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Rebuilding homes and lives in northern Ethiopia

18 Jun 2012

Kassaye with his family standing outside his new house. The flooding that hit Ethiopia's Alemata district in 2010 devastated thousands of lives and destroyed homes and livelihoods.

Since then HelpAge and the Relief Society of Tigray (REST) have joined forces to build 329 houses for older people affected by the floods with funds from The UN Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Recent developments

The project was slow to start, with construction only beginning last September, as communities and local authorities struggled with the prospect of relocating. However, when I visited our project most recently, I was delighted to see that 310 houses in three villages called Gedera, Bedena Loka and Amo Gedel had been more or less completed with only the outside plastering left to be done.

However, in Harle, the hamlet where the work was progressing well last year, it appeared as if time had stood still and only four families out of the 15 designated to the site had moved in.

Fortunately, most families from the other villages had moved into their houses. One was Kassaye Tegegne's. Kassaye, a 66-year-old farmer, borrowed money from the local credit association to finish building his home.

"I have been repaying my debt by selling some of the vegetables I grow," he told us. Kassaye, unlike many in Amo Gedel district, has access to water from his pond, which made construction more straightforward.

Unanticipated challenges

Accessing enough water is costly in the arid Alemata district, as are building materials. Older people also find getting loans difficult, as they face the discrimination of lenders thinking they won't be able to pay them back. This means many continue to live in dilapidated huts or in unfinished houses.

For instance, Nigus Bayu, 80, and Gidete Kassaye, 62, an older couple I had spoken to previously, told me they had run out of money to finish rebuilding their house. I remembered them as optimistic and upbeat, but Nigus has been sick. They lost everything during the flood and have been unable to meet the ever-increasing market prices to finish construction in the safer site allotted to them.

According to the some of those involved in the project, it took the building materials received from HelpAge and an additional ETB 13500 (US$ 760) on average to get construction to where it is at present.

Sadly, many sold their resources such as livestock and farmland as well as took loans to come up with the money - compromising their livelihoods and long term financial security.

Stopping further flood damage

REST has worked closely with the local authorities and representatives selected by the community for over a year. Moreover, the community has been working tirelessly for their future safety by blocking the broken waterway which caused the flood damage.

The project took a lot longer than expected and there are many important lessons to be learnt. However, it was still exhilarating to see the older people welcoming us proudly into their new homes.

Read more about our work supporting older people in Ethiopia

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Author profile

Erna Mentesnot Hintz
Country: Ethiopia
Job title: Communications Officer

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These blogs are personal reflections and do not necessarily reflect the views of HelpAge International.