Turning adversity into opportunity


The DRM activity was introduced in the community following the disaster that was caused by heavy flood that broke the river banks which killed more than 250 vulnerable people in a few hours in a town called Diredawa. The striking thing is that there was no sign of rain where the disaster happened.  The flood just rushed onto vulnerable communities in the middle of the night, when people residing along the river bank and by the river floor (dry at the time) were asleep. The source of the flood was the heavy rainfall that happened in the highlands: the downstream communities had no ways of receiving warning signals. Such rains and extreme flooding are examples of the impact of climate change.

The project started with immediate emergency response activities. This was a joint action by a number of international organizations and the government of Ethiopia to rehabilitate the affected communities. Cordaid then funded a local NGO (Jeccdo) to assess the hazard, vulnerability and capacity through Participatory Disaster Risk Assessment (PDRA) that involved all segments of the community.

After having identified the key issues, historical trends and the eminent hazards in the area, a community action plan was designed to mitigate and prevent the impact of future likely hazards that may strike. Moreover, livelihood opportunities were created for the most vulnerable ones to cope with risks and become food secured in an organized manner (the activities targeted women’s group, environmental protection and development, tree planting, soil and water conservation structures, area enclosure, early warning systems, cut and carry practices, wild life conservation, etc). Seed money was injected by the local organization (Jeccdo as a sub grantee). A community structure that includes women and the youth was established to manage the various activities and was recognized by the government. Saving and credit association was established to support particularly women’s group.

The community-managed project was exemplary and one of the most successful community based disaster risk reduction initiatives.

The other side of the story is that, given that the area was moisture deficit, the flood was turned into an opportunity for the farming community along the river bank: by diverting the flood into farm fields it produced agricultural crops (mainly sorghum) which was a rare opportunity.

The community managed to establish Community Early Warning System through mobile telephone communication with the upper stream communities to alert the downstream communities when rains are heavy upstream. By doing so, the disasters created by floods have almost entirely been controlled and communities along the river banks were resettled in safe zones. The surrounding hills and gorges were treated to reduce the velocity of flash floods in the area through stone bunds and various structures alongside plating of adapting tree species.


Theoretically it is believed that a CBDRM initiative depends on the commitment by the facilitating agency and the full participation and inclusion of community segments, including People With Disabilities. Having achieved such a participation and support from different actors ensured the success of the interventions appreciated by local and national governments to an extent that visitors from neighbouring countries came and appreciated the approach. Local and traditional leaders were sufficiently consulted to leverage their local knowledge, wisdom and skills including historical events and track records of disasters in the area. The local government being the primary duty-bearer was engaged actively by leading the emergency response, early recovery and supporting Jeccdo to establish the Community Disaster Risk Management structure and creating a conducive environment in all aspects. The outlined DRR plans, after identification of the hazards in the area, were implemented by both Jeecdo and the community (community participation and mobilization of labour through cash-for-work programmes). Jeccdo was actually facilitating the process but the main players were the community structures. Periodical joint monitoring was conducted to gauge the progress and reflect on the required improvements. The process is called Joint Monitoring, Reflection and Learning. The community organization has recently turned into a registered local NGO to raise funds from international organizations and the government to expand its work to other areas in the proximity.
As indicated above, the process was inclusive particularly of the most vulnerable ones including People With Disabilities (PWDs) as they are the most affected by the disaster. Women were organized and supported to engage in income generation activities through saving and loan mechanisms. Children and youth were part of the consultation, and the youth groups took part in the DRR activities. Other marginalized groups include minorities, beggars and migrant workers from other parts of the country who have no safety net coverage.
As mentioned above periodical joint monitoring enables to change priorities and activities based on the context. It is all about community’s mutual understanding on what benefits them. Some activities are seasonal and they have to be accomplished on time while others can be done any time of the year. Activities are revised and re-scheduled where necessary to meet the context and in case of additional support, the local government is requested. Moreover contingency plans of the community are shared to the local government to be included in government’s annual budget.


The community structure was transformed into a local NGO to raise funds and expand its coverage beyond the locality. Local resources including elderly's wisdom and skills, community free labour and naturally available materials (stone, sand tree seeds to raise seedlings, locally raised money, etc.) were mobilized. Income from fruit trees established by the group is a constant income for the group. The local government is asked for support throughout the program while international NGOs do contribute as appropriate. Therefore, the community structure is still operational with experts employed to support technical works which implies the financial strength to sustain a technical expertise.
Obviously the affected community members were revived through engagement of income generating activities. The most important achievement is that the community is aware of the eminent disasters (lessons learnt from the loss of life and property) and hence ready to take action. As indicated earlier, the most affected ones were those living along the river bank, and they have been relocated: hence their vulnerability to flash flood has vastly reduced. Safety net programs (government-led) allow the most vulnerable ones to engage in development activities that enhance environmental protection and allow them to earn income. The early warning system in place coupled with weather forecasts play important role in raising the awareness of communities on time for any potential hazard to strike.


The recognition of the community structure by the local government and inclusion of plans in its annual budget is an important component of the sustainability of the community DRM activities. Establishing income generation activities will help the group to earn additional income apart from the support they get from the government and other international NGOs.
The Ethiopian Disaster Risk Management Policy clearly stipulates that CBDRM is a way forward to curb disasters and that communities have for centuries been responding to disasters prior to any outsiders. Hence building the capacity of communities is given due attention. The DRM policy and government structure has been institutionalized at the lowest administration level. Of particular interest is the community based early warning system that engages the community to report on any eminent hazard in their localities on weekly basis. This draws immediate attention by the government and NGOs to support communities to cope with the upcoming hazard events. Identification and characterization of hazards in each locality of the country is underway with the subsequent DRR measures to be undertaken. This is partially as a result of the community DRM initiatives introduced.
Government is primarily responsible to support the CBDRM actions but the community is leading the process. Capacity building actions are primarily supported by NGOs for both the community and government workers. The frequency depends on availability of fund set aside for the purpose and has not been that frequent.
I believe this solely depends on government and NGOs commitment. Communities can contribute to the initiative in the form of labour and locally available materials.
This case has completely changed the way communities and the government perceive disasters in the wake of climate change, which is a huge achievement. The culture of information exchange between the upper- and down-streamers, the public awareness on disasters, the need for preparedness, have significantly changed within the community members and are better off in taking into account the risks and the need for appropriate actions. CSOs exchange and learn the practice in platforms such as cluster meetings and annual DRR events held nationally. The local government, as influenced by the national DRM policy took important measures to ensure vulnerable communities are safer than ever. Inclusion of DRM issues in school curricula was already brought to the attention of the Ministry of Education. UNICEF in Ethiopia in collaboration with the African Centre for DRM launched the "School Managed Disaster Risk Management" initiative. Feedbacks are forwarded mainly when there are GO – NGO platforms and joint field monitoring.
In the current context, the government is committed to support any CBDRM initiative in the country. There are already established community structures at the smallest unit of administration that are already ripe to exercise CBDRM.