Progress Report – October 2023 to January 2024
In September 2023 we reported on the increasing calm and normality in “our” area of 4 woredas around Lalibela, following the retreat by the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front. This period enabled us to return to repairing the substantial damage which had been done to our health posts, schools and clean water projects and to new development activities.
Then, however the Ethiopian government declared a State of Emergency in Amhara, including a lockdown in Lalibela with an Ethiopian Army Commander controlling the town, and a “cabinet” which includes the civilian Heads of the Woredas. This regime was established by the government because of fears that FANO, an Amhara militia movement which opposes the Ethiopian government’s plan to bring together all regions for a unified Ethiopia, will disadvantage Amhara.
This alarming sounding development has not caused as many problems as we feared. This is because Lalibela Trust is the only significant charity in Lalibela, and our Project Manager has established excellent relationships with the senior local government officials and is now included in all major discussions of the Cabinet involving Health, Education and Water. There have been skirmishes, with some killings, in the area surrounding Lalibela, but the town itself has not been subject to such horrors.
However, as part of the State of Emergency, the lockdown includes night-time curfews, limited access to the town, no internet (except for Christmas), etc. These restrictions have not caused fundamental problems for us largely because of the relationship our Project Manager has with the Cabinet. However, we have been slowed down by the paperwork and approvals which the Cabinet requires.
A more serious problem has been the skirmishes with some killings in the rural areas where most of our physical activity is located. These have made it unsafe for our contractors to work, but gradually the government is able to establish safe areas outside “red lines” and our work is getting back to normal in these.
THE NATIONAL ECONOMY
With an escalating debt servicing burden, the government has drastically cut back on spending (see appendix). The increase in national government expenditure in its July 2023/24 budget is only 2% relative to general inflation forecast at 24%. Also, the US and UN suspended all their substantial food aid deliveries for 6 months last year while allegations of misappropriation involving government and army officials were investigated. The deliveries have since been partially resumed, but mainly to refugee populations.
This major shortage of national funding has had an impact on our programme – see our “Emergency Food Supplies” paragraph.
Table 1: The Major National Economy Measures (billion birr)
|Full Year 2021/22
|Full Year 2022/3 Estimate
|Full Year 2023/24
Source: Ministry of Finance Budget Document
THE LOCAL ECONOMY
Emergency Food Supplies
The current State of Emergency has had a huge impact on the incomes of people in Lalibela Town, who largely depend on tourism for their income. The recent unrest in all of Amhara Region has received virtually no coverage in the media, but it is well known to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and to travel insurance companies, which makes it extremely difficult for tourists to get insurance cover.
Most residents therefore have had little or no income for many months. In addition, transport costs in Amhara have escalated with roadblocks, fears of hijacking etc. For these reasons, there is an acute shortage of food in Lalibela Town and the cost of the staple wheat flour has doubled since the last harvest 12 months ago. Many residents are hungry and getting desperate, especially those with babies.
In December the cabinet requested our urgent support. We agreed, using the same principles as we used in a previous campaign when the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front occupied the town, i.e. selecting only the very poorest and supplying food not money. It provided food for 310 people. This programme was successful and completed before Christmas. In January we agreed a second campaign for a new group of people. It is identical, except that it is being supported by the Women and Children’s Social Affairs Office who have an excellent information bank on needy families. Their chairman is taking a leading role in the committee formed for our distribution. Our Project Manager is overseeing the actual distribution process personally, as before.
Checking the claimants’ authenticity Resigned to their fate
She was not eligible in this round Babies are especially vulnerable
Other Local Needs
The general huge cut in budgets of all departments of local government over the last 2 years have increased to the level where there is now no money available except for salaries, which seem to be sacrosanct. Consequently we have had requests for hiring tankers to empty overflowing cesspits, also paper for producing reports and exam papers, printer cartridges, cement for the collapsed latrine and many other such items. We are being highly selective over such new requests and focussing firmly on the emergency food need which really is a matter of urgency for saving lives.
Our other main projects all have an element of lifesaving, ranging from the urgent to the less time-sensitive, and we will continue all the existing projects subject to our funding as long as the security situation permits.
Health Post Refurbishment
Lalibela Trust has constructed 15 Health Posts over the years. Of these, 10 were seriously damaged by the TPLF in their 2021/22 invasion and the internal and external damage and loss was great, including much of the equipment needed in a simple small clinic, e.g. refrigerators, birthing couches, medical instruments and supplies, etc.
Of the damaged Health Posts outside the security red lines, we have now completed the restoration of 6. The remaining 4 are in security sensitive areas and we can only wait until they are safe again. We do have restricted grant money for these and the donor accepts the delay.
New Health Post
When we came to assess the damage at the Health Post in Sarsena, it was evident that the construction of the building itself was in very poor condition. The Health Department had approached our partners, Create/Impact (Australia), previously for an extension to the building for the increasing population in that area. Also, there is no other Health Post or Health Centre in less than one days’ walking distance; and malaria is becoming an increasing problem there.
We discussed this with our Australian partners and agreed a fixed contribution from Lalibela Trust towards a new Health Post. This continues a number of joint ventures which we have had with Create Impact which have worked well. Sarsena is outside the red line area so work can commence soon.
Terrorists have trashed the Health Post.
Create/Impact are rebuilding with our support.
Heaters for the Maternity Unit in Lalibela Hospital
The need for heaters may seem surprising in Ethiopia, but Lalibela is almost 9000 feet above sea level and can be very cold, especially in the rainy season. A donor has previously funded substantial sums towards the Maternity Unit and has generously now agreed this one.
The acute shortages of government funding for all working capital hits some crucial education needs; books, pens, chalk, paper, etc. Very few families in our rural area can afford these items. We have had programmes to provide students’ materials. As in all areas of need , the challenge for us is to identify the neediest individuals and/or locations. However, we are evaluating new ones for the future.
CLEAN WATER PROJECTS
Our ongoing project to repair all the damaged clean water projects has been delayed by the security risk in the often very remote mountainous villages. However, most of the facilities have been assessed by the local hydrologists and 17 need attention, ranging from in scope to simply replacing taps to major repairs of concrete smashed wantonly by TPLF. We funded 7 of these originally, but with no other charities working in the area we have agreed to repair all 17.
Lalibela Trust has provided a truck for an initial 10 days to deliver our materials and Water Department employees to the sites. The rate of progress from now on will depend on the rate at which further villages are declared safe.
DATE OF NEXT VISIT
Planned for April 2024, but it will depend on the security situation at that time.
Total Construction Projects Completed
15 completed 86,000 beneficiaries. Construction starting now on number 16.
47 completed. 2 shifts per day. All the Create Impact and Lalibela Trust classrooms have now been renovated after the TPLF invasion. 34,000 beneficiaries.
135 clean water projects completed. Since 2003: (122 spring development; 13 hand dug wells: Total 135 – but about 40 need repair).