I mentioned in an earlier post I have been asked to return to Ethiopia to help assess feasible approaches to integrating (I)nformation (C)ommunication (T)echnoloy (ICT) into a drought early warning program.
While for many projects the “T” often supersedes the I & C, I’d like to think that this project has evolved in a bit of a different way.
Back in 2006 during my emergency medicine residency training at HAEMR I had the opportunity to support an international NGO with a regional office in Addis Ababa. A severe drought had just affected the southern pastoralist communities decimating almost all of their cows, goats an sheep- their primary livelihood. So how does this affect the health of communities? And for those of us who think primarily in terms of human health, how does this connect?
It’s an intertwined ecosystem. Access to water, adequate rainfall, and good pasture, are tightly linked to an animal’s ability to produce milk for human consumption. When there is impending drought the people sell their primary source of nutrition- their livestock back into the markets to purchase grain for food. This spins a dangerous web for not only the health of already undernourished children but also for pregnant women, the elderly and entire communities.
For this project, a public health lens for drought early warning is centered on community perspectives. And village women’s ability to report early changes becomes one of the cornerstones of early warning. Women, clan leaders and local colleagues taught me years ago- it’s just as much about the pasture as it is about the number of visits to the health center. In 2006-7 the project aimed to complement existing early warning systems which often struggle to collect timely and actionable information to prevent the deleterious outcome of droughts/famine.
The conversations began years ago with women in Tuka, Arganne, and Danmbi. (focus groups) where they described community perspectives on early signs of drought, their coping mechanisms and ongoing community needs. And we worked with their knowledge and perceptions to build indicators using survey measurement tools we commonly use in the ED and in social science research— the Visual Analogue Scale