Hazards Mitigation in Eritrea’s Coastal Areas

Eritrea’s coastal area is under threats from sea-level rises, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, torrential rains, draught and locust storms. Experts assess these hazards and formulation of community based disaster mitigation measures in the Northern and Southern Red Sea regions of Eritrea.

By Kesete Ghebrehiwet,

Once they were fertile and with optimal temperature conducive for human settlement, but the villages of Sireru, Minding, and Maebele were totally destroyed due to a volcanic eruption occurred in 2011. The Nabro eruption has not only changed the landscape of the area but also became a cause for the displacement of 12,000 people, and for the death of about 19,000 domestic animals.

In another instance of earthquake, Massawa was heavily damaged in 1884 and also severely damaged by another earthquake in 1921. Bada was also hit by earthquake in 1993. There is also a recent record of earthquake of a very law magnitude in Nakfa. All these occurrences, natural or human hazards, impact the livelihood of the inhabitants of Northern and Southern Red Sea areas (NRSR/ SRSR).

A study initiated by the Ministry of Labor and Human welfare is, thus, aimed at assessing the prevailing and possible hazards as per their damaging impacts both to the livelihood of the inhabitants and the ecosystem, thereby to come up with community based disaster risk improvement measures.

The study was carried out with a particular focus on the coastal areas of the country. Experts conducted researches in topics related to Geo-hazards, Coastal and Marine hazards, as well as Agro-Climatic and Environmental hazards. The findings of the research were presented on a workshop held last Wednesday 31 March 2016 at NCEW’s conference Hall.

Since the NRSR and SRSR are the two regions bordering the Red Sea coastline, and are, hence, subjects to the dire consequences that may occur due to the prevalence of earthquakes and volcanic hazards. Accordingly, the already carried out study is a way forward in the efforts to take upon reasonable easing measures.

As the inhabitants of the two administrative regions rely in subsistence farming, herding and fishing activities, the study tries to give due focus to hazards which will affect the livelihood of these population groups.

Most hazard types may not be imminent in nature but gradually accumulated may result as a sudden and uncontrollable disaster. In such cases, the study carried out in three areas of hazards could become highly effective in disseminating early warning.

According to Prof. Ghebrebrhan Ogbazghi, expert in earth science, there is a possibility that Hirgigo power station may be hit by tsunami of about two meters wave. There is also the likelihood of major volcanic eruption and earthquake. This occurrence in the NRSR and SRSR is prevalent in view of the fact that these regions are highly known for dormant volcanoes.

While highlighting concerns about Massawa, Prof. Ghebrebrhan, said that old buildings are susceptible to seismic hazards. Although 7 is the highest possible earthquake magnitude that may occur in Eritrea, most of the country’s physical infrastructure is not in a position to stand an earthquake of a lesser magnitude.

Geo-hazards in NRSR include Alid, south of the Gulf of Zula, and volcanoes around Erafaile. These dormant volcanoes may erupt at any given time. To give an example of such dormant volcano; the Nabro volcano of 2011, which erupted for one month and caused a lava ow of 0.5 km, displaced a number of people and changed geographic nature of the area.

What the recent research clarified about Massawa is that apart from the events of the late 1880s and that of 1921, the port city was threatened by a chain of earthquakes that occurred in different periods of time. In July 2002, an earthquake struck the localities of Massawa and most old buildings in the city were slightly damaged. More recently, Massawa was shaken by an earthquake of magnitude 5 on September 18th, 2013. These are all indicative of the prevalence of serious seismic and volcanic hazards in the two coastal regions and the dangers are likely to rise with an increase in development undertakings, according to Prof. Ghebrebrhan.

Eritrea is trying to address the issue of geo-hazard at regional level. Hence, the country became a member of the Eastern and Southern Africa Seismology Group in 1995 as well as a member of the executive body in 1998.

While sharing ideas with the participants of the workshop Prof. Ghebrebrhan disclosed that seismologic studies have started in the post-independence period in 1992 and importation of latest seismometers was proposed and is expected to be in effect in the near future.

Although only about 5% of the Eritrean population lives in the coastal areas, the risk of geo-hazard and the subsequent environmental, agricultural and marine hazards are not topics to be viewed lightly. Most of inhabitants in coastal areas lives in village settings while some are city dwellers living in the port cities of Massawa and Assab.

It should be noted that Eritrea’s coastal area is in a threat of slow-on-set hazards such as sea-level rise while rip-current is not totally seen. And, fortunately, Eritrea is among the countries that may not be endangered by storm surge as the Red Sea is relatively calm and usually has 16 knots of wind speed.

In his presentation of “Main Findings and Mitigation Options of Marine Hazards” Dr. Zekaria Abdelkerim, Dean of College of Marine Sciences, pointed out that Berasole, Akelo, Menkaka’e are among those under the threat of sea- level rise.

Sea-level rises, sea pollution, degradation of mangroves, bleaching of corals and presence of black Indian craw in abundance were identified as dominant hazards that may bring negative impact in the two coastal regions. Dr. Zekaria’s elaboration of the different types of marine hazards shows that if these hazards are not addressed in time, degradation of mangroves would result in a decrease in quantity of available fish and, thus, negatively impacting the fishing communities. The hazard of black Indian craw is that it eats eggs laid by other bird species and, hence, threatening their survival.

Flooding, drought, wind storm, expansion of invasive alien plant species, locust infestation, drying up of wells and land degradation, overgrazing are among the agro-climatic and environmental hazards discussed in the workshop.

It is to be recalled that Foro, Tio and other coastal areas suffered heavily from a recent flooding. The subsequent impact of Foro flooding was already seen in archeological sites in Adulis. The historical site is then under constant threat and partial damage to the site was witnessed, according to Dr. Woldeselassie Ogubazghi.

Dr. Woldeselassie, clarified that locust infestation is mainly seen in NRSR and particularly in She’eb, Afabet, Ghinda’e and Foro sub-zones but are usually prevented through active intervention measures of the Ministry of Agriculture. However, Dr. Woldeselassie underlined that drought and expansion of invasive plant species are hazards of high concern. The fact that Eritrea is located in the sub-Saharan African climatic drought is a threat to the country.

Promotion of climatic-smart agriculture, introduction of water harvesting technologies, prevention of alien invasive plants and animal species, promotion of community based protected areas (enclosures) among others, are mitigation measures directed towards alleviating agro-climatic and environmental hazards.

Dissemination of accurate and timely weather forecast of wind surface waves, documentation and popularization of traditional weather forecast practices, introduction of safety regulating for fishing vessels, promotion of seas worthy and stable fishing vessels, introduction of insurance for fishing vessels are improvement measured proposed in the research.

The research also included assessment on the impact of the recent Nabro irruption on the livelihood of communities, their resilience to the natural phenomenon and emergency humanitarian assistance given to the displaced people.

Resilience of communities in facing and tackling challenges created by natural hazards were identified as a decisive factor for risk reduction. Hence, resilience capacity of the displaced inhabitant of Sireru was crucial in risk reduction of such dire natural hazards. Accordingly, study initiated by the Ministry of Labor and Human Welfare stresses that community involvement in all phases of planning, execution, monitoring and evaluation of risk reduction measures are imperative.

Instead of being limited to emergency humanitarian assistance; there is an emphasis on the enhancement of constant monitoring, preparation and planning for use in pre-, co- and post- disaster phases, and conducting detailed study for settlements which are under serious threats from sea-level rise and volcanic eruptions coupled with earthquakes. Tackling shortages of potable water and any natural or human induced hazard are among the dominant topics discussed in the mitigation measures to be undertaken.

Minister of Labor and Human Welfare, Mr. Kahsai Ghebrehiwet, said in his closing remarks during the afternoon session that the study would be directed to ministries and other relevant government institutions. Key implementers and players in rehabilitation programs are regional administrative bodies and the event of Nabro volcano is a best example and a lesson to learn from. The Minister also reiterated that there should be no uncertainties as regards to the implementation of the programs and these kinds of studies would also be conducted in other regions of the country.

Eritrean intellectuals notify the need for preemptive measures for minimizing natural hazards in Eritrea’s coastal area. (Photo: L-R: Dr. Woldeselassie Ogubazghi, Prof. Ghebrebrhan Ogbazghi, Dr. Zekaria Abdelkerim, )