IFRC

Resilience – not a new concept for many vulnerable Eritreans

Published: 24 June 2011 15:28 CET

By Robert Fraser in Eritrea

Increasingly battered by the effects of climate change, especially unreliable rainfall and environmental degradation, Eritreans struggle with dwindling water resources, soil erosion, and at times food insecurity. The threat of recurring drought and flash floods, and a lack of safe infrastructure for water and sanitation in rural areas has created high levels of morbidity and mortality, especially among children. Tapping into and reinforcing the existing resilence of communities may be the best strategy to overcome the multitude of social, economic, health and humanitarian challenges.

“Tsnaat (resilience) in the Tigrigna language is a commonly used term in Eritrea,” says Nura Mohammed Omer, Secretary General of the Red Cross Society of Eritrea (RCSE). “In fact, it is at the heart of our efforts – building on the resilience that communities have shown over many years, and encouraging and broadening their contribution to reduce vulnerability and meet developmental goals.”

Nura says no organization can cope with these demands along; community participation and contribution is paramount. “This can only be achieved by engaging with communities and local government at the outset to jointly agree what they can contribute to face the different challenges,” she says.

And the challenges are many.

The Eritrean government is overstretched trying to meet the basic needs of many citizens, yet few development or civil society organizations are active in the country. A country ranked by the UN as a ‘Least Developed Country’ (LDC).

The Red Cross Society of Eritrea is active in the country. The National Society has in recent years increased its community-based activities significantly to help bridge this gap. It implements a portfolio of activities serving vulnerable rural communities with the overall goal of strengthening community resilience and working in partnership with government at national and district level.

Vulnerable rural communities face the challenges of coping with, and recover from, droughts, floods and food shortages. Additional priority projects in disaster risk reduction support more effective adaptation to climate change; improved protection of water catchment resources; development of new water sources; soil conservation; tree planting; and renewable ‘solar’ energy. Moreover, there are increased efforts to promote fuel efficient stoves, rainwater harvesting, community-based and emergency healthcare, and better education around HIV prevention and road safety.

Yisehak Kiflay, the RCSE water and sanitation project manager, says: “We now focus more on capturing that water in sand storage dams, such as at the 12 meter high Begu which will pipe water to a reservoir for 10,000 people.

“We could not have constructed this dam without the contributions we have had from the community in labour and materials and the cooperation and support of the local Government, who also provided some of the materials.”

Visiting the site, Dr Asha Mohammed, IFRC Head of Operations for the Africa Zone said: “This project is a prime example of what partnership and commitment at community level can achieve, to a scale that has significant relevance and impact – and is replicable.”

We visited a community that had, through RCSE volunteer coaches recruited from the community, encouraged the construction of locally designed fuel efficient stoves. Of the 400 households in that community, more that 250 had already built their own stoves using local materials. Not only does this reduce the amount of fuel they consume (and the time and effort required to collect fuel, mostly animal dung) but the stoves direct the fumes out of the house, creating a safer environment in the kitchen.

“All in all, by encouraging and strengthening resilience, communities and individuals are addressing their challenges more effectively and to a greater scale, increasing their ability to meet future risks and creating pride in what they can do themselves with our role purely as facilitator,” Nura concluded.




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