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Ethiopia - Helping at the Grassroots

22-07-2002 Feature

In 1997, in Da Hraye village, 700 inhabitants, Ambia was enrolled in the 'Village Health Woman' programme run by the ICRC. Since then, Ambia has served her community on a voluntary basis. The lack of water is the key problem for the people in this arid region of seasonal rivers and sparse vegetation and Ambia provides basic treatment for the most common diseases such as malaria, diarrhoea and anaemia.


    The water reservoir dug by the community in Da Hraye. The ICRC will now help to cement and cover the 'Berkat'.
©ICRC   /F. Westphal


  A well in the village of Cooxle, rebuilt and protected by the ICRC. The concrete wellhead protects the water against dust and dirt.  
©ICRC   /F. Westphal

Ambia Mulai practises health care at the grassroots. Ambia's small hut, made from goatskins and reeds, is the only medical facility in Da Hraye, a village with about 700 inhabitants in Gode Zone, about 70 kilometres from the nearest hospital in Gode. Ambia plays a key role in her community: " Since the rains started I see between five and six people a day who are suffering from diarrhoea, " she says. " I will treat them with Oral Rehydration Salts. When people do not have the money to buy this, I show them how they can prepare it at home. "


  Ambia Mulai was selected by the community in Da Hraye to serve as a Village Health Woman.
©ICRC/F. Westphal

In 1997, the community in Da Hraye selected Ambia to be enrolled in the'Village Health Woman'programme run by the Gode subdelegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). An ICRC medical delegate showed her how to provide basic treatment for the most common diseases such as Malaria, Diarrhoea and Anaemia, and equipped her with a small supply of drugs. Since then, Ambia has served her community on a voluntary basis: her only revenue comes from the sale of ten mosquito nets donated by the ICRC once a year. Her patients only pay for the drugs prescribed; with that money, Ambia replenishes her stocks from Gode Hospital.

Ambia not only treats diseases; she also helps to prevent them: " I explain basic sanitation issues to people, " says the 35-year old. " I tell them to wash their hands and use soap before eating and to make sure to boil drinking water for those suffering from diarrhoea. " Every six to eight weeks Ambia, and the 27 other village health women selected by their communities are visited by an ICRC medical delegate who provides on-the-job training. The programme is co-ordinated with the health authorities which makes basic drugs available at reduced prices.

  Working for Water 

As shown by the village health women programme, the direct participation of the concerned communities is a key element of the ICRC's humanitarian activities in the Somali region. Another example of this is found only a few hundred metres away from Ambia's hut where the villagers of Da Hraye have just finished digging a'Berkat'- a reservoir about two metres deep used to collect rainwater. The ICRC will now concrete the Berkat and protect it from dust and evaporation by installing a simple roof made from iron sheeting. Explaining the project to the village elders, the ICRC water engineer, Jean-Marc Zbinden makes it clear that the community's work is far from over: " Every day we will need about 20 people to work on the Berkat. We will give them drinking water but we will not provide food or pay a salary for the work as it is in the interest of the community itself. "  

The lack of water is the key problem for the people in this arid region of seasonal rivers and sparse v egetation. The semi-nomadic and nomadic communities living here often struggle to find sufficient water for themselves and for their cattle, camels and goats which form the backbone of the local economy. " At the moment, we get water from small ponds filled up during the recent rains but those will dry up soon, " says Abdi Baynx, a village elder in Da Hraye. " Later, we will use small local wells before they run dry too. Otherwise, the nearest good water source is 45 kilometres away. " According to Jean-Marc Zbinden's calculations, the new Berkat, once full, should provide sufficient water to last the community for about two months. Apart from constructing Berkats, the ICRC has also built concrete wellheads and animal troughs in several villages to protect hand-dug wells against pollution.

Maximising the benefits of the little water supplied by nature is vital for the survival of the communities in this area. During the short rainy seasons, otherwise dry seasonal rivers can turn into raging torrents within hours. The ICRC is helping communities to put this water to good use by providing food for villagers working to dig and maintain irrigation canals which are fed by the seasonal rivers to allow a larger area to be farmed. Thousands of families living along the Wabe Shabelle river have also received fishing nets and tree saplings.

Since the Gode sub-delegation opened in 1997, the ICRC's white Landcruisers with the distinctive Red Cross have become a well-known sight in this vast and remote area. This familiarity creates trust and mutual understanding, and, as a result, new communities regular contact the ICRC for support - even if the help provided comes with a lot of work attached.