Drought Recovery in Eritrea
(Editor's note: While there is no shortage of grim news from drought-stricken portions of the Horn of Africa, here is a story about an effort by the International Rescue Committee and Holland's Stichting Vluchteling that has brightened the lives of more than 12,000 Eritrean farm families.)
Last June, after four consecutive years of drought, Eritrea faced a widespread emergency. The absence of seasonal rains was felt beyond regions within Eritrea associated with drought and included major agricultural production areas such as Gash Barka and Debub, known as the "bread baskets of Eritrea." Both are the main source of local crop production and the primary destination of refugees returning to Eritrea from Sudan.
IRC programs currently focus on both the normally dry regions where the drought continues and on the bread basket areas, where we are working with selected communities and villages to address the emergency need for seed in Gash Barka and the longer-term need for a safe water supply in Debub.
As a result of Eritrea's prevailing drought, food grain production in Gash Barka was reduced last year to an estimated 70,000 metric tons, only 15 percent of expectations, and farmers could not save enough seed for this year's planting season.
No Seed For Planting. Now What?
The government asked aid organizations for help, and in response, Stichting Vluchteling, the Dutch Refugee Foundation, offered funding for IRC assistance programs. Focusing on seven villages in Gash Barka with a high percentage of returning refugees, the IRC worked closely with the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Local Government, village administrations and local farmers in location, selection, purchase and distribution of sorghum seed.
Our staff completed seed distribution weeks before the rains. Even with considerable time constraints, IRC went beyond the intended program goal and distributed additional seed to farmers in two extra villages. In total, 12,564 farming families from the host communities and the returnee population received nearly 170 metric tons of seed. The farmers expressed their gratitude at receiving seeds in time for sowing.
Two and a half months after the seed distribution, with plenty of rain, the results are obvious. Farmers are busy in the fields maintaining their crops in preparation for the November harvest. Although rain is needed for at least one more month, farmers are optimistic that they are close to becoming self-sufficient once again.
Meanwhile, an insufficient water supply and lack of access to potable water are serious problems in almost all of Eritrea. With funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), IRC interventions within Debub will look beyond the critical need for water and focus on longer-term sustainable development.
Water systems will be linked with micro-irrigation systems for development of small vegetable gardens. Small-scale agriculture will provide the link to longer-term development and improve the health and economic well-being of the people. The ultimate goal is to assist drought and war affected communities to improve their health and economies by providing in a sustainable manner a safe and adequate water supply, proper sanitation and effective small-scale irrigation.