Working together to anticipate floods in Ethiopia

Joint development of Early Action Protocol for flooding in Ethiopia

Disasters and development are inherently linked. Disasters can wipe out decades of hard-fought poverty reduction and development gains of communities. Climate change is aggravating this. In addition, disasters disproportionally affect the poor: low levels of development make the population more exposed and vulnerable to disasters.

Until recently, many predictable extreme weather events such as floods and drought have resulted in disasters and suffering by these poor communities. In the past 5 years the Ethiopian Red Cross Society (ERCS) together with key stakeholders has worked on reducing or even avoiding these impacts.

Weather forecasts are used to inform communities in time about early actions that can be taken by themselves and by relevant organizations before an upcoming hazard reaches them. This potentially reduces risks for vulnerable communities and saves money and time for humanitarian response. ERCS, the National Disaster Risk Management Commission (NDRMC), the National Meteorology Agency (NMA), the Ministry of Agriculture, the Basin Development Authority, the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre (RCCC) and Red Cross Data & Digital team 510 have co-developed an Early Action Protocol (EAP) to help communities fight the impact of climate change and be better prepared for disasters.

The Netherlands Red Cross presents a personal reflection given by the key stakeholders involved on how they experienced the process of the EAP development. The stakeholders have reflected on memories, moments or situations throughout the process of jointly developing the EAP.

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What type of risks are posed by flooding?

In my country of Ethiopia, the topography and nature of rainfall determine the magnitude of flood disasters. Flash floods are very common in highland and midland areas, whereas in lowland areas riverine flooding occurs following extreme rainfall on the upper catchment of the main river.

There is a small river that passes through our locality named Gulele. The local community usually crosses this river to travel to the nearby market place. However, following the main rainy season of the country, sometimes the flash floods wash away people who try to cross the river.

One of the events which comes to my mind whenever I think of flooding is the flood event that happened when I was a high school student. We were at home and heard people screaming. We ran to the place and saw the river was crossing its banks and flooded people’s houses. In the middle of all the people trying to evacuate themselves, we saw a mother with a child who was trying to evacuate her home who suddenly fell down, the flood instantly taking her away. Her children started screaming and calling her name and after minutes of struggling the children rescued their mother. That moment is printed in my mind and I can remember everything as if it happened last year.

Major climate related hazards, drought and floods, are the main challenges for our country, Ethiopia. These hazards are now increasing in frequency and coverage, which is affecting the community’s livelihood as the major source of income is related to agriculture. Rains in pastoral areas have failed for three consecutive seasons, leading to a dire situation in the area. This drought is combined with the current high number of internally displaced people further exacerbating the humanitarian situation in the region.

Conflict is seen as the major consequence of drought and flooding especially in pastoral community areas. People living in areas prone to droughts or floods would move to areas where there is better pasture, and if the host community sees that as threat then clashes start to happen unless this is managed with a planned and community consultative approach.

Who are the people we try to protect from flooding and drought?

One of the stories that impressed me was a story that I heard when we had a field assessment on flood hazards in one of the flood prone localities in Wantua woreda. There were a number of constructed shelter structures in the middle of the main road that connect Wantua woreda with Zonal and other centers. A respected local elder told us that this was one of the most flood affected areas in the region. “Every year following the main season we have been affected by the overflow of rivers. As you can see the topography of our surrounding is very flat. We do not have any place to escape or evacuate our lives and property. The only available evacuation place during flooding is the main road. meaning most of the people who are living in this area construct temporary shelter on the main road as an evacuation site where we put our children, livestock and property.”

The impact of climate-induced disasters in Ethiopia is very significant. In recent years flooding is the major hazard next to drought. Community livelihoods are disrupted by these climate-induced disasters, which cause social and humanitarian problems like loss of human life, physical injury, disease epidemics, displacement and psychological shock. But also more economic problems like loss of property, damage to infrastructure and environmental impacts like damage to cultivated cropland and loss of soil.

Each and every life of the community, especially at the low-income level, is mainly dependent on environmental safety and sustainability. An unsafe environment can cause health issues, a damaged environment can cause economic issues and overused and exhaustively cultivated areas can cause socio-economic issues like conflict.

How was alignment reached between all stakeholders within anticipatory action in Ethiopia?

As this is the National Technical Working Group, members are from different streams and our ways of prioritization naturally differ. As we moved on to understanding the holistic nature of Anticipatory Action we came to better align ourselves. I would say convergence was achieved at the point when we agreed on the logic for prioritization after brainstorming all impacts.

During prioritizing we had debates on limiting the extent of the different impacts. Our focus was on the extreme events happening with a certain frequency.

When discussing the prioritization of impacts during the TWG the different stakeholders had to come up with some reasonable arguments and present their reflections to the rest of the group, followed by question and answer sessions leading to common ground, consensus and agreements.

What is the value of combining modern, local and traditional knowledge to predict floods?

The traditional way of forecasting in different areas has different degrees of acceptance. In some areas this traditional experience has more value than modern knowledge, but it may not have the same value for the other areas. In general, the traditional way of determining a flood has more value in engaging the community subjected to the flood hazard; since it is often a tradition or routine for communities, they will act upon it.

In many cases the traditional way of predicting that the local community uses is similar to the scientific considerations. The community sometimes uses wind direction, the strength of solar energy, local humidity. In the same way, the modern system also uses those atmospheric states to predict weather and climate. In cases where the two systems are used in combination to predict floods, they can predict the same event based on the same indicators. Taking the common grounds of the two systems and using the advantage of the traditional forecasting system's acceptance among the community, it is vital to try merging the approaches in implementing early warning at the community level.

What is the first thing you do when you know a flood is coming?

The first thing I will do is raise awareness and alarm the community, so they are informed to take action since any community has its own indigenous knowledge responding to such alerts. I believe a well-informed community is one part of resiliency.

What is the added value of the developed early action protocol?

Regarding the early actions, we have agreed on major actions to be taken based on past historical data. This is good, however still two things make me nervous. The allocated resources may not match the anticipated disaster area, meaning that we cannot cover most of the affected area. My other worry is about getting quick response from vulnerable communities and the local coordination of field-level teams.

Having an Early Action Protocol in place is very important to create preparedness for any disaster that might happen. In flood-prone areas communities will be ready and prepared to be evacuated before the disaster happens. It minimizes the risks posed by the flood.

The development of the Early Action Protocol allowed all actors engaged in the Technical Working Group to be on the same page regarding all aspects, ranging from selecting and prioritizing hazards to selecting and prioritizing early actions including coordination during activation. If we did not develop the Early Action Protocol, the togetherness, agreeability and coordination would have been unthinkable.

Artwork by Kyra Sacks

Next to Early Action Protocols for floods, the IARP programme also supports the development of Early Action Protocols for droughts in Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya.

The IARP programme is supported by the IKEA Foundation

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