Transporters are frustrated but distressed beneficiaries hardly want to wait for relief supplies to ameliorate their plight. Despite the multiplicity of authorities involved (or perhaps because of them), the drought relief effort seems marked by delay. DAWIT ENDESHAW, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER delves into the logistics of delivering food and fertilizers to vulnerable victims, exploring causes and solutions.
For Assefa Edris, a truck driver along the Ethio-Djibouti road, his engagement in the drought response disbursement has been a serious point of frustration, unlike any in his 12 years of experience. He finds that the urgency of delivering food aid is not matched by the preparedness to lift cargo at the port and the readiness of designated warehouses to receive the food intended for those affected.
“It is really becoming frustrating,” said Assefa. “Our work should have been more organised and better coordinated.”
He was referring to the week’s delay he experienced in offloading his cargo of wheat at the Dessie warehouse, one of 10 warehouses nationwide used as strategic storage and distribution points.
The frustration does not end with individual truckers.
Kibret, feels the problem at a bigger scale: it affects the associations responsible for the transport of food aid.
“One hundred trucks from our association were stuck at Wolayta and Wereta warehouses for 10 and five days respectively,” bemoaned Kibret Alemayehu, general manager of Dejene Cross Boundary Association.
But the associations do not have ultimate responsibility. They are accountable to the National Disaster Risk Management Commission (NDRMC), which has three strategic warehouses at Komobolcha, Dire Dawa and Adama. The Adama warehouse is the biggest, having a storage capacity of 800,000qt. There are seven additional warehouses managed by the Strategic Grain Reserve Agency. These are located in Sodo, Shashemene, Shenele, Adama, Wereta, Kombolcha and Meqelle.
The Ethiopian Grain Trade Enterprise (EGTE) also has two warehouses at Adama, each with a storage capacity of 50,000qt and a workforce of 176 to offload trucks when they arrive.
Assefa has been in Dessie for a week, waiting to offload the 400qt he was carrying. He blames the delay on the inefficiency of the warehouse, which he says only operates an eight-hour work day.
The law requires that warehouses work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. According to the demurrage proclamation of 2013, any loading or unloading entity is to pay demurrage in compensation for trucks that are delayed beyond the time limit set by law. The same law gives six hours to load cargo on to trucks with a 20tn capacity, detailing beyond that, the hourly calculation for the demurrage to be paid. It is also expected to take just eight hours to offload on arrival at the warehouse.
But that is on paper. Had it been otherwise, Assefa would have been compensated for the lag so far, with a total of 30,000 Br, calculated on an hourly basis.
“The legal requirement has never been observed, even in such times when the country is highly affected and death is near, let alone on ordinary days,” Assefa complained.
Yet another person with responsibility within the coordination process contributed to the analysis of the food aid delivery situation.
Alemayehu Wolde, director of Freight Transport Competency Assurance at the Federal Transport Authority (FTA), commented that the article in the proclamation which requires warehouses to operate round the clock is ideal. But he adds that warehouses are now being urged to remain open from 6.30am until 10pm, the best possible hours achievable in the given context.
His office is the member of the technical committee endowed with the responsibility of streamlining the food aid disbursement. Members are drawn from representative sectors: transport, health, education, and agriculture. The committee meets every Wednesday and Friday and reports every Monday to the National Disaster Prevention & Preparedness Committee, which has oversight of the relief effort.
Deputy Prime Minister, Demeke Mekonnen; and Mitiku Kassa, National Disaster Response commissioner, are the Chairperson and Secretary of the national committee.
During the last week of January, the National Committee decided that 12,000tn of wheat would be transported daily, with immediate effect.
Alemayehu’s office invited all Category A transport associations to offer their price. There are 28 Category A associations managing over 4,000 trucks. Category A associations are those with members that manage a minimum of 125 trucks.
Medhen Cross Border Transport Association, a Category A association, where Assefa works, and Dejen are among these; they have dedicated their full force to the mission.
In addition to the Category A fleets, FTA invited fleet transportation companies that have a minimum of six trucks with a carrying capacity of 24tn to participate in the bid.
Medhen is now working fully on transporting wheat imported for the drought. It is paid 99 Br per quintal for delivery to Adama, 776Km from Djibouti; 100 Br to Komobolcha, which is 725Km away from the port, 113 Br for delivery to Meqelle, and 105 Br for carriage to Addis Abeba.
Dejen, established two years ago with 15 individuals, won the bid to transport 450,000qt of wheat to Adama at 97.95 Br per quintal, which it had to deliver in 18 days. It did this by outsourcing some of the work to others.
The average total carriage amounts to 25,000qt daily.
The FTA in the past six months has paid 970,000 Br for transporters. It says it has also identified additional transporters who will join soon, said Mitiku Kassa, head of NDRMC, adding that there would also be additional warehouse facilities.
While Dejen accomplished its assignment on time at the Adama warehouse, some places are having problems meeting the challenges. At Dugda Wereda, Arsi Zone, for example, Awol Tahir, drought response coordinator said they had extended working hours to 10pm, and that is the latest they could wait there.
His wereda has 82,000 beneficiaries getting emergency food assistance.
While there wait is at the consumer end of the chain and can have dire consequences, the delays begin at the Port of Djibouti, where the anchorage and berths are congested by arriving vessels, carrying cargo for government and aid agencies, says Bitew Getinet, CEO of Medhen Association.
“Coordination among major actors might greatly contribute to manage the congestion,” he suggested.
These are the Grain Trade Enterprise, World Food Program (WFP) and the NDRMC, all of which import food for emergency aid, as well as the Agricultural Input Supply Enterprise, which imports fertilizer. Representatives of these bodies met at Adama on February 2, 2016. The meeting appreciated EGTE’s timely management of deliveries to the warehouses, while the WFP said it would address issues at its warehouses, said Bitew.
Now vessels seem to be piling up at the Port and have to wait in line. Four vessels that berthed on February 3, arrived at the Port between November 25, 2015 and January 26, 2016 carrying 144,392tn of wheat and 50,000tn of NPS fertilizer. So far, the shipment of 11,712tn of wheat and fertilizer from these vessels has been transported to Ethiopia. There are also 10 vessels at anchorage with 418,038tn of sorghum, wheat and fertilizer ordered by various agencies involved in the relief effort. They are waiting to get to berths. Three vessels carrying 82,950tn of wheat and sorghum ordered by WFP, Catholic Relief Service (CRS) and USAID are also expected to arrive by February 27.
Decisions made to ease port congestion include making an additional four berths available for offloading fertilizer and wheat, Alemayehu said. The technical committee has asked Derba MIDROC and the Ministry National Defense to help with transportation, he added. Trains have also been used. Sudanese transport companies are also expected to be involved, transporting relief cargo from the Port of Sudan to Bahir Dar. They may use trucks with a capacity of as much as 700tn. The WFP has also requested the Federal Transport Agency to import 30 trucks.
They will transport the food and a 100,000tn of fertilizer, which will arrive at the Port of Djibouti by mid-February.
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