Information and stories about Ethiopia

Smallholder Farmers in Ethiopia
As of 2018, 31.1% of Ethiopia’s gross domestic product (GDP) comes from the country’s agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors. These sectors are essential to the country and employ nearly two-thirds of Ethiopia’s workforce. Smallholder farmers in Ethiopia are vital members of the agri-business since they comprise 95% of its production and greatly contribute to poverty reduction.

However, these farmers still struggle to increase production. Climate, poor markets and lack of knowledge and resources contribute to this struggle. Additionally, Ethiopia’s population is growing, as it is the second most populated country in Africa. This makes it more difficult to own land and has resulted in smaller farm sizes.

The World Bank is aiding smallholder farmers in order to stimulate the economy and decrease poverty rates. The World Bank finances the Second Agricultural Growth Project (AGPII) as a way to help smallholder farmers in Ethiopia. AGPII helps agricultural services in many ways, such as increasing resources and technologies and aiding in marketing. With the help of projects like AGPII, agricultural productivity and commercialization can increase by managing and overcoming the adversities of farming.

Smallholder Farmers

A smallholder farmer is a person who works on a small piece of land growing crops and farming livestock. Usually, families run these farms as their main source of income. There are more than 500 million smallholder farms in the world. About 74% of Ethiopia’s farmers live on small farms, with about 67% living below the national poverty line.

Speaking on agriculture, Vikas Choudhary, team leader of AGPII and agricultural operations for Ethiopia, South Sudan and Sudan, told The Borgen Project, “smallholder farmers are the backbone of Ethiopia and its economy.”

The Difficulties of Farming

Farming is one of the riskiest and most complicated businesses to be in. As a farmer, you are dependent on many factors that are difficult to control. Here are a few of the complexities of farming in Ethiopia.

  • Climate. Climate is one issue that can largely affect crop production. Unreliable rainfall can cause agricultural production systems to be unachievable. Many smallholders depend solely on the rain to water their horticultural crops. To develop more crops and better the market, conditions must undergo diversification to offer more of a variety of crops. Additionally, focusing on agro-climate and water resources will help offer more agricultural irrigation.
  • Land Management. Land management has become a difficult factor within Ethiopia’s agricultural business. Choudhary stated, “landholding is extremely fragmented. When you are saying half a hectare, it’s not even half a hectare. It’s smaller than that. And even in that, the land parcels are extremely fragmented. One is here, one can be half a kilometer away, a third can be a fourth kilometers away, so management of those land parcels is extremely challenging.” Most farmers cultivate on land smaller than a hectare, and even then the plots can be divided into four plots.
  • Limited Technology and Education. Limited technology and education are perhaps the largest difficulties that smallholder farmers in Ethiopia struggle with. Within the country, there is a lack of improved seeds, pesticides, fertilizers and irrigation. Only 2% of smallholder land is irrigated and as little as 3.7% have access to agricultural machinery. Providing more educational services and agricultural technologies can increase agricultural productivity, and thus contribute to poverty reduction.

The Road to Poverty Reduction

AGPII has many components focused on aiding smallholder farmers with market access and productivity. In 2019, the World Bank’s Poverty Assessment for Ethiopia stated that agricultural growth was the main factor in poverty reduction. The project supports smallholder farmers by enhancing commercialization through an increase in market accessibility, promoting irrigation usage and increasing agricultural services. AGPII has helped 1.4 million smallholder farmers retrieve agricultural services, along with supplying more than 254 new agricultural technologies to assist with crop productivity and possible climate impacts.

The agricultural sector of Ethiopia is essential to improving the economy. Roughly 45% of outputs are from agriculture, and the sector employs nearly 80% of the country’s labor force. Thus, focusing on this sector is necessary, since it is the smallholder farmers in Ethiopia that are the poorest in the country. Choudhary estimated that “for every 1% increase in agricultural productivity, poverty declines by .9%.” Additionally, when asked how smallholder farmers can contribute to poverty reduction, Choudhary shared, “there’s a significant multiplier effect of increased agri-productivity and smallholder farmers are the ones who are contributing, and should be contributing, to this increase in commercialization, and thereby creating jobs, increasing income and reducing poverty.”

Moving Forward

A clear link exists between agricultural productivity and poverty reduction within Ethiopia. “Smallholder farmers are in some way synonymous with Ethiopia,” says Choudhury. Rural areas account for about 80% of the country’s population, and therefore much must happen in order to deliver better technology and education to the farming community.

The World Bank, through AGPII, is one example of an organization contributing to the support of smallholder farmers in Ethiopia, providing the funds to help improve irrigation usage, increase commercialization and supply more resources. Overall, this project is going to benefit 1.6 million smallholder farmers living in areas that have the best agricultural growth potential.

– Sarah Kirchner
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in EthiopiaEthiopia is a country that is on the rise in global influence, population and economic power. The country has a long and rich history with plenty of powerful female figures, including empresses and heads of state. Still, the state of women’s rights in Ethiopia is not ideal, with women facing a lot of discrimination and far fewer opportunities. While women remain in fewer positions of power and at the wrong end of unequal gender relations, it appears the country is making progress.

The Gender Equality Issues

Ethiopia struggles with massive inequality between the sexes. The Global Gender Gap report in 2010 ranked Ethiopia 121st out of 134 countries in gender disparities. Inequality persists in multiple facets. U.N. Women lists these areas as being of particular concern:

  • Literacy
  • Health
  • Livelihoods
  • Basic Human Rights
  • Social Support

Women suffer from several health inequalities like higher HIV prevalence, high maternal mortality and restricted access to healthcare. Women also participate far less in the workforce and suffer from the impacts of many traditional practices like child marriage and genital mutilation.

Further problems also plague Ethiopian women. In rural communities, women perform most agricultural labor but rarely receive pay or recognition for it. Gender-based violence is a significant problem yet community resources do not reach a lot of women. This is because 80% of Ethiopia’s population lives in rural areas with little infrastructure. Women also experience systemic discrimination regarding land ownership, education and the justice system.

Women’s rights in Ethiopia are not a lost cause. Global actors and Ethiopian organizations are doing plenty to strive for gender equality. These contributions are thus beginning to have a noticeable effect on the country and the fortunes of Ethiopian women.

Leave No Women Behind

U.N. Women’s Leave No Woman Behind program is an example of a concerted effort that had a positive effect on Ethiopian women, targeting Amhara and Tigray regions in 2009. The program focused on the many dimensions of women’s poverty. It aimed to increase women’s human rights at a grassroots level through increased government involvement. Furthermore, the program aimed to “address gender disparities in literacy and educational attainment, sexual and reproductive health services and gender-based violence (GBV).” In addition, it also aimed to provide women better access gender-sensitive reproductive care and help them achieve sustainable and resilient livelihoods.

From February 2009 until February 2012, the program reached more than 100,000 women. Its achievements include reduced child marriage, reduced female genital mutilation, increased access to maternal and HIV care, more equitable division of household labor and more.

Women’s Organizations and Movements

Several Ethiopian women’s organizations have been important in increasing awareness and fighting for women’s rights. The Ethiopian Women with Disability National Association (EWDNA) works toward equal rights and ending social discrimination against women with disabilities. EWDNA serves women with disabilities of all kinds. EWDNA’s work includes the “provision of services in rehabilitation, education and skills training; the promotion of mobility and accessibility, reproductive health and HIV/AIDS education/support” and the comprehensive participation of persons with disabilities on all levels.

Setaweet is a feminist movement based in Addis Ababa, formed in 2014. It is a grassroots movement that seeks to create and espouse a uniquely Ethiopian form of feminism. Setaweet runs gender workshops in secondary schools, provides a gender-based violence call center for women who have experienced abuse, runs a women’s scholar program and presents exhibitions to raise awareness about issues like sexual violence against women.

Gender Equality Progress

Efforts for greater women’s rights in Ethiopia are paying off. In the past two decades, the Ethiopian government has implemented many landmark acts and policies to protect women and afford them more opportunities. This includes legislation that criminalizes domestic violence and several harmful traditional practices that affect women. In 2018, Ethiopia’s parliament appointed Sahle-Work Zewde as the nation’s first female president, a landmark decision for Ethiopian women’s political participation. Women now form half of the cabinet members. Women’s rights in Ethiopia are therefore showing steady and strong signs of improvement, empowering women in the country.

Clay Hallee
Photo: Flickr

Ethiopian maternal and child mortalitySince the year 2000, Ethiopia has halved its maternal and child mortality rate. While this statistic seems impressive on the surface, the rate of maternal and child mortality in Ethiopia remains one of the highest in the world. The child mortality rate stands at 67 deaths per 1,000 children. The Ethiopian maternal mortality rate (MMR) per 100,000 live births is 412. This number is 25 times the United States MMR.

The Global Context of Maternal and Child Mortality

The rate of maternal and child mortality in Ethiopia is best understood by examining the larger global context of maternal and child mortality. Globally, neonatal mortality remains significantly high, with 7,000 newborn deaths a day. Neonatal mortality comprises 47% of the deaths of children under 5. This number is up 7% from 1990 when it stood at 40%. Furthermore, the greatest number of neonatal deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa.

Globally, the MMR has dropped 38% from 2000 to 2017, which is the most recent WHO estimate, but it is important to note that even though the overall global MMR has reduced, some regions still disproportionately experience very high MMR rates. The greatest number of maternal deaths occur in Africa, just as with neonatal mortality. In fact, in 2017, 66% of all maternal deaths occurred in Africa.

A key cause of maternal and newborn mortality is malnutrition. Due to COVID-19, the World Food Programme predicted that the number of food-insecure people in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) would double to 265 million by the close of 2020. Food insecurity often links to malnutrition or undernutrition. Therefore, this fact has the potential to increase maternal deaths due to a lack of iron and other essential nutrients. The WHO estimates that, as it stands globally, 40% of pregnant women are anemic. Anemia makes these women vulnerable to fatal bleeding and infections during childbirth. Furthermore, while high-income countries have very low anemia figures for pregnant women, in certain LMICs, up to 60% of pregnant women struggle with anemia.

Global Aid Organizations Leading the Battle

Fortunately, during and despite the COVID-19 pandemic, global aid organizations have been collaborating with the Ethiopian Ministry of Health and other regional bureaus to continue to decrease the rate of maternal and child mortality in Ethiopia.

As a major player in combatting maternal and child mortality in Ethiopia, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) focuses on providing Ethiopian women, children and families, especially those in underserved communities, access to quality healthcare. USAID works with the Ethiopian Ministry of Health and regional bureaus to institute better training so that healthcare workers can improve the care provided at various levels (facility, community and household). USAID ensures access to integrated services such as prenatal checkups, skilled care for labor and delivery, newborn care, preventative care for childhood illnesses and nutritional guidance.

Quality of Care Network

Ethiopia is a member of a 10-country Quality of Care Network created by the WHO, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). The Network launched in 2017 with the aim of halving maternal and child mortality by 2022 and improving patient care. In Ethiopia, this commitment involves clinical mentoring and coaching since learning is an essential aspect. Ethiopia chose 17 districts that represent “pastoralist, urban and rural populations” to operate as “learning districts.”

Maternal Mortality Reduction

These coordinated efforts seem to be making headway according to the 2020 Gates Foundation Goalkeepers Report, which tracks progress on SDG goals. In 2019, the Ethiopian MMR was down to 205 deaths per 100,000 live births which would meet the Quality of Care Network goal of halving maternal and child mortality by 2022.

Ethiopian child mortality was down from 66 deaths per 1,000 children under 5 in 2015 to 52 deaths in 2019, which represents more modest progress. However, the Goalkeepers Report warns that COVID-19 could reverse progress made on global goals and asserts that a global collaborative response is essential in all areas.

It is critical to maintain heightened vigilance in coordinating efforts to continue to improve maternal and child mortality rates in Ethiopia despite COVID-19 challenges, so that progress is not lost.

Shelly Saltzman
Photo: Flickr

Creates Jobs for Women in Ethiopia
Live fasionABLE is a slogan that transcends the fashion industry. It promotes sustainable practices in creating quality products and focuses on empowering women. The shift to ethically sourced products has grown in popularity among the younger generations. ABLE is one fashion business that strives to provide jobs for women in Ethiopia, as well as internationally.

ABLE in Ethiopia

ABLE’s mission is to challenge the culture of the fashion industry by creating transformative opportunities for women. It aims to provide quality products to improve people’s livelihood in Ethiopia. Thus, the business provides many women opportunities for employment. This is one way that ABLE contributes to alleviating global poverty.

ABLE provides jobs for women in Ethiopia exiting the sex trafficking industry. Employed women manufacture scarves and aid in production. The company trains and equips women to make beautiful, cultural and quality scarves. Less than 38.8% of women held positions in the workforce globally in 2020, highlighting the need for businesses like ABLE to prioritize hiring women.

About 80% of women living in rural areas of Ethiopia work in agricultural cultivation and production and rarely receive any compensation for their work. Furthermore, fathers and husbands often place strict restrictions on women. USAID states that one in three women in Ethiopia experiences one type of physical, emotional or sexual abuse in their lifetime. Providing employment opportunities for women increases their autonomy and financial independence.

Employment Opportunities

Women who receive employment are able to provide an avenue for their children and communities to thrive through economic empowerment. According to author Ain Wright, there are five different policy approaches to closing the gender gap in Ethiopia: welfare, efficiency, anti-poverty, equity and empowerment. ABLE utilizes all five of these strategies for women that it hires.

The welfare and the efficiency approach go hand in hand. Providing women with the means to support themselves motivates and empowers them to actively support their communities. Additionally, all women receive encouragement to discover their voices through the strategy of empowerment, anti-poverty and equity.

Gender Equality

One challenge in increasing employment for women remains deeply rooted in cultural expectations and gender norms. ABLE has a commitment to creating a culture based on equality and rebuilding women’s lives. The fashion industry offers the highest number of jobs to women globally. Yet, only 2% of these women receive a fair wage. ABLE posts its wages on its website for the public to see, allowing consumers to understand the importance of their purchase.

As ABLE grew, it expanded its network to provide jobs for women in Ethiopia, Mexico, India, Brazil and Nashville, U.S. The company partners with local communities to assist in developing individual economies rather than developing itself into a major fashion corporation. ABLE also believes that telling people’s stories affects consumer awareness. Women with employment there created a podcast to tell their stories of strength and hopes for the future. The podcast and products continue to build consumer awareness, alleviate poverty and empower women.

ABLE is making great strides to grow as a company and maintains its role as an ethically sourced fashion brand. Its efforts have created more jobs for women in Ethiopia, empowering them their families and their communities. Moving forward, it is essential that other fashion companies shift to sustainable and ethical practices.

– Kate Lucht
Photo: Flickr

Social Safety Nets in EthiopiaSocial safety nets play a pivotal role in distributing wealth and opportunities to the world’s most at-risk communities. Every nation has one to a certain extent but the strength of those safety nets largely varies. The United States government can afford to transfer non-contributory benefits to low-income U.S. citizens without making much of a dent in the national budget but the opposite is true for less wealthy, developing countries. Though the approach is quite different, social safety nets in Ethiopia exist and work to reduce poverty.

Population Growth and Development

For the last 15 years, Ethiopia has been celebrating strong economic development. Due to its rapid population growth, large pockets of poverty have been popping up more frequently in urban areas. The challenge then becomes building social protection programs fast enough to keep up with the country’s population.

Ethiopia’s problems are structural, meaning that accessibility to labor markets is one of the key reasons urban areas appear to be stuck in a stalemate. Still, in 2016, Ethiopia took its first big step in the right direction by creating its first social protection system to target the urban impoverished and gender inequality.

The Urban Productive Safety Net Project (UPSNP)

According to the World Bank, the objective of the UPSNP “is to support the Government of Ethiopia to improve income of targeted poor households and establish urban safety net mechanisms.” As one of the few programs in sub-Saharan Africa, the UPSNP is a vanguard for social safety and economic relief and has already established many parts of the much larger structural framework envisioned. These include mobile childcare and primary education facilities to inspire mothers’ participation and pilot programs to encourage and empower young workers and behavioral change interventions to establish better business practices.

Results of the UPSNP

The results of this ongoing project have been quite successful in ensuring growth that is both economically sufficient and socially inclusive. Since its start in 2016, the UPSNP has assisted more than 600,000 beneficiaries, 60% of them being women, and distributed livelihood grants to more than 51,000 small business owners. Another accomplishment is the opening of bank accounts through the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia for all its beneficiaries, adding up to more than $11.3 million saved. Additionally, the UPSNP connected more than 60,000 beneficiaries to basic social services such as health insurance and family support and developed COVID-19 adaptable transfer systems.

The Road Ahead

With the overwhelming success of the UPSNP, Ethiopia is carving the way for a new social safety net project called the Urban Productive Safety Net and Jobs project (UPSNJP). This new project focuses on incorporating disadvantaged youth into labor markets and support for refugees and homeless people. In cooperation with its predecessor, these social safety nets in Ethiopia are restructuring the economy to strengthen the bridge between citizens of urban communities, labor markets and the rights that are due to them.

The Government of Ethiopia has come a long way since the early 2000s when it had one of the highest poverty rates in the world. Ethiopia has made significant progress, and with further support of global organizations, Ethiopians can be supported and safeguarded, even in the wake of COVID-19.

Matthew Hayden
Photo: Flickr

Power to Africa
In the digital age, access to the Internet has become a barrier to entry for much of society. Nowhere is this lack of access more prevalent than in Africa. Roughly two out of three Africans lack access to electricity, let alone the Internet. To address this staggering disparity in privilege in an age that the widespread use of electricity characterizes, several NGOs are working to bring power to Africa through a combination of innovative technology and locally-led distribution campaigns.

The Honnold Foundation

Founded by renowned rock climber Alex Honnold, The Honnold Foundation aims to promote equitable access to power worldwide. While the organization does work both domestically and abroad, many of its projects in Africa have focused on the distribution of solar lanterns and pay-as-you-go energy programs. These programs provide power to remote, off-grid communities. Through generous grants The Honnold Foundation has awarded to organizations such as The Solar Energy Foundation and SolarAid, the Honnold Foundation has provided clean, renewable energy sources to 12.3 million people. This has not only lit up a large swath of Africa but also eliminated the need for expensive and environmentally-harmful alternatives such as kerosene lamps. Additionally, the Foundation has provided solar power to 165 Ethiopian schools and 35 health centers, as well as more than 2,000 households.

Sustainable Energy for All

Sustainable Energy for All, or SEforAll, is an independent international organization. In partnership with the United Nations, it works to promote access to sustainable energy across the world. In Africa, SeforAll’s “Electricity for All in Africa” program is using a top-down strategy to alleviate regional energy poverty. SEforAll’s focus is threefold: first, it advocates for policy reform centered on the promotion of sustainable energy access for all, in conjunction with meeting sustainable development goals. The organization also utilizes a neutral platform to promote investment in sustainable energy in Africa. In addition, it accelerates the market for private sustainable energy companies and facilitates communication between companies and the public sector. In Africa, 44 countries have joined SEforAll’s initiative, with drastic long-term improvement expected in nearly all of them as more companies buy into the clean energy industry and countries adopt policy reforms.

Africa ICT Right

Many organizations are pushing valuable initiatives to bring electricity to remote and impoverished African communities. However, NGOs tackling the disparity in Internet access are less common. Africa ICT Right (AIR), is a nonprofit addressing the lack of Information and Communication Technology – or ICT – in Ghana. Some of AIR’s programs include projects to equip schools with computer labs and STEM teachers, programs to offer technological tools and learning opportunities to high school girls and innovative technological reforms in rural medical centers to reduce infant and maternal mortality. Above all, AIR based its mission on the following idea: not only does it benefit less affluent communities to have access to these technological tools, but it also allows the inclusion of diverse voices from areas such as Ghana.

Power for All

Power for All is an NGO that has dedicated itself to bringing power to Africans in rural areas through decentralized renewable energy sources. Rather than prioritizing one form of renewable energy, Power for All strives to promote a combination of different strategies to tackle increasing overall energy efficiency and availability. In addition to this goal, Power for All lobbies governments to reduce taxes on renewable energy sources. Furthermore, it incentivizes investors and banks to earmark funds specifically for the promotion of sustainable power sources.

ACRA

The Milan-based NGO ACRA is also spreading the benefits of electricity throughout several African countries through a variety of sustainable solutions, including the construction of small hydroelectric plants in rural areas. Organizations in Tanzania applied this strategy to a high degree of success. Plants turned over to local leadership and paired with education initiatives in the locales they power. What is particularly remarkable about ACRA’s programs is that it tailors them to the region in which they implement them. For example, ACRA’s hydropower programs in Tanzania work well in that region. However, in Senegal, ACRA has seen an even greater potential for the installation of solar panels to power remote communities.

The Push to Bring Power to Africa

The actions and goals of these NGOs point to a greater global appreciation for the value of integrating Africa. The work of these organizations will likely prove invaluable in bringing power to Africa. By incorporating Africans into the global economy, they better global communication networks with new and diverse perspectives.

Kieran Hadley
Photo: Flickr

Water and Food Security in Ethiopia
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognized that having food was a human right in 1948. However, it did not include water until 2010. Thus, governments have three obligations: to respect, protect and fulfill these rights in a non-discriminatory, participatory and accountable way. Particularly, water is important for agricultural production and ecosystems such as forests and lakes. Water and food security are essential in alleviating poverty in Ethiopia.

About 800 million people reside in areas where water and food security is low. In order to address the underlying causes of food insecurity, it is necessary to resolve water insecurity and social injustices.

Water Quality and Access

According to the United Nations Development Program, a crisis in water and sanitation causes more devastation than a terrorist attack. Furthermore, these crises happen quietly. As a result, millions of people enjoy access to clean water without concern for others.

Lyla Mehta argues that water is food in itself. The micronutrients in water aids in human health and sanitation. Additionally, water of poor quality can cause diseases that lead to food insecurity and damage ecosystems. Therefore, having access to clean water is essential in improving living conditions for people.

Water inequity exists within societies in four ways:

  • Availability: The gap between water-abundant nations and water-scarce nations is large.
  • Access: Water Accessibility depends greatly on gender, socio-economic status and power relations. As a result, discrimination of race, class and gender is prevalent.
  • Quality: The effects of pollution diminish water quality, causing poor nutrition and damaged ecosystems.
  • Stability: Changing weather and variability make water accessibility highly unstable. Additionally, by 2080, another 1.8 billion people will suffer from water scarcity due to environmental challenges.

Water and Food Security in Ethiopia

Ethiopia relies heavily on agriculture, which constitutes 40% of its GDP and 75% of the workforce. The agriculture industry consists mainly of small-holder farmers in a mixed system of crop-livestock. Furthermore, farmers have limited knowledge of technology and rely heavily on rainfall. Consequently, the primary cause of food shortages is droughts.

Fortunately, many organizations and agencies are working to promote water and food security in Ethiopia.USAID works with several programs to strengthen the conditions of Ethiopia’s water and food security. First, the Feed The Future Strategy encourages participation in income-generating activities within the agricultural sector. This provides jobs and opportunities for families in rural areas and provides credits and technical assistance to small and medium-sized businesses. Additionally, USAID is the largest bilateral donor to the Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP) of the Government of Ethiopia. It contributes by directly rehabilitating the natural environment through labor-based public efforts, stimulating markets, creating greater service accessibility and preventing the draining of household assets.

Additionally, the World Food Program supports the MERET program in investing in a number of activities that relate to water and soil conservation and rehabilitation. Moreover, packages of homestead development and household income-generating programs have emerged to increase household income and women’s assistance. As a result, water availability has increased from ponds, wells, springs and soil moisture. Furthermore, there has been a significant increase in production and household income.

How to Address Water and Food Security

Expectations have determined that agricultural productivity will increase in the following decades. Thus, the need for water will increase as well. It is challenging to address water security when competition increases. However, allocating quality water in specific amounts and managing agriculture will help communities achieve sustainable social and economic development.

Furthermore, programs are building comprehensive plans to address challenges related to production and consumption. First, improving less fortunate communities’ access to food and water is imperative. Next, overcoming gender discrimination will help improve food production and nutrition. Then, promoting inclusive water governance to guarantee equitable and sustainable decision-making in water and food security is crucial.

Water is as important as food for human health. Moreover, water contributes to food accessibility, sanitation and provides a means to achieve sustainable income. Therefore, Ethiopia needs to address water and food security.

Helen Souki
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

Addis Guzo, Supporting People with Disabilities in EthiopiaAs of 10 years ago, nearly 15 million people in Ethiopia were living with disabilities. The vast majority of these individuals live in poverty due to a lack of proper infrastructure, education and awareness of how to treat disabilities. Lower and middle-income countries, a category that includes countries like Ethiopia, tend to have difficulties in supporting people with disabilities. This is because there are often very few centers where people with disabilities can get the care that they need, and even those centers can be hard to access by the majority of the population.

Aiding People with Disabilities in Ethiopia

Although the country has dedicated itself to helping people with disabilities through agreements like the 2006 African Decades of Disabled Persons, structural barriers have made it rather difficult to truly support people.

However, some organizations are starting to addressing the lack of resources for people with disabilities in Ethiopia. One such program is Addis Guzo. Founded in 2012, this Switzerland-based NGO supports people with disabilities in Ethiopia through integration efforts, as well as by educating the public. In order to benefit the local communities, the NGO is also staffed entirely with people from Ethiopia.

Addis Guzo’s Programs

There are two important programs that Addis Guzo runs to help people with disabilities in Ethiopia. The first is the Wheelchair Workshop. Every year, Addis Guzo collects wheelchairs in Switzerland and sets up a program so that people who need a wheelchair in Ethiopia can get a new wheelchair or repair their existing model. The program has a large impact, collecting around 600 wheelchairs annually.

Wheelchairs can be important tools to drastically improve the lives of their users by enabling mobility. Without wheelchairs, it can be difficult for people with disabilities to live the lives they want, or to do more traditional work. Having a wheelchair can improve this situation by helping people integrate themselves by enabling them to travel long distances for work or be active for longer periods of time. In fact, a study of wheelchair users in Ethiopia estimated that using a wheelchair increased the probability of employment by 15%, as well as increased wages and average hours of work

The second program is Rehabilitation, Economic Empowerment and Sports. The goal of this program is to give people living with disabilities in Ethiopia hope for the future by supporting them in a wide variety of ways. This includes business partnerships, sports leagues and counseling.

Supporting People with Disabilities in Ethiopia

Such programs offered by Addis Guzo are essential to help build skills among people with disabilities in Ethiopia and foster inclusion. Sports can give people leadership and teamwork skills they may not have otherwise developed. Additionally, sports can help build community among players, helping people to network and build important connections that they can use later in life. Programs like the one put forth by Addis Guzo can foster these connections and help people with disabilities integrate themselves into society, something Ethiopia has historically struggled with.

– Thomas Gill
Photo: Flickr

Female Genital Mutilation in Ethiopia
In eastern Africa, NGOs are beginning to reverse public opinion on a bloody ritual. Female genital mutilation (FGM), a practice involving the non-medical removal of external female genitalia, is a procedure that roughly 200 million women have undergone worldwide. While the cultural premise for FGM varies depending on the region, the practice stems from broader themes of repressing the female sexuality prevalent in eastern African society. Women experience female genital mutilation in Ethiopia for marital or religious reasons, and the societal precedent for FGM threatens young women with public shame and ostracization if they refuse the operation.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

Female genital mutilation usually involves the complete or partial removal of the clitoris, although the procedure varies in scope and can also include the removal of the labia minora or the closure of parts of the vaginal opening. This physical trauma can result in life-threatening infections and long term problems with menstruation and infertility. Additionally, the permanent disfigurement that FGM causes may instigate depression and low self-esteem.

The United Nations classified FGM as a priority of its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, but the practice is still a problem in countries such as Ethiopia, where according to a 2016 study, 65% of women and 47% of girls between the ages of 15 and 19 have undergone the procedure. The Ethiopian government banned FGM in 2005, but the criminalization of the ritual has done little to change public support for it. This is due in part to the fact that in Ethiopia, areas that are rural and lack public education resources include the highest prevalence of female genital mutilation in Ethiopia. In these areas, traditional healers usually perform the operation rather than licensed medical practitioners, meaning that legal threats hold less weight than they do in formal medical settings.

Kembatti Mentti Gezimma-Tope (KMG)

One organization, however, is having a profound effect on reversing the prevalence of FGM in Ethiopia. Kembatti Mentti Gezimma-Tope (KMG), is an Ethiopian NGO dedicated to raising public awareness on the harmful effects of female genital mutilation in the region of Kembatta Tembaro. One can translate KMG’s name to “Kembatta Women Standing Together,” and in the 22 years since it began its work, it has reduced public approval of FGM in Kembatta Tembaro from 97% in 1997 to less than 5% today.

KMG employs several strategies to combat public support for FGM, including public education campaigns to uphold women’s human rights and build trust with local communities. It also mobilizes public pressure against FGM, with public weddings for uncircumcised women (who traditionally others would consider ineligible for marriage). Additionally, trained advocates spread throughout the region who inform men of the health risks FGM poses to women and their ability to give birth.

Rohi Wedu

In the Afar region, Rohi Wedu, another NGO focused on public education is having an impact. Pastoral clans characterize the Afar region, of which the majority of the population is Muslim. Rohi Wedu’s campaign to end female genital mutilation has necessarily tailored itself to the dynamics of information sharing between different clans in the area. The organization worked in conjunction with UNICEF to select leaders and prominent figures from different clans to lead “Community Dialogue” sessions, who then learned to understand the harmful effects of FGM. These trusted community leaders then went on to disseminate the information to their respective clans, as well as to provide counseling to young and prospective parents.

Rohi Wedu’s locally-led education campaigns were incredibly successful, with up to 94% of focus group participants believing that practitioners in their area had abandoned FGM. The organization’s success was largely due to the fact that religious leaders led community dialogue sessions, which eliminated the religious precedent for FGM in the Afari clans.

The work that NGOs like Rohi Wedu and KMG are doing is proof of the efficacy of locally-led public awareness campaigns in combating the practice of female genital mutilation in Ethiopia. While millions of young women still experience cutting each year, the cultural shifts taking place in Ethiopia demonstrate that long term change is possible when it happens in accordance with local communities.

– Kieran Hadley
Photo: Flickr