While the population is suffering from the impacts of last crop season’s drought and destructive government policy such as crop confiscation, land expropriation, restriction of crop and other basic items trade and exchange, they have also been hit by other drought this crop season.
This crop season, the early rains or “Azmera rains” (April –May) completely failed. Though the main rains have been assessed to have started in time (third week of June), the rains were not adequate and ceased early and they had spatial and temporal difference in their distribution pattern, i.e. there were irregularities in distribution between the different geographic areas of the countries varying with time thus affecting the crops at different stages of development. Most of the country is hit severely by the drought with some exceptions. Generally the highland is relatively better off specifically Maekel and Debub regions with some pockets still experiencing droughts. However, even in good harvest year, agriculture in the highland produces only a few months’ of the food needs of the population due to small land holdings and poor productivity of the land which means even those farming households in the highland are likely to have harvests that would last them only 3 – 6 months.
There are some pockets around Senafe, Adi-Keih and Areza in Debub region that have been hit by drought and experienced crop failures. This was manifested by the begging communities of Saho ethnic group from the areas around Adi-Keih and Senafe during the Muslim month (August – September) who migrated to Asmara and were engaged in begging activities and had taken shelter in and around the mosques’ premises and the streets adjacent to the mosques. These communities left Asmara immediately after the fasting break. I do not have information as to where they have moved but it is assumed that they have returned to their respective villages because there is not the same level of generosity among the people as it was during the fasting months that is necessary for their survival in Asmara. These communities are suffering from the combined effects of last and this crop seasons’ drought.
Also it is worth mentioning, in response to last crop season’s drought some communities around Senafe and Adi-Keih had been registered by the government to be resettled in Gash-Barka but when they realized that those who were resettled in Gash-Barka are suffering and dying in mass from the effects of famine, diseases and lack of shelter, the registered communities opposed boldly the government resettlement program and thus decided to remain in their villages whatever the consequences of the drought and the government policies; and in response to their opposition the government has confiscated their lands and denied them their rights to social and administrative services.
With exception of some pockets of areas, Anseba region is hit hard by the drought; the pockets with some harvests are found in the highland part of the region that grows wheat and barley crops. In the midland and low land in some areas there are some harvest of pearl millet crops while crops such as sorghum have failed completely.
Gash Barka region is the most hit by the drought this crop season. Almost there is no area in Gash Barka that is expected to harvest crops. The situation is extremely serious that even Aligeder which is supplemented by irrigation water has failed to produce crops this season. Already the government is registering the drought affected people in Gash-Barka in recognition of the scale and severity of the drought, spreading rumors that there will be food aid distributions; thus people are anticipating some sort of food aid distributions by the government in Gash-Barka because the registration and the rumors have raised high expectation among the affected population that they would receive food aid. Considering the behavior of the government and remembering that the government has claimed in September that this year there is no drought in the country, I do not believe the government is going to appeal to the international community for humanitarian assistance to address the famine. Hence the registration is a public relation exercise probably to prevent mass exodus to the Sudan arising from famine and frustration. Already people are fleeing to Sudan particularly those resettled in Gash Barka region recently not only as the result of human rights violation but also as a result of the effect of drought. But the extent and severity of the effects of the drought is to be seen in the coming months.
It is not only the drought that has caused crop failure in the country, particularly in Gash-Barka. but government policy and mismanagement has also contributed to crop failure. People were not able to exploit the rains as much as they should. The government put the private tractors under its direct control and administration and failed to make proper, effective and efficient use of the tractors because of shortage of fuel and spare parts while at the same time providing priority to the military and government land. The tractors only started operating two weeks after the rain started. In the past the private tractor owners operated their tractors by being flexible by buying fuel from the black market and this provided the opportunity for the farmers to cultivate relatively in time.
Aligeder in the past was used to produce even cotton crop which is high water consuming crops and that takes longer months than sorghum to reach production stage; this season the land was rented to the population and cultivated sorghum but because the government refused to release water to the farmers in time the result was crop failure.
Mass deaths in Wi’a concentration/training camp
Famine is not only affecting the civilian population, but also those in the national service.
The conditions in Wi’a concentration/training camp in the past 7- 9 months have worsened more than any other time. Food rations were reduced further to 3 pieces of sorghum bread per person per day without any supplements such as sauce except limited ration of tea. The shortage of food is compounded by the closure of the camp for family visits which used to facilitate the supply of food from families and relatives to the prisoners/trainees. The shortage of food combined with the very poor sanitation conditions, harsh environmental conditions, fatigue resulting from training exercises and almost non-existent health facilities and health care services in the camp has lead to sustained outbreaks of meningitis, typhoid and scabies resulting in alarming mass deaths.
Most of the deaths are mainly attributed to meningitis. Meningitis has been in the camp even before three years and had killed many but it has never been in this scale before. The death rate increased from June onwards and continued at alarming rate until the camp was closed in September. After hesitating for long, the government has finally decided to close the camp as an emergency measure after many (estimated to be in hundreds) have died. It is difficult to know how many have exactly died but sources from the camp tell that initially 37 people have died in the spot without being transferred to the Gedem military hospital near Massawa. Hundreds were transferred to Gedem hospital but the majority of them have not survived indicating that the death toll is in hundreds.
The latest information that I have got concerning the mass death in Wia is tha the death rate per day had in some days reached 26. This daily mortality average includes those who died in the camp and those who died after being transferred to Gedem hospital and other Hospitals in Massawa.
Following the closure of the camps, the trainees have been moved to Me’etir (60 km North of Afabet), Sawa (only females), Ala Hashferai (near the town of Hagaz) keloma (near the port town of Asab) to continue their trainings. These training camps fall under the direct commands of the recently structured commands. Keloma is under the eastern command, Ala under central command, Hashferai under Western command and Sawa and Me’etir under northern command. I do not have information on the conditions of the training camps under these commands.
Similarly, the conditions in Sawa have worsened because of the extreme shortage of food supply and the trainees (or students as the government calls them) that have got access to call to their families are urging their families to send them food urgently. And it is not yet known whether the government will take the necessary measures to improve the conditions in Sawa training camp before the experience of Wia camp is being repeated there.