Eritrea, a country located in the Horn of Africa, has one of the worst human rights records in the world. Isaias Afwerki, a leader of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) became the nation’s first president after winning the Eritrean War of Independence against Ethiopia. About 5,000 Eritrean citizens flee the country every month, making it the most rapidly depopulating nation in the world. A recent peace deal with Ethiopia in July 2018 gives hope that Eritrea will soon see increasing stability, reform, and growth. Keep reading to learn the top 10 facts about living conditions in Eritrea.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Eritrea

  1. Eritrea’s first and current president, Isaias Afwerki, came to power after a leadership role in the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF). After the EPLF defeated Ethiopian troops, Afwerki was placed at the head of a provisional government. After the vast majority of Eritreans voted in favor of independence from Ethiopia, Afwerki was elected both the president and chairman of the National Assembly, effectively giving him command of both the executive and legislature branches of government. Since his ascension to power in 1993, Afwerki has centralized power by canceling elections, closing the national press, and jailing opposition leaders.
  2. Upon finishing school, every boy and girl in the country must join the military. Their service in the military is indefinite as the expiration date is not set. This is the primary reason why people want to leave the country. The constant threat of another war with Ethiopia is used to justify indefinite servitude in the military, but the Ethiopian-Eritrean peace deal, struck in July 2018 between Afwerki and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, gives hope that forced conscription in Eritrea will soon come to an end.
  3. The government only tolerates four religions: Sunni Islam, the Coptic Orthodox Church of Eritrea, the Evangelical Church of Eritrea and the Roman Catholic Church. Since 2002, all other religious groups must apply annually for registration with the Office of Religious Affairs. After the implementation of this rule, no other religious communities have been able to become recognized and tolerated by the Eritrean government.
  4. Literacy rates have been consistently improving. The Adult Education Program has helped more than 600,000 Eritreans learn to read and write since 2000. A large portion of Eritrea’s population is nomadic, making it a challenge to provide consistent education to children. As a result, Eritrea’s current literacy rate sits at around 87 percent for people aged 15 to 24, 64 percent for people aged 24 and older and 21 percent for people aged 65 and older.
  5. Positive progress has been made in elementary school enrollment and completion levels, with the elementary school enrollment ratio sitting at about 87 percent. Female enrollment has historically been much lower than male enrollment, but the Eritrean National Education Policy was drafted in 2003 to promote equality in male and female education.
  6. Food insecurity and malnutrition are common in the Horn of Africa, and in Eritrea, the average supply of food per capita is considerably less than the minimum requirement. Causes of food insecurity in Eritrea include meager transportation, telecommunication and water supply systems. Only one-quarter of Eritrea’s population has access to clean water. This makes the productivity of the agriculture sector dependent on rainfall, and in regions of vast arid and semi-arid lands, a drought could prove devastating for people with already limited access to food.
  7. About 66 percent of Eritreans live below the poverty line, but a $230 million long-term poverty eradication plan, drafted by the EU in 2015, is one way to support the energy sector in order to reduce poverty. Eritrea has one of the lowest access rates to electricity in the world, and supporting this sector would increase access to social services like education and health care. Supporting the energy sector would also increase economic growth in the nation by expediting the development of Eritrea’s fishing industry, as well as the implementation of irrigation systems. The implementation of irrigation systems would also help reduce food insecurity in the nation.
  8. Eritrea’s GDP has consistently grown since 1991. Eritrea’s GDP was $6.72 billion in 2018 and is expected to keep growing.
  9. The life expectancy in Eritrea is 65.09 years. This number is significantly better than that of neighboring countries Somalia, with an average life expectancy of 56.3 years, and Djibouti, with an average life expectancy of 62.5 years.
  10. Despite its political and socio-economic struggles, Eritrea has remained devoted to the expansion of health care in the nation. As a result, Eritrea’s health care system is one of the best in Africa. The nation has made significant strides in reducing neonatal and under-5 mortality, the prevalence of tuberculosis and incidences of malaria. Eritrea has been able to accomplish this by focusing on making access to health care as inclusive as possible, and sometimes, like in the case of tuberculosis treatment and prevention, completely free of charge.

Although the country is rife with political and socio-economic issues, these top 10 facts about living conditions in Eritrea highlights progress in a number of areas. Access to education, food and health care is improving, as well as economic growth of the nation. With a concerted effort by the Eritrean government to recognize and protect the human rights of its citizens, Eritrea may continue moving in a positive direction.

– Jillian Baxter

Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About Hunger in Eritrea
Eritrea is located at the Horn of Africa in the Sahel Desert that is dominated by arid and semi-arid climatic conditions. The country is, therefore, vulnerable to adverse effects of climate variability, recurring droughts and environmental degradation. The World Bank estimates that 69 percent of Eritrea’s population lives below the poverty line. The economy is largely based on subsistence agriculture, with 80 percent of the population depending on farming and pastoralism.

Eritrea has no free press and political repression of the opposition is rampant. After a severe drought in the Horn of Africa in 2015, president of the country, Isaias Afwerki, polemicized that the country had magically evaded the drought, denying a food crisis. A 2016 U.N. report documents that the president rejected U.N. food aid during the 2015 drought.

The proceeding 10 facts about hunger in Eritrea provide a snapshot of the political climate in the country that ousted humanitarian aid agencies over the last decade, while hunger persisted. The facts also highlight advances in sustainable agriculture and projects that have increased food security.

Top 10 Facts About Hunger in Eritrea

  1. Since gaining independence in 1993, Eritrea has had tense relations with humanitarian agencies. In July 2005, the country asked the USAID to terminate its operations and leave the country. It continued expelling other international organizations from working within the country in 2006.
  2. Beginning in 2000, Mercy Corps carried out more than $40 million worth of assistance that alleviated hunger until they closed their operations at the request of the Government of Eritrea in June 2006.
  3. According to the BBC report in 2011, emaciated Eritreans were crossing the heavily militarised border at the rate of almost 900 people a month, despite official denial of food crisis by President Afwerki.
  4. In 2013, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), over 60 percent of the Eritrean population was reported to be undernourished in the period between 2011 and 2013.
  5. Eritrea currently meets only a third of its estimated food and the other two-third needs are being met by international food aid programs.
  6. Data from the Nutrition Sentinel Site Surveillance system indicate an increase in malnutrition rates since 2015 in four out of six regions of the country, and projections estimate that 23,000 children under the age of 5 will need treatment for severe acute malnutrition in 2018.
  7. In May 2018, the Government of Eritrea donated 40,000 tons of food to South Sudan. The country has already pledged 50,000 tons of food aid for the people of South Sudan in 2017.
  8. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) aimed to increase collaboration with Eritrea to promote sustainability and food security. There has been a success with projects that aim to increase sustainable agriculture in Eritrea, specifically in the small village of Keih-Kor. With the help of the UNDP, the village was able to regain the use of 45 hectares of farmland.
  9. In the Central Region, UNDP helped build three micro-dams in the Gala-Hefhi sub-region. Over 1,200 villagers benefitted from the dam constructed in Lamza Village, with improved food security and stronger productivity.
  10. In 2018, UNICEF treated 15,000 children under the age of 5 that had severe acute malnutrition and 40,000 children under the age of 5 with minor acute malnutrition, provided 477,000 children aged 6 to 59 months with vitamin A supplementation and 70,000 children aged 6 to 59 months. Pregnant and lactating women also benefited from supplementary feeding.

Eritrea gained its independence from Ethiopia in 1993. Five years later, the war between the two countries broke out and lasted from May 1998 to June 2000. The conflict saw hundreds of millions of dollars diverted from development aid to arms procurement.

In July 2018, Eritrea signed a historic peace agreement with Ethiopia. Four months following these good measures of social reunification in the Horn of Africa, the United Nations Security Council unanimously lifted international sanctions against Eritrea that have been imposed continuously since 2009. The measures were based on concerns that the Eritrean government was funding and arming the Somali extremist group, Al-Shabaab.

The 10 facts about hunger in Eritrea provide hope that hunger may turn around in the Horn of Africa due to Eritrea’s reconciliation with its neighbors, as the reconciliation could also mean a more open attitude towards humanitarian agencies. There is evidence that suggests that Eritrea could also be a friend in alleviating hunger in the future, across other nations in the Horn of Africa.

Sasha Kramer
Photo: Flickr

poverty and dictatorship
Among the 10 dictatorship countries profiled, poverty is endemic. Poverty alleviation in these 10 dictatorship countries is in some cases associated with human rights abuses, violent crackdowns on the political opposition and indigenous people. In the last two decades, however, some of these countries have moved towards embracing democracy, which has brought an influx of government institutions, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and foreign investment working to promulgate poverty alleviation.

The State of Poverty in 10 Dictatorship Countries

  1. Cambodia – In June of 2018, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen was officially qualified as a military dictator by Human Rights Watch. Through an environment of fear, Cambodia has been littered with human rights abuses, crackdowns on the opposition, coercion and repression of the media. In September of 2018, the United Nations Development Program stated that 35 percent of all Cambodians are still poor regardless of the decline in the Multidimensional Poverty Index. In 2006, the Ministry of Planning established the IDPoor Programme to guide government services and NGOs to provide target services and assistance to the poorest households. As of December 2017, The IDPoor Programme has assisted 13 million people and has covered 90 percent of Cambodians.
  2. Cameroon – Current Prime Minister, Paul Biya, seized control of Cameroon from his fellow despotic predecessor in 1982. Biya has since ruled the central African country with an iron fist. In 2014, 37.5 percent of the people were living in poverty. However, a development NGO called Heifer Cameroon has been playing a positive role in alleviating the strains of poverty for Cameroon’s most poor and vulnerable communities. Heifer Cameroon has assisted 30,000 families by spurring job creation among the rural poor through focusing on the dairy industry along with other livestock.
  3. Eritrea – Eritrea gained its independence from Ethiopia in 1993. The President of Eritrea, Isaias Afwerki, took power after its independence and has since entrapped his citizens in a cloud of fear. Furthermore, the nation was rocked by internal war, drought and famine. According to estimates of The World Bank, 69 percent of Eritrea’s population lives below the poverty line. Despite these conditions, Eritrea has drastically improved its public health conditions. Indeed since its liberation, life expectancy has increased by 14 years to 63 years. And over 70 percent of the population now has access to clean water, compared to just 15 percent in 1993.
  4. Ethiopia – In 2000, Ethiopia had one of the highest rates of poverty in the world, but by 2011, the poverty rate had fallen by 14 percent. In 2018, Ethiopia became Africa’s fastest growing economy in the sub-Saharan African region. However, some of the country’s development schemes have been wildly unpopular, such as the mass land-grab that is displacing Ethiopians so the government can lease out the land to foreign investors. On the other hand, some developments have actually made improvements in average household health, education and living standards.
  5. Madagascar – Madagascar has experienced a long period of political instability since its independence in the 1960s. Current President Hery Rajaonarimampianina was democratically elected in 2014. Rajaonarimampianina has prioritized recovering Madagascar’s relationship with foreign investment agencies, like The World Bank, IMF and The African Union. Unfortunately, in 2018, 75 percent of Madagascar’s population are still living under the poverty line.
  6. Myanmar – From 1966 to 2016, Myanmar existed under a military dictatorship that bore multiple wars spurred out of hatred and persecution of Rohingya Muslims and Christians. The crackdown and ethnic cleansing created a major refugee crisis. Today, Myanmar is reportedly inching towards democracy, but the military, headed by Gen. Than Shwe, still has major sway. In 2015, 35 percent of the population of Myanmar lived in poverty.
  7. Rwanda – Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s regime is often associated with maintaining peace and stability since the Rwandan genocide in 1994. However, critics of Kagame cite numerous human rights abuses and fear that the President is leading the country towards dictatorship. Still, Rwanda has taken major strides in addressing and decreasing the poverty rate. Between 2000 and 2010, the poverty rate declined by 23.8 percent. Recent economic growth within the country has been evenly distributed and pro-poor, with the majority of the Rwandan population benefiting from this economic growth.
  8. Sudan – President al-Bashir came to power in 1989 and reigned with a brutal dictatorship in Sudan until his exile in 2015. Poverty in Sudan is endemic. In 2018, 2.8 million were in need of humanitarian aid and 4.8 million were food insecure. Such high rates of poverty engender low literacy levels, crumbling infrastructure, little to no access to health services and high rates of food insecurity.
  9. Tunisia – President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali headed Tunisia’s dictatorship until 2011 when he was ousted by a people’s revolution. However, that stability was maintained by the military, which performed countless human rights abuses. However, poverty reduction strategies have rung successful as the poverty rate in Tunisia fell by 10 percent from 2000 to 2015.
  10. Zimbabwe – Robert Mugabe, who was the President of Zimbabwe for 37 years until 2017, had long been seen as a dictator and is attributed by The Economist as “ruining” Zimbabwe. Mugabe’s policies led to hyperinflation and an infrastructure system in disrepair. Build Zimbabwe Alliance claims that 72 percent of the population still lives under the poverty line. The main causes of poverty in Zimbabwe are the economic recession of 2008 and global warming’s impact on agriculture.

These 10 dictatorship countries have taken strides in increasing access to education, healthcare and economic growth. Such programs have been most successful in regards to pro-poor poverty reduction. The political outlook of some of these countries is improving, but there is still a lot of work needed to improve poverty in all of the countries listed.

– Sasha Kramer

Photo: Flickr

Sanitation in Eritrea
One in three people, or 2.4 billion of the world’s population, don’t have access to sanitation facilities. This number equates to about 946 million people who still defecate in the open. Health problems intermix with poverty to create havoc in some of the poorest regions of the world, and such circumstances become prevalent with sanitation in Eritrea, Africa.

Eritrea

The World Health Organization reports that Eritrea remains one of the poorest countries in Africa. The country has experienced independence from Ethiopia for only 16 years, and with this separation comes some developmental setbacks.

In 2018, 66 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, and there remains an extreme lack of resources and poverty alleviation programs.

State of Sanitation

In 2008, Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) was adopted by the government of Eritrea. The goal of the program was to end open defecation — a practice that leads to a variety of health concerns such as diarrhea, intestinal worms, typhoid, cholera, hepatitis and polio trachoma. To be open-defecation-free, each household in a community or village must have their own latrine.

In 2010, only 3.5 percent of the rural population of the country had access to a latrine. This meant that over 96 percent of the population continued to practice dangerous hygiene, including open defecation. UNICEF, along with the Ministry of Health, devised a plan to help aid the country’s poorest gain proper sanitation in Eritrea.

Program Design for Proper Sanitation in Eritrea

Education and communication were the program’s two objectives in the effort to disperse proper sanitation in Eritrea. To do this, they first had to alter the taboo tied to talking about the bathroom and toilets.

Additionally, the design took into consideration the Millennium Development Goal of 2015 to have 54 percent of people able to access proper sanitation.

The program evaluated the country by six regions, or zobas, in which reside nine ethnic groups of indigenous people. To best address the concerns of each region, a case study was performed within each ethnic group to discover the specific morals and barriers in accessing sanitation.

In 2012, 52.8 percent of the population within these regions used unimproved water sources, which includes unprotected public wells or rivers and streams. Additionally, sanitation access was scarce, with only 47.3 percent having access to a latrine; in fact, over 75 percent of the rural population defecated in the open.

Tigrinya

The Tigrinya is the largest ethnic group in the country and makes up 55 percent of the population. In 2012, Knowledge, Attitude and Practice (KAP) surveyed the area on hygiene and sanitation and identified a variety of barriers in the group’s understanding of hygiene.

Firstly, the scarcity of water was a huge problem in the area. Not only did humans share water sources with animals, but also problems of distance and protection of wells raised health concerns regarding sanitation in Eritrea.

Culturally, Tigrinyan people felt that water was holy. As a result, most people felt there was no need to boil water before consumption; however, water can carry bacteria that can lead to such illnesses as schistosomiasis, giardiasis, diarrhea, abdominal cramps and vomiting.

Effective Social Support

To combat cultural and physical barriers within this group, UNICEF designed a plan specific to Tigrinyan. For instance, people were concerned that wood latrines would collapse if they used them, and thus preferred stone latrines.

However, stone materials are difficult to transport, so UNICEF educated the Village Health Committee on how to properly construct the latrines so there would be no chance of collapse. This social support provides the proper knowledge and motivation to follow through with the construction of latrines and sanitation facilities.

Successes

In 2015, almost 600 villages in Eritrea achieved open-defecation-free-status. This statistic represents 30 percent of the rural population of Eritrea — 586,000 people — who now have access to proper sanitation.

Additionally, since the adoption of CLTS the child mortality rate for children under five has dropped. In 2008, the inaugural year of the program, the child mortality rate was 89 percent. The World Bank reports in 2016 that the rate has dropped to 45 percent.

Although the progress is below the MDG of 54 percent with access to improved access by 2015, there have been significant strides in ending preventable diseases from improper sanitation in Eritrea.

– Taylor Jennings

Photo: Flickr

Education in Eritrea
Eritrea is a very poor country, downtrodden by their struggle for independence, regional instability and environmental challenges. However, within the first decade of independence, the government of Eritrea made education a priority, and the new focus was almost immediately accepted as a valuable tool for lifting the country out of poverty. The government views education as a cornerstone for the nation’s development; for this reason, the nation focused on growing the amount of its schools and rural areas gained access to education. Yet, education in Eritrea still faces several challenges.

Education in Eritrea

In 2013, education in Eritrea was supported by a grant from the Global Partnership to implement an education program through UNICEF. The program, “Enhancing Equitable Access to Quality Basic Education for Social Justice,” sought to help children from disadvantaged communities receive a quality education. This program consists of three key performance markers, which are:

  1. To increase pre-primary, elementary and middle school to at least 44,576 out of disadvantaged students in rural areas.
  2. To progress the quality of teaching and learning through aiding teachers with better skills, textbooks, science, ICT and health kits; to create and allocate education resources to all levels.
  3. To strengthen the capability of MOE staff to regulate education in Eritrea.

Although the government has provided a free basic education policy and non-formal education programs, great numbers of children are still out of school. In 2015, UNICEF reported the net enrollment rate at the primary level was only at 81 percent — at least 19 percent of children are not enrolled in school.

The government of Eritrea provides primary education, but where they fall short is in the pre-primary level and retention rates. UNICEF stated that 79 percent of 5 year olds were not ready for school, and the organization’s report concluded that 70 percent of children between 11 and 13 did not attend secondary school. Furthermore, every year 5 percent of children drop out; and, an outstanding 13 percent of children repeat grades.

Educational Hurdles

A great challenge for education in Eritrea is the quality of education. Complementary Elementary Education (CEE), a program supported by UNICEF, has done it’s best to educate the most disadvantaged students in Eritrea; yet,  there are still not enough desks nor textbooks for every student.

The literacy rate is at an overall 74 percent; for females specifically, the literacy rate sits at just 61 percent. In 2015, the Primary Gross Enrollment rate in Eritrea for men was 58 percent, while girls were left at only a 50 percent enrollment rate. During the same year, it was reported that Primary Completion Rate was at a 42.5 percent completion rate; boys were at a 45.4 percent rate, yet girls only amounted for 39.5 percent.

Increasing Access to Education

UNICEF has tried to aid in the elimination of the gender gap in education for Eritrea. CEE tries to educate children and young adults who initially missed the ability to go to school, and this program places a significant focus on girls between the ages of 10 to 14. Girls at this age are expected to marry soon, while boys are expected to do more serious jobs to provide an income for the household.

Furthermore, the Ministry of Education (MOE) has prioritized the expansion of educational opportunities for females. However, the MOE does not anticipate the gender gap in secondary education to be eliminated as quickly as it will in the primary level.

Eritrea’s education challenges will take time to overcome; yet, the nation is well on its way towards success. The government has implemented the Ministry of Education to create solutions and support in the development of education in Eritrea. With the help of aid groups, such as UNICEF and the Global Partnership, the nation is utilizing its foreign aid to help in its educational improvements.

– Stefanie Babb
Photo: Flickr

Girls' Education in EritreaOver the past few decades, one of the international community’s main goals is to ensure all people, regardless of location and gender, have access to at least a primary and foundational education. As the challenges of global poverty and the economy shift with the passage of time, education should be a top priority. For Eritrea, this means not just addressing the educational needs to support a modern country, but also addressing the educational gender-gap between male and female education.

Education in Eritrea

Historically, education in Eritrea was largely religious and meant to prepare young boys for work in religious vocations, while secular education was limited. This meant girls’ education in Eritrea was severely lacking. Further, the status of female education remained under-developed during Eritrea’s period under the Italian regime’s colonial rule, when Eritrean education was generally ignored.

Since Eritrea’s independence, the policy concerning education focuses on creating a knowledgeable workforce to support a modern economy and to fight back against poverty and disease. The country has also noted that its goals include access to a primary education for all children, regardless of gender. To focus on female education and literacy, the National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW) has been established.

As a result, girls’ education in Eritrea has steadily increased. Unfortunately, the numbers are still low: UNICEF reports only 43 percent of girls are enrolled in primary school education, while 50 percent of boys are enrolled. Enrollment in secondary school is much lower with about 25 percent of girls enrolled and 32 percent of boys. Fortunately, the literacy rates in Eritrea are higher with women at 87.7 percent compared to men at 92.6 percent.

Increasing Girls’ Education in Eritrea

While the government maintains a dedicated stance on girls’ education, the historical legacy of male and female education, juxtaposed with differing cultural attitudes towards women, make female enrollment a slow and difficult process. For many Eritreans in more isolated and rural areas, girls are still expected to work in agriculture and maintain domestic responsibilities. Methods to increase girls’ education in Eritrea should address these cultural attitudes and provide people with viable alternatives to alleviate domestic duties and farming.

The NUEW has made efforts to provide transportation for young girls. Because schools may be far from children’s homes, a method for addressing high drop-out rates and low enrollments is to provide students with bicycles. In a program conducted by the NUEW, among 60 girls given bicycles to reach a school over nine kilometers away from their homes, 55 of them were able to complete their studies. The NUEW also provided families with donkeys and water tanks, so that time could be freed for girls to study and attend class, rather than collect water for their families. These programs focus on saving time better spent on education, and future programs should follow suit.

While Eritrea has not yet closed the gender education gap, it is gradually inching closer to that goal. As the needs of a modern country increasingly demand more educated workforces, the focus on girls’ education in Eritrea will need to include tertiary education. Fortunately, the number of women graduating from universities is already growing rapidly. A decade ago, only 25 percent of university graduates were women. Today that number ranges between 40 to 50 percent, depending on the institution and field of study.

With more attention from the global community and new innovative projects, Eritrea should offer everyone their right to education. With under 50 percent of girls receiving a primary education, much work is still left to be done.

– William Wilcox
Photo: Flickr

Ethiopian-Eritrean Border
On Tuesday, June 5, 2018, Ethiopia announced that after 16 years of what the BBC has called a “no peace no war” stalemate between the nation and its neighbor Eritrea, Ethiopia will finally accept the Algiers Agreement — a treaty to bring peace to the Horn of Africa and the Ethiopian-Eritrean Border Dispute.

History of the Ethiopian-Eritrean Border Dispute

Ethiopia and Eritrea split into two nations after nearly 30 years of brutal civil war that resulted in Eritrea’s declaring independence from Ethiopia in 1993. Despite this conclusion, peace was short-lived. From 1998-2000, fighting resumed between the two nations over a border dispute centered around both nations’ claim to the town of Badme.

The dispute was rooted in the nations’ differing interpretation of colonial documents demarcating the line between Ethiopia and its subsidiary Eritrea. The Ethiopian-Eritrean 1998-2002 war became Africa’s bloodiest border war on record; in just two years, an estimated 80,000 people lost their lives.

The war culminated in the creation of the December 12, 2000 Algiers Agreement, which stated that both nations would cease fighting and accept the verdict offered by the newly created Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC).

In 2002, the EEBC ruled that the disputed towns along the Ethiopian-Eritrean border, Badme among others, belonged to Eritrea. Under its former, and now deceased, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia accepted the EEBC’s ruling only “in principle” which lead to the “no peace no war” stalemate that has characterized the Horn of Africa ever since.

Although the Algiers Agreement stated that the two nations would end all hostilities and accept the ruling of the EEBC, Ethiopia refused to pull its troops out of the border towns it still claimed ownership over. Occasional deadly clashes have continued to plague the Ethiopian-Eritrean border region ever since; the most recent occurred in June of 2016, when fighting at Badme resulted in several hundred deaths.

Ethiopia Accepts the Algiers Agreement

However, the hostile climate along Ethiopian-Eritrean border may have just changed. On Tuesday, June 5, 2018, Ethiopia, under its current Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, announced that it would officially accept the border decision of the 2000 Algiers Agreement and remove all Ethiopian troops from Badme and the other contested towns.

At his inauguration this past April, Ahmed vowed to improve relations between his nation and Eritrea, and his pledge to end all hostilities over the Ethiopian-Eritrean border dispute was an unexpectedly large step in this direction.

Looking Forward

Ending border hostilities could be a huge leap forward in ensuring peace and prosperity in the Horn of Africa. The Eritrean government has long justified its authoritarian and militaristic regime as necessary to protect Eritreans from the continued hostilities of its neighbor Ethiopia, but as Abraham T. Zere of Al Jazeera wrote, “Today, there is a real opportunity to reach a peaceful resolution of this long-standing conflict.”

With Ethiopia offering up the potential for peace, Eritrea has the chance to accept this olive branch and move forward to create a more peaceful and prosperous future for all.

– Abigail Dunn
Photo: Flickr

Maternal Health in Eritrea
The United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal (MDG) Five, improving maternal health, has two components: First, reduce maternal mortality by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015, and second, achieve universal access to reproductive healthcare by 2015.  Eritrea is one of the few countries in which these goals were fully achieved.

The maternal mortality ratio—which the U.N. defines as “the ratio of the number of maternal deaths to the number of pregnancies,” calling it “an indicator of the risk of dying that a woman faces for each pregnancy she undergoes”— was 1,700 deaths per 100,000 births in Eritrea in 1990. The goal for 2015 was to cut that number to 425 deaths per 100,000 births. In 2013, Eritrea not only met but surpassed this goal, with a maternal mortality rate of just 380 deaths per 100,000 births.

Eritrea saw almost as much success in its efforts to achieve universal access to reproductive healthcare. In 1991, just 19 percent of women had any prenatal care. By 2013, that number had risen to 93 percent, a nearly fivefold increase.

What Has Worked

From 1990 to 2015, maternal mortality declined 45 percent globally and 49 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa. Although this is a marked improvement, it is still considerably less than the MDG goal of a two-thirds decrease. As such, many are wondering what contributed to Eritrea’s huge successes.

Since the establishment of the MDGs, the government of Eritrea has been committed to engaging all people with its new development programs. It strove (and continues to strive) to build a national healthcare system that offers universal coverage that truly does reach everyone, no matter how poor or remote.

Efforts by the government, the U.N. and NGOs working to improve maternal health in Eritrea have reflected this emphasis on the universal and the importance of reaching all Eritrean women. Clinics that are mobile and transitory pop up in a community temporarily, and, after a period of time, move on to the next town. This allows more women to receive healthcare without necessitating more resources or medical personnel.

Empowering Women

Likewise, there has been a strong focus on improving gender equality in Eritrea. The government has outlawed both child marriage and female genital mutilation and is continually working to promote gender equality in education and in the labor force. Today, it is estimated that women in Eritrea make up between 35 and 45 percent of the workforce. This means that women are more visible, more engaged in society politically and socially and better able to advocate for their rights.

Despite Eritrea’s considerable successes, challenges remain for the East African nation. Eritrea has a long history of violence. After 30 years of brutal civil war, it gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993. Conflict with Ethiopia resumed between 1998 and 2000 and, even during times of peace, Eritreans live until a strict authoritarian government. Continued improvements in maternal health in Eritrea will be predicated upon future peace and stability in the region.

The Future of Maternal Health in Eritrea

Access continues to be the main challenge. Women who lack money often struggle to find affordable healthcare. Despite the efforts of mobile health clinics, antiquated infrastructure, old roads and limited public transportation opportunities mean that traveling to a clinic still proves difficult for many women.

Furthermore, although 93 percent of women received at least some prenatal care in 2013, only 55 percent of women had a trained medical professional at their child’s birth. That is a huge improvement from 1991, when only 6 percent of babies were born under the care of a medical professional, but room for improvement remains.

Eritrea’s success in reaching and surpassing MDG Five ought to be applauded. Other countries should follow its example and commit to focusing on universal access to maternal and prenatal care. Despite considerable success regarding lowering the maternal mortality rate and achieving near-universal access to reproductive healthcare, Eritrea should continue to strive to increase the accessibility of healthcare. Eritrea, and the global community supporting women’s health and equity there, can continue to improve the availability of and access to affordable maternal and prenatal healthcare.

– Abigail Dunn
Photo: Flickr

 EritreaEritrea sits just above the Horn of Africa and to the west of the Red Sea. Similar to many developing nations, much of the population relies on subsistence agriculture to feed themselves. In Eritrea, as much as 80 percent of the population is engaged in subsistence agriculture. Turning away from subsistence farming to sustainable agriculture in Eritrea will be difficult.

Drought, caused by inconsistent rainfall, hinders the crop yield of the subsistence farming. The labor required to increase crop yields and the growth of farms is unavailable due to mandatory conscription.

Furthermore, uncertain relations between Eritrea’s government and other states has led to a lack of mutual trust which would enable sustainable growth. This lack of trust makes it difficult to measure the impact the lack of sustainable agriculture in Eritrea has on the population. It also makes it difficult for international actors to provide assistance.

According to the government of Eritrea, 70 percent of its land is classified as hot and arid. This land receives less than 350 millimeters of water each year. Despite this harsh environment, 20 percent of Eritrea’s GDP is its agriculture sector.

Plans to Implement Sustainable Agriculture in Eritrea

In 2016, the Ministry of Agriculture published a booklet, titled, “Impact of Climate Change on Agriculture and Food Systems: the Eritrean Context”. This booklet outlines its plan to improve the sustainability of agriculture in Eritrea. Important efforts include:

  • the development of water reservoirs and its accompanying infrastructure
  • mitigating pests and plant diseases
  • planting in accordance with predictable weather patterns
  • increasing biodiversity of planting sites
  • promoting crop rotation to help sustain soil quality
  • promoting sustainable energy to decrease traditional wood fire stove use

Organizations Involved in Promoting Sustainable Agriculture in Eritrea

Eritrea aimed to increase collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to promote sustainability and food security. As such, there has been success with projects that aim to increase sustainable agriculture in Eritrea, specifically in the small village of Keih-Kor. With the help of the UNDP, the village was able to regain the use of 45 hectares of farmland.

Techniques such as terracing and the construction of dams helped the villagers regain what erosion had taken away. The additional benefit of these techniques is that future erosion is these areas will be mitigated.

The Syngenta Foundation

Another organization working to increase the sustainability of agriculture in Eritrea is the Syngenta Foundation. Its mission is to help poor farmers in developing countries increase the value of their farms and goods. It helps farmers understand their market and helps increase the sustainability of their farming practices. According to the program website for Eritrea, its eight goals closely align with those of both the Eritrean government and the UNDP.

So far the Syngenta foundation has helped to complete the first ever database report on soil erosion, water runoff and soil conservation at Afdeyu Station. This is the only station of its type that consistently measures these factors in Eritrea.

Other achievements include the successful testing of a micro-drip irrigation system in partnership with the College of Agriculture at the University of Asmara. The test showed food security rises with the use of the micro-drip system. Breeding tests of the new pearl millet, one of Eritrea’s major crops, have been successful both under controlled conditions and in the field.

With continued efforts, Eritrea can remedy its poor harvests due to drought. The country is still in need of a combination of funds to complete these projects and both advanced and simple technologies to improve crop yields. Implementing sustainable agriculture in Eritrea is not impossible, especially with the contributions of international organizations.

– Nick DeMarco

Photo: Flickr

The Success of Humanitarian Aid to EritreaHumanitarian aid to Eritrea has been a hot topic in international relations and human rights networks for nearly as long as the country’s existence. Following independence from Ethiopia in 1991, President Isaias Afwerki, the founder of Eritrea’s only political party, the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, commenced a policy of radical self-sufficiency (i.e. little acceptance of foreign aid).

The idea behind his policy of non-acceptance is hinged on the accusation that foreign aid is inherently corrupt and intended to subjugate its recipients. Although this presumption may not be totally false, it is at the very least ironic given that the country’s government is one of the most oppressive and corrupt regimes in modern history.

In its current state, Eritrea is facing a serious threat to national security and well-being with the U.N. estimating that 5,000 Eritreans are fleeing the country each month. Considering these estimates, President Afwerki would do well to question whether or not his policy of non-acceptance is even sustainable.

The reason behind this mass migration has much to do with a fledgling agricultural sector, the product of an idealized self-reliance. Since nearly all humanitarian aid to Eritrea has been refused by the country’s leading officials, the state has experienced an overall rise in poverty and an intense degradation of trust between civil society and government.

The result has led to multiple citations by the U.N. for human rights abuses and fueled continuous civil strife and dissent within the country, causing many foreign watch-dogs to wonder how long it will be before Eritrea is once again embroiled in war. International accusations of negligence against the Eritrean government, however, has prompted some reassessment by Afwerki and led to his acceptance of an allotted 200 million euros from the European Development Fund over the course of four years (2016-2020).

The aid has been slotted to go toward the development of the energy sector with a focus on the improvement of agricultural infrastructure. Additionally, E.U. aid is conditioned upon the implementation of certain recommendations by the U.N. which aim to reduce the occurrence of government perpetrated human rights abuses.

Though the aid that is accepted by Afwerki is small, the impacts are already noticeable. One such example is an E.U. funded project that has distributed solar energy to rural regions of Eritrea. The success of humanitarian aid to Eritrea offers hope that the country might still have the ability to pull itself out of impoverishment.

– Katarina Schrag

Photo: Flickr