New Ethiopian policy to handle disaster risk

Tigrai Online
Sept 28 2010

Huge bonfires mark the Orthodox Christian feast day of Meskel on 27 September, which coincides with the end of the rainy season in the highlands of Ethiopia. This year rains were good; too good in some places.

The residents of the Cheffa Valley, some 350km northeast of Addis Ababa, will no doubt celebrate the end of the rains. When floods hit the area in late August, buildings collapsed, houses filled with mud and some villages had to be abandoned while women and children camped at a school and men slept out with their livestock.

Adam Mustafa, 80, said the floods were the worst in his lifetime, a punishment from God; other residents blamed bad management of drainage canals and excessive run-off from the degraded highlands. Local officials blamed a changing climate.

Whatever the causes, help came from local government, welfare groups, the military, local business, UN agencies and international NGOs. A relatively small but effective operation provided immediate help with food, plastic sheeting, clothing, blankets, soap, water purification and healthcare. Military helicopters ferried supplies to stranded villages.

The valley was one of dozens of places across the country to face floods in 2010. Overall this year, the government estimates several hundred thousand people will be affected, while tens of thousands have been forced to leave their homes, at least temporarily, in seven regions. Floods continue to threaten some parts of lowland areas in the Somali and Gambella regions.

Disaster strategy

A new government strategy is under development to establish new systems to tackle perennial hazards including drought, floods and disease outbreaks.

Well-fed by rivers from the highlands on both sides, the broad Cheffa valley, green and sometimes swampy, has obvious agricultural potential – a thin furze of seedlings of a staple crop, teff, is sprouting in the alluvial soils of the flood plain. Some farmers are doing their first weeding, but the floods washed away their earlier planting attempts and they said they could not afford to buy more seeds. Longer-term recovery needs, such as seeds, will take longer to mobilize, local official Jibril Osman Wado told IRIN.

“If this situation continues yearly,” said Wado, “farmers will find it difficult to survive.” Wado is the zonal head of disaster prevention and food security headquartered in the town of Kemisse.

Health workers were still trying to dry out the files and stores at Kemisse’s health centre. Fridges, supplies, drugs, computers and paperwork were swamped. Vacuum tubes for blood samples were caked in mud, medical records turned to pulp and operations disrupted.