Older people's knowledge averts crisis in Ethiopian floods

20/05/2010

Before HelpAge's work, older people had to climb into wells to access water. Before HelpAge's work, older people had to climb into wells to access water. Photo: Werner Braun Erar district is located in the Awash drainage basin, which lies west of Amara-Highlands in Ethiopia.

HelpAge International and local partner Aged and Children's Pastoralist Association (ACPA) have been providing clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities to 60,000 vulnerable drought affected older people and their families since late 2009.

Older people have taken the lead, helping to decide where latrines and wells should be built. An ACPA field officer explained:

"Older people are experts at knowing where to dig for water, and led us to the right place." 

This local knowledge proved to be valuable for another important reason.

Timely Rescue

HelpAge has built water pumps to give people better access to water. HelpAge has built water pumps to give people better access to water. Photo: Werner Braun Severely heavy rains in the highland areas of east Hararghe zone in late April caused the Erar river to break its banks, creating flooding across 30km² of land affecting 42,000 people.

The floods destroyed crops, farming equipment and vital infrastructure including water facilities and contaminated water supplies. 

HelpAge has built water pumps to give people better access to water.

The local community elders and traditional historians described the flood as the worst of its kind in Erar district in the last 40 years.

The HelpAge/ACPA latrines and wells built with the older people's advice were not washed away while many others were.

Ali Ahmed Abdi of ACPA says:
 
"The flood was the worst for the last 40 years but because older people told our staff the best locations for the shallow wells and latrines they were not washed away - this is clear evidence that older people's knowledge counts."


Local people and authorities described these HelpAge and ACPA intervention as a "Soo Gaadh" or "Timely Rescue".

With funding from the Jersey Government, HelpAge and ACPA will provide immediate emergency relief through irrigation canal rehabilitation and reconstruction and seed distribution to almost 10,000 people affected by the flood. 

"This project will support livelihoods by rehabilitating vital irrigation canals and providing seeds to farming families. Without this, the local communities would face food insecurity and considerable loss of future income.

"If current crops are not irrigated in time, people would require emergency food aid," says Alison Rusinow, Country Director for HelpAge in Ethiopia.

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