East Africa $4$ anniversary – aid workers confront conflict to help change lives

30 Nov 2012   |   Blog   |   Emergency Relief   |   Kenya   |   Ethiopia

Caritas Australia’s Group Leader of the Humanitarian Emergency Group, Melville Fernandez, with community members in Marsabit

In 2011, severe drought across the Horn of Africa left over 13 million people in urgent need of food, water and basic facilities. Due to the severity of this crisis, the Australian Government launched the dollar-for-dollar ($4$) initiative, in which the Government matched every dollar that the public donated to select aid organisations’ appeals for East Africa during October to November 2011. During this period, Caritas Australia raised $1.3 million, which was matched by the Australian Government.

November 2012 marks the one year anniversary of this very successful $4$ AusAID initiative, which enabled Caritas Australia to support four lifesaving programs across Kenya and Ethiopia. Caritas Australia’s Group Leader of the Humanitarian Emergency Group, Melville Fernandez has just visited one of the $4$ Caritas projects in Kenya and reflects on his experience and what Caritas Australia has achieved in the past year through the support of Australians.

A touch of the frontline

“My first stop was in Nairobi, where I met our Caritas UK partner, CAFOD to discuss key topics such as current international humanitarian systems, mapping of capacity building needs of staff and partners, alternatives to food aid, and humanitarian access in areas of conflict.

Next I prepared to travel to Marsabit in northern Kenya to visit the Australian ($4$) funded Drought Recovery Project. It was on this journey that I got a taste of what it is like for our dedicated humanitarian workers who risk their lives every day on the frontline delivering aid.

I was travelling with Anne Street, CAFOD’s Senior Humanitarian Advisor and Nelly Shonko, CAFOD’s Emergency Program Manager. The planned road trip from Nairobi to Marsabit was cancelled due to serious security concerns, including recent ambushes on the road by armed men.

Several aid workers from the Catholic Church in the northern town of Marsabit were recently ambushed by armed men in two separate incidents.

In the first incident, a car belonging to the Catholic Diocese of Marsabit was shot at by armed men deflating one of the vehicle tyres. In the second incident, armed men attacked a vehicle hired by the partner, Catholic Diocese of Marsabit, carrying dairy goats for distribution to communities in the arid region and beat them up before robbing them of their personal belongings.

Joseph Mirchigan, the Caritas Director for Marsabit, said the two incidents occurred in an area that is prone to attacks on motorists by bandits:

“On Saturday 17 November, I was in a car with my colleague as we travelled back from purchasing dairy goats for the program when we were attacked by armed men on the Isiolo Marsabit road. The first attack occurred at Wamba Hills when armed men shot at our diocesan vehicle. The vehicle almost rolled as it moved out of the road and we got a puncture soon after. We were lucky as we received help from other vehicles on the road. Nobody was hurt in this incident. However, our colleagues who were in a second vehicle were not as lucky as they were attacked by a group of robbers at Serolipi. The bandits attacked this vehicle which we had hired to transport dairy goats to Marsabit. The robbers stopped the vehicles and forcefully took away all personal effects, and beat up the occupants to force them to give them their property. They were seriously beaten."

With Steve, the pilot, at Nanyuki airport

The incident comes at a time when there has been an increase in security incidents in different parts of the country. As a result of these incidents CAFOD and the diocese opted to charter a flight in order to continue with the monitoring visit to areas that were safer. Incidentally, at the same time last year during my trip to Kenya the monitoring trip to Marsabit was called off due to insecurity conditions.

At 9:30am the three of us were driven to the Nanyuki airport 10kms from Naro Moru. As we approached all we saw was a narrow gravel airstrip with a few light aircrafts and signs saying flight learning and training, which raised more than a few reservations amongst the team...

At 10:30am the flight to pick us up landed from Nairobi. Steve Machell, the pilot very pleasantly greeted us, handed over our tickets, picked up our baggage and escorted us to the 6 seater aircraft. He asked what each of our weight was and then using a handheld weighing machine checking the weight of every piece of luggage that we carried. He kept calculating, mentioning that it was essential for him to distribute the luggage and people precisely in the aircraft; weight (amount and spread) was critical for the light single engine aircraft, which was also carrying extra fuel adding more weight.

We then had to take our seats and Anne was our newly appointed fire warden sitting by the pilot’s side with instructions to open and close the window and Nelly and I were seated behind. Nelly was appointed as the nurse in the event medical assistance was needed with the emergency first aid kit between us.

The most memorable moment - that led to even more trepidation amongst our team - was Pilot Steve’s request to say a prayer before departure, which was the first I have experienced from a pilot. He stood by the side of the aircraft, said the prayer and then got into his seat and we took off. Anne and I were struck with Steve’s personal touch and great conversation; protected by prayers and armed with a nurse and a fire warden Steve relaxed as the flight went on. Perhaps he was comforted as I scanned the Flying Operations Manual… This was the flight of my life, a memorable one and a half hours, flying over great scenes of Mount Kenya and other mountains and plains. We landed safely in Marsabit upon another small patch of gravel.

In Marsabit

Marsabit Diocese is located in a remote region of northern Kenya. The region is underdeveloped with poorly developed roads, communication, health and schools. Water access is particularly poor in remote rural areas. Basic services are also lacking or inadequate. This diocese was hit particularly hard by the East Africa drought.

Visit to Marsabit, Kenya

Visiting community at Marsabit, northern Kenya

The majority of the inhabitants of Marsabit County are pastoralists and agro-pastoralists, but extension services for livestock and agricultural production are inadequate. Banking services are also limited to district headquarters in Marsabit and Moyale. Employment opportunities particularly for youth are limited due to high illiteracy rates in the region and this has led to young people getting involved in criminal activities.

In Marsabit we visited a number of the project sites of the Integrated Drought Recovery Project including the construction of the Wako Denge dam. We met with the village leader and other community members who reported how happy they were with the work of Caritas Australia and CAFOD. I also witnessed the construction of dams and water tanks, hygiene training, water and sanitation activities, kitchen gardening, microfinance trainings, disaster risk reduction, and outreach services dealing with immunisations, malnourishment and other health and nutrition activities. With the generosity of Australian donations, when the program concludes early next year, over 26,000 people will have benefited from this program – better food security, access to water, livelihood opportunities and improved health.

The trip for me really reinforced the great dedication and commitment of our humanitarian response partners and what their staff do on a daily basis on the front line, particularly in the very insecure conditions that continue to prevail. During my discussions with the communities and also the government staff it was evident that the work of Caritas Marsabit was immensely appreciated. Not only in relation to the quality of the emergency and early recovery activities but also in their leadership in the current conflict resolution activities that are needed at this time with the forthcoming elections. With the support of the Australian community and government we are rebuilding lives for the most marginalised communities. Our response and resilience-building work will help ensure that we help realise people's rights to live in dignity and peaceful co-existence.”

We are having a significant impact

It has been a big year for the Horn of Africa, following on from the devastation, through our emergency response and rebuilding of lives we have brought hope and promise to the communities we serve. With support from the Australian Government, Baptist World Aid Australia and the Australian community, over $7.7 million was raised for our East Africa Crisis Appeal. With this generous support, we have reached 1.1 million people in East Africa through critical relief and recovery support.

Our response

In partnership with our US Caritas counterparts, Catholic Relief Services, and with the support of Baptist World Aid Australia, Caritas Australia is also finalising three other emergency assistance programs funded by the $4$ initiative in Dadaab, Lagdera and Fafi Districts, north-eastern Kenya. See more about the impact of the programs in Kenya »

Another $4$ program is being implemented in Ethiopia, in conjunction with CRS and Ethiopian Catholic Church - Social and Development Coordinating Office of Harar (ECC-SDCOH). This program provides Emergency Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) Interventions in Drought-Affected Somali and Oromia Regions of Ethiopia. See more about the impact of the program in Ethiopia »

Looking ahead whilst the region is facing more secure times there is still a great need present in many of the countries for basic services, food and water.

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