Last December I remembered that four years ago in the same month, I was approached by a radio station in the Netherlands and asked to say a few things about what Christmas means in Ethiopia, particularly for those that had been affected by the drought. I agreed and prepared myself for the interview. At exactly the time we had agreed, the telephone rang and I was ‘on air’. I heard the last tunes of the 1984 Christmas song by Band Aid ‘ Do they know it is Christmas time at all?’, followed by the voice of the presenter, who introduced me and asked me indeed what Christmas was like for those affected by the drought.
I told him that the majority of them are Muslim and don’t really feel connected to Christmas. I went on to say that Christmas is of course an important celebration for the Christians in Ethiopia. And that the Orthodox Church follows a different calendar and celebrates Christmas about two weeks later. I was then asked what the drought situation was like and was happy to say that it had been raining profusely, that water and pastures were available again.
I wanted to explain that problems weren’t over yet, but the presenter cut me off, wished me a merry Christmas and hung up. In silence I concluded that it would take time indeed for those affected to recover from the worst drought in 60 years, but also that in most areas a disaster had been prevented thanks to the coordinated efforts of the government and humanitarian & development organizations, who had taken up the responsibility to act.
I wanted to explain that problems weren’t over yet, but the presenter cut me off, wished me a merry Christmas and hung up.
Today, four years later, an even worse drought has hit the region, as a result of El Nino. More than 10 million people are affected in Ethiopia alone. Again the government and its humanitarian and development partners are doing their best to cope with the situation. Rain is only expected in April. Humanitarian support is required for at least the coming six months, to be followed by recovery activities.
Drought is a slow onset disaster and usually attracts attention too late. Humanitarian response often also follows late. That’s why it is necessary to continue to try and link relief with development and recovery and to prepare for contingency activities. With a contingency plan ready, organizations, the Government and the communities they serve will be in a better position to prevent a drought to turn into a disaster. This requires flexibility of all actors, including Government, donor organizations and ourselves. Instead of remaining stuck in a logical framework we should be able to read the Early Warning Signs, turn our work into Early Action and prevent a disaster in the making.
Drought is a slow onset disaster and usually attracts attention too late.
That’s why ten years ago Cordaid and partner organizations developed the Drought Cycle Management approach which when applied well, allows for flexibility in adjusting activities and budgets in order to respond effectively and in time to early warning information: Doing the Right Thing at the Right Time.
During the years that followed Cordaid expanded this strategy and developed the Community Managed Disaster Risk Reduction approach. This allows communities to take ownership of project activities that will reduce their vulnerability to threats like a drought and that will strengthen their resilience.
Now the Drought Cycle Management approach and Community Managed Disaster Risk Reduction are accepted strategies that indeed help in linking relief, recovery and development.