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

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

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

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

women's empowerment in eritreaEritrean society, like that of many underdeveloped countries, believes women to be inferior to men. This mindset has lasted for a long time but attempts are being made to change the “patriarchal culture” of the country, which would greatly benefit women’s empowerment in Eritrea.

Women’s empowerment in Eritrea is a major goal of the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) Eritrea. Since women’s independence was gained in 1991, the UNDP has been making meaningful strides in increasing the status of women in Eritrea.

The National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW) is heavily responsible for empowering women in the country. As a result, the UNDP worked closely with the NUEW to launch the “Joint Programme on Gender Equality in Eritrea.” The program hoped to extend the reach of organizations like NUEW to further promote women’s empowerment in Eritrea. It was largely successful as it “addressed the gaps that existed at the national level in gender-related issues,” according to UNDP. The project also ensures that the rights of women are protected.

There is proof that women’s independence in Eritrea, which was recognized by the country’s government, is making a difference. Women have taken over various powerful roles in Eritrea—currently, there stand three female ministers in the government. Fozia Hashim is the Minister of Justice, Askalu Menkerios is the Minister of Tourism and the Minister of Health is Amina Nurhussein.

Women in Eritrea appear to have better circumstances than most, according to Hashim. “Without women, we would not have done anything and especially not get our independence. Eritrea is unjustly attacked because if there’s one country that actually protects the rights of women, this is it. We are far more advanced on human rights than in many other African countries. Everything is written in the laws and the laws are strictly enforced here,” she said.

It appears that the change in mindset is successful—women are making meaningful attempts to be involved with their government and to overturn the traditional, male-dominant mindset of the country. UNDP believes that women’s empowerment is key to attaining sustainable human development. Women’s empowerment in Eritrea could lead to reduced poverty and so much more.

– Dezanii Lewis
Photo: Flickr

Why is Eritrea Poor
It easy to simply throw every poor country into the same bucket and assume that it will always remain so. However, every nation has a different past and a different culture, which is one of the reasons that we must take these factors into account when judging how well they fare today. Most countries, such as Eritrea, a relatively small country on the African coast, have complex backgrounds. In an effort to better understand the current state of the country, one must first ask the question: why is Eritrea poor?

Eritrea’s modern history dates to the late 1800s. It was during this time that European colonization was widespread throughout Africa. In Eritrea’s case, the Italians invaded during this time.

The country tolerated the Italians up until World War II when the British took control of the area. At this point in time, Eritrea was a relatively well-developed country. In the 1950s, due to Ethiopia’s sacrifices in World War II, the lands that now belong to Eritrea were “awarded” to Ethiopia.

If the country was so developed then, why is Eritrea poor now? The concise answer to this is that Ethiopia was poorer than Eritrea, and thus the Ethiopian government focused on building strong industries within Ethiopian lands and neglected the Eritrean economy. This marked the beginning of the country’s recession. Then, in 1961, the most influential event in Eritrean history began: the war for independence from Ethiopia. This left little resources for the development of a stable industry.

What made this war especially chaotic was the continued influence of the Cold War. These events complicated matters so much so, that it left little resources for development of a stable industry. Why is Eritrea poor? This is why.

The war ended in after 30 years in 1991 and the country was formally established in 1993. Unfortunately, the Ethiopian military destroyed large parts of the country during the war, including whatever industrial buildings Eritrea had to its disposal.

An effective government was not established yet, and many Eritreans, during and after the war, had to fend for themselves. Eritreans were left to their own demise that they developed a culture of self-reliance, which they now pride themselves in.

This self-reliance, in the end, turned out to be more harmful than helpful. In 2006, during a severe drought, the country’s government declined humanitarian aid from NGOs such as the U.S.-based Mercy Corps and the Ireland-based Concern for this reason. At this time, 80 percent of the population lived off of subsistence farming, and the country housed an undernourished population of about 30 percent. Eritrea also had to recover from another war with Ethiopia, which lasted between 1998 and 2000.

Why is Eritrea poor? The answer to this question lies in the country’s conviction of trying to make ends meet on its own and its endless clashing with Ethiopia.

Due to these issues, the international community has not been very keen to invest in the country more recently. Eritrea has industries which are waiting to be capitalized on, such as minerals and a wide seafront, but it has a lack of money to begin these endeavors. Landmines left over from the previous wars also make mining especially expensive, leaving mineral deposits untouched.

There is an improvement on the horizon though: the Eritrean government is paying its citizens more fairly and is looking do some initial landscape scouting for mining. Furthermore, the country’s GDP has consistently grown since 2008.

Michal Burgunder

Photo: Flickr

Diseases in EritreaEritrea is a northeast African country on the Red Sea coast with a population of 5.8 million. In recent decades, Eritrea has made great strides in improving the health of its population as part of the Millennial Development Goals. In particular, Eritrea has focused on child health and has made progress in eliminating childhood diseases such as measles with improved immunization and nutrition programs. Between 1993 and 2008, the number of Eritreans vaccinated against measles skyrocketed from 34 percent to 95 percent. Diseases in Eritrea remain a consistent health threat, however, because despite these health improvements, poverty in the country creates health challenges.

Much of Eritrea’s current health concerns revolve around vecsor-borne and mosquito-borne illnesses such as Yellow Fever and Malaria. Malaria has been one of the country’s top concerns in recent decades, as Eritrea has made a conscious effort to reduce the spread of the disease and joined the African Leaders Malaria Alliance. Since approximately 70 percent of the population lives in high-risk areas, the Eritrean government has responded with a variety of strategies, such as the promotion of national campaigns and community based-programs encouraging medical checkups. Today, nearly 70 percent of children below age five now sleep under insecticide-treated nets, and more than 60 percent of citizens own at least two ITNs. These measures have succeeded, helping Eritrea reduce annual malaria incidence by 85 percent between 1998 and 2012.

As a whole, Eritrea’s vaccination coverage has improved so much that it is now among the top African countries based on DTP3 disease coverage. DTP3 immunization, which covers diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, has been at 99 percent since 2008, far above the African average of 64 percent.

However, diseases connected to diet and nutrition such as diabetes and diarrheal diseases also pose a threat to the Eritrean population. An estimated 22,700 children under five are projected to be affected by severe acute malnutrition (SAM) in 2017, and according to national data, half of Eritrean children are stunted. UNICEF Eritrea has made fighting these diseases a top priority, and provides women and children with water and nutritional supplies as well as hygienic services and child protection services as part of its Humanitarian Action for Children.

One of the main issues preventing Eritrea from further reducing the spread of disease is the lack of doctors and physicians in the country. Although the number of physicians in Eritrea doubled in recent years, medical staffing remains far below estimated needs and targeted goals for the future, and as a result, diseases like tuberculosis and yellow fever remain a threat.

In the future, Eritrea can look to its success with controlling the spread of malaria as a prime example of the effectiveness of awareness campaigns coupled with immunization and nutrition programs. As Eritrea grows as a country, it will face new health concerns regarding immunization and disease. Preventing diseases in Eritrea will continue to be a part of the government’s goals as part of the 2030 Millennial Development Goals, as the country aims to secure a prosperous future for its people.

Nicholas Dugan

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Eritrea
Poverty in Eritrea remains a problem. While the country’s economy was doing well from 1993 to 1997, Eritrea was suddenly thrown into turmoil both by nature and politics. Due to challenges like drought, famine and recurrent war, poverty in Eritrea is on the rise and doesn’t seem to be stopping.

Eritrea fought with Ethiopia for 30 years before winning its independence. As any new country would, it had to deal with socio-economic hardships of a newly forming nation. Agriculture is its major source of income as well as food, as is the case for many African nations.

While Eritrea may be known as one of the world’s youngest countries, it is also one of the poorest. In 2005, the annual per capita income was $150. Out of 175 countries in the Human Development Index, Eritrea is ranked 155th.

Poverty and food insecurity in Eritrea are widespread and increasing. According to the Rural Poverty Portal, “even in years of adequate rainfall, about half of the food that the country requires has to be imported.”

While Eritrea’s government has implemented some poverty alleviation measures, these attempts have not mitigated poverty as they should have. This is partially due to the lack of resources and overall poorly implemented programs. Poverty in Eritrea has become rampant, and more than 66 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

Access to sanitation was only available to 13 percent of Eritreans in 1997, and only 22 percent had access to clean water. Widespread malnutrition and inadequate healthcare also result in high infant mortality rates and low life expectancy.

Poverty in Eritrea barely allows its people to survive, let alone receive a proper education. The literacy rate is estimated at 49 percent. In addition, a weak education system does not help to relieve the issues associated with poverty.

While Eritrea still lacks resources and foreign aid, it will not be able to support itself after natural disasters and an ongoing war have ravaged the country. This young nation will require aid and guidance as it seeks growth and prosperity.

Karyn Adams

Photo: Flickr

education in eritrea
Eritrea came into independence in 1993 after a long period of war and military conflict. After gaining its independence, Eritrea continued to struggle with neighboring countries Yemen and Ethiopia, and the consequences were devastating to its people. Today, the country continues to work on rebuilding its infrastructure and developing its economy. Despite the many structures the country has implemented, education still remains a top concern. Below is an exploration of education in Eritrea.


Top 6 Facts about Education in Eritrea


1. Enrollment remains one of Eritrea’s biggest issues. In 2012, data put forth by the World Bank determined that only 42 percent of elementary school-aged children were enrolled in school.

2. Eritrea’s location in the Horn of Africa is a major contributor to the country’s low enrollment rates. Eritrea is extremely susceptible to droughts, as well as floods caused by heavy and sudden rainfall, which makes attending school—and maintaining school grounds—increasingly difficult.

3. Vast disparities in development in Eritrea’s zobas, or regions, is also a significant factor that plays into the low school enrollment rates. Remote regions such as Gash Barka and the Southern Red Sea simply lack schools altogether, so children then lack any access to education opportunities in those regions.

4. Remote regions in Eritrea are also inhabited by nomadic and semi-nomadic pastoralists, for whom attending formal schools that are located at far distances is not impossible, but is in fact undesirable. Families in nomadic communities simply cannot—or don’t—send their children to school.

5. The country is working hard to address the issue of education for nomadic communities. With support from donors and the Netherlands government, 65 nomadic schools have been set up in Eritrea, a vast increase from the seven pilot nomadic schools that existed in 2007.

6. Gender disparity in education remains a top concern within the country’s education system. Though the government claims to be committed to achieving education equality, more than half of school-aged girls are not receiving an education.

Eritrea, ranked 177th out of 187 countries on the Human Development Index, struggles with severe poverty and countless other obstacles that make improving education conditions for children extremely difficult. The country’s unique climate and nomadic communities, coupled with its new independence and lofty regrowth plans, require tailored education initiatives and ample help from foreign aid programs. These programs will help the country improve its education opportunities, and therefore its economy and quality of life as well.

– Elizabeth Nutt

Sources: BBC, UNICEF
Photo: Asmera

hunger in eritrea
Situated between Sudan and Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa, Eritrea is a nation of both plenty and dearth. Food grows abundantly in the nation’s nutrient-rich fields, but nearly every year, Eritrea makes global headlines for a hunger crisis.

A particularly severe food shortage in 2011 left as many as two-thirds of Eritreans hungry. Last year’s shortage was among the worst in Africa–only Comoros and Burundi had more serious food insecurity–and was classified as “alarming.”

Eritrea is one of many African nations with both an economy based in agriculture and a paradoxical inability to feed its people. Though nearly 70 percent of Eritreans are involved in the agricultural sector, Eritrea currently only meets a third of its estimated food needs (the other two-thirds being met by international food aid programs). Though Eritrea’s economy is technically growing, it isn’t growing quickly enough to sustain a population of over six million people.

Being one of the least-developed countries on the planet makes it difficult for the government to implement lasting changes to prevent hunger in Eritrea, as the infrastructure and supplies for long-term economic changes and aid programs are largely lacking.

In the past three years, the Eritrean government has focused on improving agricultural infrastructure in order to decrease food insecurity, and though hunger has declined during that period, it has not declined significantly enough for Eritrea to achieve the first Millennium Development Goal (that of halving hunger and poverty levels by 2015).

Another issue causing continued hunger for Eritreans is that the government is rather secretive and has been accused of deliberately withholding information regarding the substandard living conditions of its people.

During the 2011 famine that swept through the entire Horn of Africa, Eritrea publicly stated that it was unaffected despite the overwhelming majority of its people living in hunger that year. Eritrea’s government faces no opposition and forbids freedom of the press, allowing it to mask subpar conditions more easily than other, more transparent governments.

To some extent, food insecurity can be expected in a country with a climate like that of Eritrea. Situated in the Sahel desert, Eritrea experiences periodic droughts which affect its agricultural output. That said, the number of people hungry in Eritrea remains alarmingly high even with the implementation of food aid programs and efforts to improve infrastructure.

Elise L. Riley

Sources: BBC, All Africa, World Food Programme, World Bank, UN
Photo: Trust