatized society that can hardly put education into the jigsaw. Informal learning for them, for youth and mothers is so much needed as a stabilizing factor. This includes a variety of teaching aids, innovative learning and lots of different easy – to read books of stories and positive ideas.
The role of women extension workers
APDA ’invented’ women extension workers as part of the community-based development team in 2000. Then implementing with an all – male team the organization was grappling with dealing with the issues of maternal health, the harmful affects of certain traditional practices on reproductive health and wellbeing, that females almost had no role to play in their own development bound to the house to bring up children. Thus the organization first taught 36 women to read, write calculate in Afar language, selecting 20 of these students to be the launch of the ongoing program throughout APDA’s implementing districts wherein women based in the community are trained in all skills needed for the betterment of female life including working through issues such as gender-based violence, the affects of female genital mutilation (FGM), early marriage, limited education opportunity as well as none to limited maternal health services. These women are thereby capable of counseling women and girls threatened or subject to abuse, working with all aspects of health promotion/ disease prevention, homecare of the pregnant and delivering mother as well as promoting female involvement in income generation. More or less social workers as is known in the west, these women are ideal and able to work through the issues of conflict trauma enabling affected women and girls to recover to productive, dignified living. APDA is deploying them as much as possible and believes each and every community in the Afar society needs such a human facility. Annual refresher training and monthly reporting links them to the overall program.
Market recovery and food production
Realizing that the Afar Region had to make a turn-around to confront the food insecurity inflicted through lack of supply access; market stability; transportation limitations APDA has picked up the following strategy
To generate a local economy and access to food:
- Supporting the major animal market of Yallo that there is an animal marketing cooperative, a cooperative providing veterinary treatment, microfinance generating petty trade among women as well as an all-purpose cooperative supporting food and commodity trade in the market, all having an Izuzu truck to bring goods from distance.
- Supporting community-based cooperatives in conflict – affected areas to kick start local food markets by bringing them initial food to sell at market price, agreeing on the objective of making food at reasonable price accessible in their respective communities. Currently APDA is supporting 10 such cooperatives with another 4 to be added soon. Moreover, the organization is creating a revolving fund that more cooperatives can be brought on board. Again, a truck is associated to facilitate their transportation of goods. These are in far – away Dallol, Konnaba, Erebti, Magaale, Aba’ala in northern Afar as well as in Uwwa in central Afar.
To grow food crops
- Wherever there is adequate water, teaching pastoralists to grow food crops to diversify diet as well as to market locally. This APDA has successfully implemented in 5 community riverside sites with these communities feeding into Sifra and Mille markets with fruit and vegetables. A further 5 sites in Garani are underway using Awash River irrigation channel water. In each case, the organization also creates local cooperatives to market the crops grown, the beneficiaries being 85% female.
- A central training horticultural plot of now 7 hectares aiming to train a group of women and youth from 24 diverse communities where water is available to grow food crops, eat them and market them within their own community. This center close to the major regional town of Logya is about to open the first such training course. The aim will be that beyond the project supporting this center to train 480 such people, there is continuity wherein people from the entire Region can train in food crop growing and marketing where it is possible. The center is connecting with Samara University Dry land faculty as well as with the Regional Pastoral and Agro-pastoral research Institute that they support in training, crop production methodology and research. The site plans to establish its own plant nursery and to work on subsidiary production projects as ideas evolve.
For all the above, APDA needs partnership and ongoing partnership contributing to urgently pulling the society out of conflict mode into recovery, peace and reconciliation.
Part of a program to bring to localize humanitarian response
A great part of the solution to all above thoughts is that the affected community is empowered to recognize and implement the solution to their incurred shock, they the drivers/ owners/ sustainers of their own destiny.
APDA is part of a group of 5 local NGOs in a project named ‘ToGETHER’ with 7 other countries each with 5 local NGOs campaigning to change the old order of top-down driven assistance to that of community engagement and management from the outset. The German project mentored through 4 German international NGOs, took representatives to a conference in Bonn bringing together the 8 participating countries, a visit to the humanitarian section of German Foreign Affairs and to the interim Head of ECHO in the European Union in Brussels. The overall conclusion of these visits is that like climate change, where there is a will, it can happen and that German government and ECHO have a high level of interest. The reverse to local – driven implementation is as large as the objectives of the climate change seeking to address inequality bringing about directed and just assistance to those in need.
This entails APDA in deliberate local lobbying at all levels as well as a process of continual scrutinizing that the organization is indeed able and suited to carry the voice of the community. A now famous method known as people first implementing method (P-FIM) makes for listening to the community, they vocalizing the need.
Delegates from Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Myanmar, Bangledesh and Colombia meeting with the interim Head of ECHO, Mr Michael Kuhler on November 8th 2022