How These 3 NGOs Are Helping Eritrean Refugees
The ongoing conflict in the Tigray province of Ethiopia has wreaked devastation. In November 2020, after months of political turmoil, the Ethiopian government launched a military offensive against Tigray regional forces. As a result, an estimated 353,000 people are in the worst classification for food security and thousands more have died. U.N.-backed data also show that 1.7 million are near maximum risk of food insecurity. Because of the crisis, several NGOs are taking on the fight in helping Eritrean Refugees. Here is how three NGOs are helping Eritrean refugees.

The American Team for Displaced Eritreans (TATDE)

John Stauffer founded The American Team for Displaced Eritreans (TATDE) in 2010, which is an organization that provides aid to Eritrean refugees seeking asylum in the U.S. and around the globe. TATDE works with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) by providing refugees in the U.S. and globally with adequate housing and resettlement support. This includes a new apartment checklist and a picture dictionary that translates Tigrinya, a prominent language that Eritrean people speak, to English.

In collaboration with other NGOs, TATDE assists in fielding emergency calls from Eritrean refugees on the run, defecting Eritrean individuals officials and those facing deportation. Some noteworthy work includes a scholarship program designed to provide nursing and other medical training to refugees living in camps.

Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC)

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) provides clean water, education, medical aid and shelter to those who have had to flee or have experienced displacement. Operating in more than 30 countries and with about 15,000 humanitarians, NRC aims to rebuild futures and save lives. Working with Eritrea’s Ministry of Education, NRC helps provide Eritrean refugees with educational and economic programs. The main goals include:

  • Offering training in hairdressing, electrical installation, masonry, plumbing and irrigation skills and fishery.
  • Providing business starter kits to recent graduates of business management, thus incentivizing them to start their own businesses.
  • Ensuring that teachers receive hands-on training and classrooms have the proper tools and supplies.
  • Maintaining and supporting the training curriculum helping Eritrean refugees.

To date, about 6.6 million people have benefited from the WASH program in Eritrea. The WASH program focuses on providing sanitary water to displaced people in refugee camps and shelters. The program helps use safe water for drinking, cooking, personal hygiene, solid waste management and public restrooms.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR)

In the first six months of 2020, UNHCR responded to the crisis by providing food and sanitary assistance to refugee camps on a monthly basis. Due to the current conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic, the work helping Eritrean refugees significantly slowed down. Access to the refugee camps remained suspended from July 13, 2020 to August 4, 2021, after violent clashes in the region prevented staff from reaching the refugee camps. UNHCR plans to allow for 200 refugees to receive regular cash assistance and 400 to receive protection assistance.

Progress is slow and while the Eritrean refugees still face hardships, efforts by NGOs like the UNHCR, The Norwegian Refugee Council and The American Team for Displaced Eritreans continue to show the good in humanity.

– Sal Huizar
Photo: Flickr

The Djibouti-Eritrea Conflict
The boundary between Djibouti and Eritrea has been under scrutiny for many decades. Both countries have debated where the border between the regions truly is and have sent militant forces across the perimeter. In 2008, the Djibouti-Eritrea conflict reached a boiling point, which left many dead and resulted in the United Nations embargoing Eritrea for years. Although the two countries have agreed to normalize relations and resume trade, the citizens in the Horn of Africa still face poverty from the dissension.

History of the Conflict

Tensions have been high between the two nations since 1996 when the Djibouti government accused Eritrea of making advancements past their border, which France and Italy originally set earlier in the century. Eritrea also had a border conflict with Ethiopia, an ally of Djibouti, in 1998. However, the conflict did not bubble over until 2008, when Djibouti again claimed Eritrea was once again making advances on the border. The clash of both sides started what many know today as the Djibouti-Eritrea conflict. The conflict almost caused an all-out war in the Horn of Africa. The battle resulted in the deaths of 40 Djiboutians and 100 Eritreans. Eritrea also took many prisoners of war from Djibouti, who the region held for years.

The United Nations Security Council implemented a sanction on Eritrea in 2009 for its actions in the conflict and its support of militants in Somalia. The act created an embargo on arms shipment and created a travel ban within Eritrea. Eritrea denied all involvement with Somalia and engaged violently with Djibouti as the sanctions stayed.

In 2010, Qatar agreed to be a mediator between the two countries after encouragement from the U.N. In response, Qatar installed peacekeeping troops on both sides of the boundary. During this deal, Qatar fostered a small peace agreement between Djibouti and Eritrea in 2016. Yet, after U.S. presence grew in Djibouti resulting in Chinese involvement with the Djibouti-Eritrean conflict and pressure from other Gulf nations, Qatar withdrew its troops.

In late 2018, Eritrea and Djibouti agreed to normalize their relationship and restore trade if Eritrea released all prisoners of war. After this, the U.N. also lifted its sanctions on Eritrea. Ethiopia and Eritrea also restored their ties and commenced trade soon after the countries made the agreement.

The Present

Although the two nations seem to have settled their quarrel, the European Union gave Eritrea another sanction in March 2021. According to Reuters, Eritrea has been responsible for many “atrocities” in the Tigray area of Ethiopia, the home of a large rebellion in North Africa. The European Union claimed Eritrea was responsible for “serious human rights violations in Eritrea, in particular, arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances of persons and torture” according to Reuters. More sanctions could possibly emerge as the conflict continues.

While Djibouti has not engaged in conflict with Eritrea since tensions reduced, the nation has still been “volatile” in the Horn of Africa. The African Report said that the Eritrea, Djibouti and Ethiopia area is “at war with itself” with many “historical injustices.” With the continued Tigray conflict and Eritrea and Djibouti on either side, expectations have determined that conflict could emerge again.

The Impact on Citizens

The impacts of the Djibouti-Eritrea conflict still linger years after the countries reached peace. The World Bank said that 53% of the Eritrean population lives in poverty. Meanwhile, the United Nations World Food Programme stated that 79% of Djibouti’s population lives in poverty and over 40% lives in “extreme poverty.” Malnutrition and infant mortality rates are high in both regions. One can attribute the poverty in the regions can be attributed to the current and past Djibouti-Eritrea conflicts which limited trade for both nations. Currently, over 90% of Djibouti’s food is from other nations. As sanctions continue to undergo implementation in the region, many expect that Eritrea will import most of its nutrients as well. The climate of the area has also caused widespread drought.

Solutions

Multiple organizations have joined together to help fight poverty in Djibouti and Eritrea. Action Against Hunger has aided both nations. This organization is helping the area improve its food security and water sanitization. Action Against Hunger has also created medical and nutrition programs for the region.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has also spawned an effort to help Djibouti and Eritrea. The Water, Sanitization and Health Project is helping “vulnerable children and women by increasing access to potable water, sanitation and hygiene and by raising awareness on key basic hygiene practices” during COVID-19. USAID is currently looking for both monetary donations and volunteers to help this effort.

Despite the challenges of the Djibouti-Eritrea conflict, some organizations are providing aid. Through the efforts of USAID and Action Against Hunger, hopefully, life will improve for the citizens of Djibouti and Eritrea. 

– Laken Kincaid
Photo: Flickr

Self-sustainability in EritreaSalesian Missions, an organization part of the Salesians of Don Bosco, has provided the Don Bosco Technical School in Eritrea with funding to buy two cows. The funding, which also enabled students to buy food supplies, will help the school work toward self-sustainability. In the future, the Salesian missionaries hope to gain funding to purchase two additional cows and renovate the barn housing the cows. The funding is part of a long-term self-sustainability project. Members of the school and the community have also been growing their own vegetables, selling milk and making furniture to sell. Self-sustainability in Eritrea is important as nearly 70% of Eritreans live in poverty.

Don Bosco Technical School

The Don Bosco Technical School is located in Dekemhare, 25 miles away from the Eritrean capital, Asmara. The education facility teaches technical skills in “automotive work, general metal, general mechanics, carpentry, building construction, woodwork or furniture making, electricity, electronics and surveying.” The school also teaches courses in information technology and academic subjects. After completing a course, students participate in “military training for six months” and the Eritrean government allocates jobs to them. Salesian Missions’ funding plays a vital role in the school’s flourishing self-sustainability project.

Salesians of Don Bosco and Salesian Missions

The Salesians of Don Bosco is a global Catholic organization founded by an Italian Catholic priest, Don Bosco, to “serve the young,” especially impoverished and marginalized people. It is now the second-largest order within the Catholic Church. Salesian Missions, its U.S. developmental branch, is made up of more than 30,000 religious members dedicated to serving the world’s most impoverished people. Salesian Missions’ overall goal is to equip children with the skills needed to secure employment and achieve self-sufficiency in order to break cycles of poverty.

Poverty and Agriculture in Eritrea

Eritrea’s economy depends, in part, on agriculture. While agriculture makes up about one-third of the country’s economy, it accounts for about 63% of total employment. Eritrea’s agriculture sector is highly dependant on rainfall, making it a volatile sector due to increasing droughts.

According to the World Population Review, 69% of Eritrea’s population lives in poverty. Eritrea ranks fifth for global poverty, behind only South Sudan, Equatorial Guinea, Madagascar and Guinea-Bissau. Due to high rates of poverty, self-sustainability in Eritrea is the surest means of survival.

Eritrea is also known for its strict government. Dubbed by many as the “Africa’s North Korea,” Eritrea has been subject to several U.N. and EU sanctions, some of which have been lifted. However, Eritrea was recently hit with sanctions for human rights violations tied to the conflict in Ethiopia. As an isolated nation, Eritrea is cut off from many of the advantages of globalism and does not enjoy the same opportunities for global trade.

A Future of Self-Sustainability

Because of its high poverty rates and struggling agricultural sector, any funding into agricultural resources greatly helps the citizens of Eritrea, allowing them to work toward self-sustainability and thrive for far longer than short-term food aid would allow. Salesian Missions is doing important work since self-sustainability in Eritrea is vital for the survival of many.

– Augustus Bambridge-Sutton
Photo: Flickr

Prickly PearThe opuntia, better known as the prickly pear, could be the key to food security in the world’s most arid countries, according to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). This statement is born from the results of a five-year study conducted by the University of Nevada, Reno. The study sought to examine the potential benefits of cultivating the prickly pear on a mass scale. Many people who live in rural areas consider this cactus to be little more than a formidable and even dangerous weed. It proliferates easily, is difficult to uproot and poses a threat to livestock who can injure themselves and their digestive systems on the sharp spines. However, the FAO believes the benefits can outweigh the downsides. Here is why this international humanitarian organization thinks the prickly pear is fundamental in the fight for food security.

Resistance to Drought and Heat

The study states that the prickly pear requires up to 80% less water than crops such as corn, rice and soy. Additionally, those crops have upper-temperature limits, whereas the prickly pear is able to grow in extreme heat. Africa’s largest country, Algeria, is classified as being around 80% arid or semi-arid, which leaves its population of more than 43 million vulnerable to food insecurity. In 2013, the country formed a cooperative of farmers, scientists and traders to begin cultivating the prickly pear. For this project, they consulted with Mexico, whose people and ancestors have ample experience with the cactus.

The cooperative built its first processing factory in 2015. The factory produces oil that is exported to France, Germany and Qatar. Since then, the enterprise has steadily grown. The cooperative built another factory in 2018 and plans to begin exporting its goods to the United States.

Can be Used as a Biofuel

The primary crops grown for biofuels are corn, sugar cane, soybean and palm oil, which comprise 97% of the biofuel industry. Sugar cane and corn require three to six times more water than the prickly pear, though they produce the same amount of energy. When grown as biofuel, corn, sugar cane, soy and palm oil crops can only be used for that very purpose. In contrast, farmers can first harvest the prickly pear for food before its waste-product is converted into fuel. It’s a circular system versus a linear system. When it comes to the question of the prickly pear as the key to food security, this distinction makes all the difference.

Food for Humans and Livestock

The prickly pear borders on being a superfood. It’s rich in vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. It contains antioxidants and is anti-viral and anti-inflammatory. For animals, the plant’s pads, or “nopales,” contain nearly 80% water, making them ideal feed for livestock. It can also be prepared in countless ways, though many people around the globe are unfamiliar with its myriad of uses.

Eritrea, a northeast African country is a prime example of this missed opportunity. Here, they sell the prickly pear on roadsides and in marketplaces alongside more popular fruits such as bananas, guavas and oranges. However, the Eritrean people, who regularly face food shortages, are largely unfamiliar with the number of ways the plant can be consumed. As a result, it has yet to be cultivated on a mass scale. Nearly all of the prickly pears that are brought to market are harvested from wild cacti.

Can Function as a Carbon Sink

One of the strongest arguments for the prickly pear as the key to food security is its function as a “carbon sink.” The fruit grows in areas where other plant life can not be established and then captures excess CO2 from the atmosphere. Cultivated on a mass scale, this could lead to lower temperatures and more rainfall, thus decreasing the number of droughts that threaten food security worldwide.

Challenges and Opportunities Ahead

In 2015, Madagascar faced a drought-induced famine. The lack of rain laid waste to their chief crops, including rice, cassava and sweet potatoes. Desperate for nourishment, many turned to the prickly pear, which was then regarded as a weed. The FAO points to the plant’s usefulness during the direst conditions as proof of the potential benefits of cultivating it on a larger scale. Droughts have continued to plague the people of Madagascar, with approximately one million inhabitants living on the brink of famine. The continued suffering of those living in the world’s most precarious conditions underscores the need for attainable, wholesale solutions. The FAO believes one such solution, agriculture or “green gold,” is well within reach.

– Greg Fortier
Photo: Flickr

Eritrean Refugees Flee Tigray Conflict in Ethiopia
The conflict surrounding the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia, bordering on the south of Eritrea, has forced more than 42,000 refugees to flee west to eastern Sudan since the conflict started in November 2020. The fighting between Ethiopian soldiers and Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has resulted in tens of thousands of Eritrean refugees in refugee camps. It erupted violence along Ethiopia’s northern border with targeted killings, abductions, lootings and sexual violence.

Difficulties Due to Conflict

It is still difficult to tell precisely how destructive the conflict in northern Ethiopia is since there are so many access restrictions in place. The conflict gets further complicated with the involvement of the FANO militia group and Eritrean Defence Forces. Even now, as humanitarian workers return to what were sites of violence in the weeks prior, they are finding tens of thousands of Eritrean refugees in dire straits and desperate need of aid. The last and only aid they received was food from the WFP in December 2019.

The camp structures managed to weather most of the violence, and while the TPLF spared some refugees from direct contact with the war, many experienced harassment and threats and underwent forcible recruitment. Roughly 5,000 Eritrean refugees have gone to the town of Shire, Ethiopia, and are living with no shelter, food or water.

Refugees in Sudan

This issue serves as a reminder that violence feeds the cycle of poverty in struggling countries, and conflicts like this hit the vulnerable populations hardest. This includes not only the impoverished but also the displaced. Driven away from an already precarious living situation by the violence, the Eritrean refugees that are fleeing to the impoverished nation of Sudan are malnourished and injured, and have almost none of the means to meet their daily needs.

In addition to poverty, the worst floods have ravaged Sudan in over 100 years, devastating the agricultural sector and leaving many people homeless. The threat of malaria hangs over people’s heads as they struggle to salvage their livelihoods, all while the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage on. This leaves Sudan ill-equipped to receive and support the refugee population flooding over the eastern border.

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

Founded on the tenants of the Geneva Convention of 1949, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) focuses on humanitarian aid and protection for those enduring violent conflicts. Working with the Ethiopian Red Cross Society and the Red Crescent Movement, ICRC has concentrated its efforts on the Tigray refugees.

Efforts have gone toward getting the essentials to refugees by using donations for food, cooking items, blankets and soap. ICRC is also intent on ensuring that refugees have a consistent and safe water supply and a medical care center stocked with the appropriate supplies and equipment, particularly to provide specialized care for victims of sexual violence.

While Eritrean refugees are still facing the fallout from the Tigray conflict, organizations like the International Committee of The Red Cross, the Ethiopian Red Cross Society and the Red Crescent Movement are offering support. Areas these refugees have gone to, like Sudan and other parts of Ethiopia, are taking this aid and working to provide a location with food, medical care, clean water and other supplies necessary to assist refugees through this difficult time.

– Catherine Lin
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in EritreaMilitarism and instability are endemic to Eritrea. The degradation of civil society is a result of those two factors. Child poverty in Eritrea is rampant due to such foundations; however, the country is not without benefactors. UNICEF’s aid efforts are improving children’s health within Eritrea despite the current conditions.

A Brief History

Eritrea is one of the few countries that can truly be considered a fledgling state in the 21st century. After a decades-long secession war, the Eritrean government achieved full independence from Ethiopia in 1993. They solidified the totalitarian one-party dictatorship that has retained power since. A brief period of peace followed, during which promised democratic elections never materialized. Then, Eritrea’s unresolved border disputes with Ethiopia escalated into a war that lasted from 1998 to 2000. It killed tens of thousands and resulted in several minor border changes and only formally ended in 2018. In the wake of this war, the Eritrean government has sustained a track record of militarization, corruption and human rights violations that has continually degraded civil stability. As of 2004, around 50% of Eritreans live below the poverty line.

Eritrea’s Youth at a Glance

Housing around 6 million people, Eritrea’s youth make up a significant proportion of its population. Eritrea has the 35th highest total fertility rate globally, with a mean of 3.73 children born per woman. It also has the 42nd lowest life expectancy at birth at a mere 66.2 years, with significant variation between that of males (63.6 years) and females (68.8 years).

Forced Conscriptions of Children

Under the guise of national security against Ethiopia, Eritrea has maintained a system of universal, compulsory conscription since 2003. This policy requires all high school students to complete their final year of high school at Sawa, the country’s primary military training center. Many are 16 or 17 years of age when their conscription begins, which led the U.N. Commission of Inquiry to accuse Eritrea of mobilizing child soldiers.

The Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) report also blamed Eritrea’s conscription practices for a number of grievances. Its prolonged militarization has wide-reaching effects for the country. Many adults are held in service against their will for up to a decade, but it is particularly damaging to Eritrean youth. Students at Sawa face food shortages, forced labor and harsh punishment. Many female students have reportedly suffered sexual abuse. Besides fleeing, “Many girls and young women opt for early marriage and motherhood as a means of evading Sawa and conscription.”

Further, “The system of conscription has driven thousands of young Eritreans each year into exile,” HRW claims. They estimate that around 507,300 Eritreans live elsewhere. Because of its conscription practices, Eritrea is both a top producer of refugees and unaccompanied refugee children in Europe – they not only result in child poverty in Eritrea, but in other regions as well.

Education Access

HRW claims that Eritrea’s education system plays a central role in its high levels of militarization. It leads many students to drop out, intentionally fail classes or flee the country. This has severely undermined education access and inflated child poverty in Eritrea.

Eritrea currently has the lowest school life expectancy – “the total number of years of schooling (primary to tertiary) that a child can expect to receive” – of any country. Eritrea has reportedly made strides to raise enrollment over the last 20 years. However, 27.2% of school-aged children still do not receive schooling, and the country retains a literacy rate of only 76.6%. Illiteracy is much more prevalent among females than among males, with respective literacy rates of 68.9% and 84.4%. In general, girls and children in nomadic populations are the least likely to receive schooling.

Refugees and Asylum-Seekers

As mentioned earlier, over half a million Eritreans have fled the country as refugees. Around one-third of them – about 170,000, according to the WHO – now live in Ethiopia. A majority reside in six different refugee camps. As of 2019, around 6,000 more cross the border each month. Reporting by the UNHCR shows that “children account for 44% of the total refugee population residing in the [Eritrean] Camps, of whom 27% arrive unaccompanied or separated from their families.” Far from being ameliorated by domestic education programs, child poverty in Eritrea is merely being outsourced to its neighbors.

Children’s Health as a Site for Progress

Adjacent to these issues, UNICEF’s programs have driven significant improvements in sanitation, malnutrition and medical access. Its Health and Nutrition programs, among other things, address malnutrition by administering supplements, prevent maternal transmission of HIV/AIDS during birth and administer vaccines. Teams in other departments improve sanitation and lobby against practices like child marriage and female genital mutilation.

In its 2015 Humanitarian Action for Children report on Eritrea, UNICEF wrote that Eritrea “has made spectacular progress on half the [Millennium Development Goals],” including “Goal 4 (child mortality), Goal 5 (maternal mortality), Goal 6 (HIV/AIDs, malaria and other diseases) and is on track to meet the target for access to safe drinking water (Goal 7).”

Figures illustrate this progress on child poverty in Eritrea. Since 1991, child immunization rates have jumped from 14% to 98%, safe water access rates are up at 60% from 7%, iodine deficiency has plummeted from 80% to 20% in children and the under-five mortality rate sits at 63 deaths per 1000 births, rather than at 148.

Child poverty in Eritrea is a far cry from being solved, but it is not a lost cause.

Skye Jacobs
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Eritrea
Eritrea is an isolated, one-party state where children must frequently leave school for mandatory military training along with a large percentage of farmers and agricultural workers. This leaves food, water, education and shelter from violence almost inaccessible. For these reasons, many Eritrean citizens seek shelter in neighboring countries or refugee shelters where human trafficking is the most rampant. Human trafficking in Eritrea is very common due to over 30 years of violence between neighboring countries leaving it extremely militarized and vulnerable.

Human trafficking is a serious crime and a violation of human rights that occurs in almost every country in the world. The United Nations defines human trafficking as the recruitment, transportation and harboring of people for the purpose of forced labor, prostitution, slavery or any other means of exploitation. Trafficking runs rampant in underdeveloped nations, highly militarized and war-torn states and countries without sufficient protection systems in place.

Current State of Human Trafficking in Eritrea

Eritrea is classified as a source country. This means that the majority of human trafficking in Eritrea happens within the country’s borders, mainly for forced domestic labor with sex and labor trafficking happening abroad to a lesser extent.

Most trafficking occurs inside Eritrea’s borders because citizens face “strict exit control procedures and limited access to passports and visas,” trapping them in the country or forcing citizens to flee to refugee camps where they have a high chance of getting kidnapped and returned. Kidnappers commonly try to coerce victims with a promise of reuniting families, food or shelter.

Sinai Desert Trafficking

Between 2006 and 2013, non-domestic human trafficking in Eritrea increased exponentially. Smugglers of neighboring countries were kidnapping Eritreans from refugee camps in order to hold them in the Sinai Desert for ransom. Victims often experienced extreme violence like torture, organ harvesting and rape. Of the estimated 25,000 to 30,000 victims of Sinai trafficking, estimates have determined that about 90% are Eritrean.

Current Protection in Place

According to the U.S. Department of State, the Eritrean government has not reported significant efforts to identify and protect human trafficking victims in the 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report: Eritrea.

The government has not reported any systems in place to protect victims and the Eritrean court used to only require perpetrators of human trafficking to pay restitution and/or fines, but now it offers jail time along with a fine of $1,330-$3,330. The government has not identified or persecuted any government officials of human trafficking but did arrest 44 military officials for conspiracy to commit trafficking crimes in 2015.

Prevention and Progress

The U.S. Department of State ranks Eritrea as a Tier 3 country in human trafficking matters meaning that it does not meet the minimum anti-trafficking standards and is not making an effort to do so. The government did not report any protection systems in place for trafficking victims, it does not provide services directly to victims and it does not show significant effort to create legislation to punish traffickers.

Even though the Eritrean government continues to subject its citizens to forced national service, in 2019, it increased international cooperation on human trafficking and similar matters. Officials were active in an international anti-trafficking workshop that created a regional and national level action plan to combat trafficking.

In the past decade, Europe has offered to reinstate aid to Eritrea to help stimulate the economy and reduce the number of people attempting to leave the country. Europe is a destination point for many migrants who stop through Sudan and Libya on the way, but many do not make it through due to the difficult journey.

More recently, the Eritrean government has been educating its citizens on the dangers of irregular migration and trafficking through events, posters, campaigns and conventions to hopefully prevent men, women and children from entering high-risk trafficking zones. This is one of the best things the government can do for its citizens as it better informs them of their surroundings on a day to day basis.

The U.S. Department of State has also recommended the continuation of anti-trafficking training to all levels of government, as well as the enforcement of limits on the length of mandatory national service for citizens and the enactment and enforcement of anti-trafficking laws that criminalize the act and prosecutes the perpetrators of human trafficking in Eritrea.

One of the most important ways to slow or stop human trafficking would be to end mandatory national service or impose strict time limits on such service. Many Eritreans attempt to flee or experience trafficking by military officials because they are in service for an indefinite amount of time with no way out. Once Eritrea begins to persecute any and all human traffickers and can break free from an authoritarian one-party political system, it can begin to be a safe country for its citizens.

 – Julia Ditmar
Photo: Flickr

healthcare in Eritrea Eritrea is a small country in Northeast Africa, with a population of 3.2 million people. Eritrea gained independence in 1993 and remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Considering the total population, 66% of Eritreans live below the poverty line. Also, almost 33% of the population lives in extreme poverty — surviving on less than $1 per day. Eritrea is also a politically unstable country and calamities, such as war and natural disasters have contributed to the poverty level in Eritrea. Healthcare in Eritrea is another area in which the country is struggling. Although Eritrea has made great strides in life expectancy, maternal health and disease control — it does not measure up to other countries’ healthcare around the world. To learn more about the country’s health system, here are five things everyone should know about healthcare in Eritrea.

5 Things Everyone Should Know About Healthcare in Eritrea

  1. Resources are scarce. Eritrea currently has around six physicians and 75 midwives for every 100,000 people. While most of Eritrea’s healthcare providers are located in urban areas, 80% of the population that lives in rural areas is often omitted from healthcare provisions.
  2. Malaria is a major public health concern. Considering the total population, 70% live in areas that are at high risk for the disease. To rectify this, Eritrea’s government has been implementing widespread public health strategies. The government uses both national and community-based education programs to provide awareness of the disease. Besides this, the government is creating preventative strategies, such as the distribution of insecticide-treated nets (ITNs) to households across the country. Due to these efforts, more than 60% of people own at least two ITNs.
  3. Private healthcare facilities are few and far between. While private doctors are present in rural and urban areas, they are usually very expensive and only serve a small percentage of the population. There are two types of healthcare facilities in Eritrea — healthcare centers and emergency rooms. Only in emergencies can patients be admitted to hospitals without an appointment. For all other instances, people must consult with a local doctor in advance, to be admitted to a hospital.
  4. Infant mortality is decreasing and life expectancy is increasing. In Eritrea, infant mortality rates are lower than average (for sub-Saharan Africa). As the rest of the world watches global, infant mortality rates rise — the country has been taking steps to further decrease them. In 2018, the infant mortality rate was 31.3 deaths per 1,000 children born. In terms of life expectancy, Eritrea has made incredible strides. Since 1960, the life expectancy in Eritrea has increased by nearly 30 years and the average life expectancy is at 65 years (as of 2016).
  5. Healthcare in Eritrea is improving. In 2010, Eritrea published its National Health Policy, which outlined the country’s plans to improve its healthcare system. One goal of the policy includes hiring more healthcare workers (especially ones skilled in the treatment of non-communicable diseases). A second goal is to make technological improvements to allow for distanced training of healthcare workers. Final goals include increasing the quality and quantity of resources and adapting its healthcare worker distribution to be highly mobile and dispersed.

An Outstanding Record

While Eritrea is a relatively young country, it is making great strides in its healthcare system. It has one of the most robust healthcare infrastructures in the region. Eritrea’s response to COVID-19 shows the country’s ability to mobilize its government and healthcare system, to protect its people. Because of this, Eritrea has the lowest rate of infection and fewest deaths within the Horn of Africa. Hopefully, healthcare in Eritrea will only continue to improve.

Hannah Daniel
Photo: Pixnio

Eritrea’s Lack of Clean WaterEritrea is a northeast country in Africa, bordering the Red Sea coast. Eritrea has faced severe drought issues over the years. In addition, Eritrea’s lack of clean water affects over 80% of its citizens. This problem has negatively impacted its ongoing poverty issue.

Climate

Eritrea’s weather varies depending on the location. The variety of weather conditions is due to the differences in elevation between plains and plateaus. The average temperature by Massawa, or the coast, is around mid-80s Fahrenheit. However, on higher grounds, like plateaus, the average temperature is around low-60s Fahrenheit. The mean annual rainfall in the plateaus is around 16-20 inches. In the west plain, it is usually less than 16 inches. That is below average in many other parts of the world.

Effects of the Lack of Clean Water

Despite the fact that Eritrea has around 16 to 20 inches of rainfall annually, almost half of the country does not have access to clean water. As of 2020, 80.7% of Eritreans lack basic water services. This problem leads to consequential outcomes such as:

  1. Hygiene & the Contamination of Public Water Sources: Without the basic access to clean water, citizens of Eritrea are forced to use public water sources like rivers and streams. Citizens use public water sources to perform their everyday activities since they do not have safe accessible water at their homes. People will cook and shower with the same water. Thus, the sources become contaminated over time. The water contamination can then lead to fatal diseases.
  2. Diseases: Diarrhoeal disease is a type of bowel infection that usually spreads through contaminated water. Bacteria and viruses from water need a host in order to survive. It is unusual for the diarrhoeal disease to be deadly, but death can occur if a person loses over 10% of their body’s water. According to UNICEF, diarrhoeal disease is the leading cause of death for children under the age of 5 in Eritrea. Cholera is an infectious disease that contaminated water sources also cause. The symptoms are watery diarrhea and abdomen pain. This disease can be fatal if a person does not receive treatment on time because the body will eventually become dehydrated.

Effects of Poverty

Eritrea’s lack of clean water and poverty are linked to one another. Access to clean water means being able to cook, bathe and drink. Aside from covering basic needs, it also helps businesses run safely, keep children healthy and reduces vulnerability during a natural disaster.

  1. Businesses: Farmers and local business owners rely, to some extent, on the access to clean water. Farmers need to keep their crops clean by washing them. Local businesses also need clean water to create products or sell food. Without accessible clean water nearby, owners and employees have to leave their businesses to find a drinkable water source and sanitation facilities. By doing so, they could potentially lose customers.
  2. Girl’s Education: When girls hit puberty, they begin menstruating. If girls cannot practice proper hygiene or have access to clean water at school, they often miss out on education. Some have to skip class until their menstruation ends, which is around a week. During that week, they do not learn whatever their schools teach.
  3. Vulnerability During Natural Disasters: Clean water promotes good health. If communities lack strength due to unsafe water usage, citizens may have a hard time withstanding times of disasters. Houses would possibly be destroyed and businesses may be ruined. Thus, those in poverty would be forced to leave their homes and find another by traveling long distances. Many, without access to clean water, would struggle along the way because potential diseases from contaminated water would weaken their body.

Government Involvement

Eritrea’s state government has partnered up with UNICEF to improve citizens’ drinking water and sanitation issues. The Millennium Development Goal (MDG) aims to increase accessible clean water and promote safe WASH practices in drought-prone areas of Eritrea. UNICEF is also working to connect many schools to community water supply systems.

With the state government’s involvement, Eritrea’s clean water crisis will eventually improve. The promotion of good hygiene practices reduces the spread of diseases. With many schools being connected to safe water supply systems, students will be healthy and girls will not have to skip school during the week of their menstruation. This brings hope for the future of Eritrea.

Megan Ha
Photo: Flickr

Eritrean Women Fight Gendered PovertyThe Eritrean War of Independence oversaw a liberation on two fronts. The first was a divergence from Ethiopian colonial rule and the creation of a free Eritrea. The second was a women’s emancipation from culturally embedded subordination and the development of a semi-feminist state. The women’s movement began alongside the Eritrean War of Independence in 1961. It was quick to gain support and traction. The movement allowed women freedoms they did not have pre-revolution. However, as the state transitioned its focus towards a restructuring of administrative processes, the women’s movement lost steam and support. Now the Eritrean women fight gendered poverty. They are fighting issues such as malnutrition, the pan-African AIDS epidemic and limited access to education and health resources.

Poverty and Eritrea

According to the World Health Organization, 53% of Eritreans are living below the poverty line. Further research conducted by UNICEF reported that female-headed households in Eritrea tended to be the poorest. Many long-standing traditions in Eritrean society, pre-dating the civil war, are sources of this income disparity between male and female-headed households. An example of these gender norms is the fact that Eritrean women were not allowed to own property; this often led to unemployment and as a result, a lower income. These outdated expectations cause female ex-combatants a great deal of difficulty in readjusting to gendered cultural norms.

The National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW)

Poverty hit the women of Eritrea women hard, but that has not stopped them from fighting. The National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW) is a direct response to the feminist movement born out of the liberation war.

As an organization, the NUEW works with communities of women, including demobilized women fighters. The organization lifts women out of poverty through a combination of literacy programs, vocational training, income-generating activities and micro-credit schemes. In addition, another big part of the NUEW’s mission is promoting women’s participation in local and national government. In working closely with the Government of the State of Eritrea (GSE), the NUEW secured a hold on 30% of elected positions for women. After additional advocacy, the NUEW is working with the GSE to increase that number. The NUEW provided more than just relief programs to women in poverty; it created a space where women were able to have their voices heard.

While Eritrean women have had to overcome numerous hurdles in post-independence Eritrea, they did not do so alone. Eritrean women are fighting gendered poverty. The NUEW provides an invaluable service to Eritrean women through advocacy, education and relief programs. Today, the NUEW is working towards the total emancipation of women and continuing their efforts to raise their country up one woman at a time.

Elizabeth Price

Photo: Flickr