By Billion Temesghen
OCHA (the office for coordination for the humanitarian affairs) is part of the UN Secretariat responsible for coordinating humanitarian entities to give required responses to needs. “Under the General Assembly resolution 46/182 of December 1991 OCHA coordinates humanitarian actions to ensure crisis-affected people receive the assistance and protection they need. In Eritrea, OCHA works alongside the UN Country Team to assist projects based on the Eritrean Government’s priorities, leverage international support and help coordinate aid towards vulnerable communities.” OCHA’s Deputy Director for Eastern and Sothern Africa, Mrs. Wofaa Elfadil Saeed, was in Eritrea for a work visit. Her impression follows.
-Thank you for your time. How was your time in Eritrea?
Thank you so much. I stayed in Asmara for three days. It is my first time here in Eritrea and I believe Asmara is a city with a soul. I work for OCHA, and I came here on a work visit to meet my colleagues working in the Asmara office. I am based in New York and I am responsible for supporting our work in Eastern and Southern Africa. My visit’s objective was to understand our work progress and see what we can do to make our work more effective in order to make a difference for the people.
During my stay I met my UN colleagues as well as partners from the Government of Eritrea. I had very open and constructive discussions with several UN agencies, GoE ministries and local stakeholders. One of my takeaways from Eritrea would be the positive collaboration the United Nations Country Team has with the Government of Eritrea.
-What did you notice outside the discussion you’ve held with your colleagues and officials from the Eritrean Government offices? You visited the Akria Community Hospital for instance.
On my last day I visited a Community Hospital. I am an African myself, a Sudanese, and I have visited several places in the region and I must say that this was one of the most impressive community health centers I have ever seen.
I left the health center feeling very inspired and very encouraged. I noticed that the health center was giving service to a large number of beneficiaries. This obviously shows that this place is doing its job precisely by providing service to many because sometimes you find empty health centers that do not provide good service. Moreover, what impressed me even further is that there were a big number of women and children amongst the beneficiaries. Immunization service, vaccination service, counseling for pregnant women and other services were being provided in every room of the health center. I had a chance to speak to young professionals there and I was amazed by the gender mix.
One of the things I really appreciate here in Eritrea is that great attention is paid to issues of women and girls. In my meeting with the Minister of Labor and Social Welfare, Mrs. Leul Ghabreab, I realized that there is special focus on the issues of girls and women as well as vulnerable members of the society.
Furthermore, the work there is very well organized. The health center was very clean. I told the staff I met there a common saying in Sudan which is used to express the cleanliness of something. People it is so clean you’d eat from it. One more thing that impressed me most is the large number of young professionals working there. They are coordinated, dedicated and motivated to their profession.
-What are the tasks of OCHA in Eritrea and which government institution does it work with?
Our office in Eritrea is a coordinating office and we don’t implement things on our own. We work specifically to support humanitarian affairs. We are a small supporting team. Also, we don’t have one line of cooperation; we work with different ministries. We monitor the needs and what has been done in order to address them. Therefore, we work in line with the rest of the UN agencies and collaborate with different GoE ministries. As I have already said, the spirit of collaboration is one to praise. This why there are many projects being implemented and making a difference for the people.
-You speak of ‘good collaboration’ between the UN Country Team and the Government of Eritrea. Could you please elaborate that further?
I believe there are open discussions between the UN Country Team, GoE ministries and stakeholders. For us it is very important that we match what we do with the government priorities. The positive collaboration has resulted in making a big difference for the people. I noticed that the support that is being provided and the positive collaboration with the Eritrean Government are making a big difference for the people. I also learned that the implementation of the projects mapped out is really making a big impact. I learned that they are cost effective and the results are visible and very much encouraging.
-How did your meeting with senior Eritrean officials go?
I am very thankful for their time and the opportunity I had to hold open discussions with them. I think one message that has come through in my several meetings with senior government officials is the need for us at the UN to be having an integrated approach. They would like to see the UN agencies work with an integrated approach.
-Do you mean within the composition of the UN?
Yes, there are several UN agencies operating in Eritrea and so they would like us to improve how we are integrating our responses to support the nation’s priorities. I see the point. It is important for us to integrate our efforts in order to maximize our input. On the government’s side, they suggested that their work would be coordinated by the Ministry of National Development.
-What will be the next step for your office in Eritrea?
Because of our good collaboration we need to scale up our tasks and our responses. We also had discussions on supporting our resource mobilization efforts. I was very encouraged because even from the meetings I had with different government officials, I realized that there is a clear message to focus on the most vulnerable members of the society and scale up our undertakings.
-Is there anything you would like to say at the end?
I would like to thank the people I have met for their warm reception. We are very much committed towards supporting the implementation of several activities alongside the Eritrean ministries and government stakeholders. It has obviously been very encouraging to work in Eritrea and I believe there is room for more cooperation and further undertakings.