Lemlem Abraha, geographic information systems (GIS) expert, is building a new landscape for women across Ethiopia. Her career in disaster risk management (DRM) technology exemplifies the potential of women engaging in science, tech, engineering, and math (STEM). Lemlem’s academic interest led her to see how the best solution integrates the latest technology, “My background in land resource management and environmental protection motivated me to pursue a graduate degree in remote sensing and GIS." Ethiopia needs women like Lemlem to mobilize change in a nation where female enrollment in STEM at 15 national public universities is 22%. “I unlocked an interest in geographic information as a way to analyze different hazards and logistics, linking them to data-driven solutions."
Globally, women and girls are more than ten times more likely to die from disaster events. Lemlem envisions this as an opportunity for women to be at the center of solutions for insufficient gender analysis and evidence to inform humanitarian response and lack of coordination on gender across different agencies, “Women should be involved in decision making because their experiences contribute to a transformed approach to disaster impacts management. Girls and women in Ethiopia become more vulnerable to the burden of labor, violence, displacement, and limited socio-economic agency in the aftermath of a disaster." She is hopeful that digital Ethiopia vision 2025 will orchestrate information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure and create a tech ecosystem, “Digital technology is a medium for women to connect. It also provides them with a platform of innovative income options or a flexible working environment. They need to leverage these options into benefits that enable greater income generation."
Financial equity may still need progress but women are making strides in governing roles with female representation with four out of 10 parliament posts held by women. Lemlem represents the scope for them to engage in roles of authority and decision-making. Her contribution to the national emergency coordination center (NECC) drives solutions that ensure all demographics and marginalized groups are equally resilient against disasters and conflict, “The center was initiated within the Ethiopian Disaster Risk Management Commission (EDRMC) in 2010 with the vision of coordinating disaster efforts, response, information sharing, and intervention. It is at the heart of all disaster efforts." The NECC’s regulatory function is particularly necessary during the COVID-19 pandemic according to Lemlem - “The flood response in Afar, Somali, and the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples' Region (SNNPR) regions during 2014 proved the success of early action during a disaster. We applied the same logic to activate the center and administer effective containment of COVID-19 infections."
Climate change coupled with conflict has posed unique challenges across Ethiopia. The country is five times larger than the United Kingdom, making decentralizing DRM and emergency response essential. Lemlem observes that regional and national ECC are essential for events such as natural and manmade disaster scenarios across the country, “The local centers of Gedeo and West Guji were activated to address humanitarian needs during the inter-communal conflict in regions that displaced approximately 958,000 people in 2018."
Ethiopia faced the global challenge of coordinating response efforts in isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. There have been 490,816 infections and 7,559 coronavirus-related deaths reported in the country since the public-health emergency began. Lemlem establishes that virtual communications streamlined coordination efforts with over 70 participants from various response fields - “The first virtual meeting launched the COVID-19 emergency response plan. It was chaired by EDRMC and co-chaired by the United Nations Office For The Coordination Of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) with partners, United Nations (UN) agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), 19 sector ministries, and regional states." Lemlem contributes to this success to the dedication of external stakeholders too, “The Strengthening Institutional Capacity & Preparedness for Emergency Response in Ethiopia (SIPERE) program amplified interventions with the vision that national progress is a collective process. Enhancing ICT to improve ECC communications has expanded to the Oromia, Afar, and Somalia regions, and 40 national and regional management. Moreover, technical ECC staff members were trained to communicate updates and relief coordination during disaster events."
The pandemic conditions imposed new restrictions on any response effort. NECC and regional ECCs emulated multi-level emergency responses for complex emergencies similar to the approach in 2018. Lemlem explains, “Improved coordination supported the COVID-19 response operation along with 317,000 people displaced by floods, desert locust infestation, and over 40,000 returning migrants following the pandemic." The long-term consequences of disaster often require a more unified response effort. Lemlem elaborates on how specific government departments were incorporated into these response efforts - “The center worked with the ministries of health, water, irrigation, and energy to tackle the flood events. It has led the flood activation system to tackle the impacts and aftermath of these disasters." She connects this achievement with the NECC’s mechanisms that also undertake nutrition, protection of displaced populations, and interruption of education during floods, “Improved activation and operationalization mechanisms proved effective in addressing complex emergencies. The center was able to establish roles and responsibilities, maintain communication, and provide advisory support to all regions."
Lemlem connects standardized organizational structures with efficient logistics, “The activation of ECCs at national, regional, and sub-regional levels through the new communication system has delegated shared roles and responsibilities and maintained the flow of information at all levels." Still, the NECC is active to manage different emergency issues and weekly stakeholders’ progress meetings are currently being conducted regularly. Lemlem concludes that consistent communication has streamlined the allocation of resources and prioritization of response operations at the grassroots level.
EDRMC of the Federal Democratic Republic Of Ethiopia (FDRE) in partnership with the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC) has implemented the Strengthening Institutional Capacity & Preparedness for Emergency Response in Ethiopia (SIPERE) program with support from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (the foundation). Supporting capacity building for the ECC aligns with SIPERE’s outcomes for ‘improved emergency coordination & response mechanisms of the EDRMC’. The program aims to improve the institutional capacity of the EDRMC and key
sectoral ministries including the ministry of agriculture and health on preparedness for response and recovery for the implementation of the disaster risk management strategic program and investment framework (DRM-SPIF).
The SIPERE program capacitation of the NECC and three RECCs has advanced the EDRMC’s initiative to create the ECCs in six additional regions with the support of the regional government and other humanitarian actors. The EDRMC has collaborated with regional ECCs to strengthen and operationalize ECCs in six regions and one city administration during the last three years in
response to disaster events.