Rural Poverty in EritreaEritrea, a small country in East Africa, had a staggering poverty rate of 38.9% in 2019, which is expected to decrease by only 13% by 2043. Affecting mostly rural communities, this situation is partly due to the young nation’s recent independence from Ethiopia in 1993, which led to recurrent wars, in conjunction with famine and drought. The heavy reliance on subsistence agriculture is one factor responsible for rural poverty in Eritrea. Despite the government’s efforts to address rural poverty, a shortage of resources and poorly implemented poverty alleviation programs have hindered progress. 

In 2006, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), an agency within the United Nations that combats poverty through low-interest loans and grants, released a plan to tackle rural poverty in Eritrea. This plan was further improved and updated in 2020, aiming to create sustainable solutions by providing finance programs and projects that empower those living in poverty to overcome it.

IFAD’s 2006 Plan

The IFAD initially planned to eradicate rural poverty in Eritrea, focusing on various areas related to economic development and food security. The plan included developing export markets for livestock, fruit, vegetables and flowers, re-establishing port activities, strengthening public services for small-scale farmers to increase agricultural productivity, promoting a supportive private sector, attracting private sector investments, privatizing state-owned enterprises and developing a robust financial system. 

The strategy prioritized decentralization to improve access to services and emphasized gender equality as a crucial element in poverty reduction efforts, recognizing that households headed by women are the most vulnerable. Additionally, implementing programs that encourage wealthier households to provide loans and assistance during difficult times through asset and labor sharing has also contributed to the reduction of rural poverty in Eritrea.

Issues to Implementation

Although this plan appeared to present a solid push to eradicate rural poverty in Eritrea, many barriers hindered the application of these plans. Conflict deeply affected the country, exacerbating constraints on institutional capacity and human resources. This resulted in a scarcity of human capital to initiate and sustain new projects in these regions, despite the knowledge that these programs would offer relief. The eastern and western lowlands of Eritrea, in particular, faced severe rural poverty due to these conflicts, making social and economic improvement in these areas a top priority. Additionally, Eritrea grappled with challenges in natural resource management and lacked readily transferable technologies that could facilitate investments, management and maintenance implementation.

IFAD’s 2022 Improved Plan

The 2020-2025 plan for eradicating rural poverty in Eritrea aims to address these issues actively, maximizing the effectiveness of poverty reduction solutions. The Country’s Strategic Opportunities Programme will ensure that IFAD’s lending and non-lending support aligns with the government’s priorities, focusing on three strategic objectives: enhancing climate resilience, improving technology and infrastructure access for smallholder systems and building capacities for food security and sustainable livelihoods. These objectives are in line with IFAD’s Strategic Framework 2016-2025. 

To further alleviate rural poverty, the plan emphasizes various aspects in the agriculture and fishery sector, such as establishing a resource base, strengthening producers’ organizations, improving input delivery systems, enhancing intensification and value addition, developing institutional capacity and managing aquatic ecosystems. Additionally, IFAD’s investment portfolio in Eritrea will prioritize gender, youth, nutrition and employment opportunities for those most at risk.

Looking Ahead

The IFAD’s programs will actively contribute to reducing rural poverty in Eritrea by assisting local communities in becoming more commercial, competitive, resilient and sustainable. Sustainable development becomes achievable through the establishment of strong institutions and systems, effective policy and regulatory frameworks, enhanced production capacities and robust partnerships. Eritrea is progressing toward the goal of eliminating rural poverty, and with investments in plans like these, a poverty-free future appears to be within reach.

– Ada Rose Waga
Photo: Flickr

Facts about Poverty in Eritrea
Eritrea is a small northeastern country in Africa, surrounded by the larger Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan. It is home to more than 6.1 million individuals, of which, about 53% were in poverty as of 2008. Eritrea’s harsh history coupled with its low rates of development has contributed to the poor economic conditions that oppress so many. This article will provide nine facts about poverty in Eritrea which will give reason to the concerns that international organizations have raised.

9 Facts About Poverty in Eritrea

  1. A tumultuous history with Ethiopia: After a 30-year war with Ethiopia, Eritrea finally gained independence in 1991. It was not until 1993, however, that this separation became legitimate. Eritrean citizens historically experienced neglect under Ethiopian rule. Many experienced deprivation of their nation’s resources and abandonment on the pathway to development.
  2. Cultural superstitions prevent sanitary practices: According to UNICEF, persistent cultural beliefs hinder many Eritreans from collecting clean water, washing their hands and disposing of animal products properly. Many believe that evil spirits attach themselves to certain animal parts while other customs prohibit the use of latrines during certain hours of the day.
  3. Limited access to clean water for rural Eritreans: Very few villages in rural Eritrea have access to clean water. In fact, as of 2015, only 48.6% of the rural population had access to improved water sources compared to 93.1% in urban areas. As a result, many Eritreans drink from the same water source as animals. In addition, many communities do not have a local latrine due to a lack of financial resources. Sewage systems also contaminate water sources that would otherwise be feasible options. These issues can lead to numerous diseases such as schistosomiasis, giardiasis and diarrhea.
  4. Challenges in agriculture: While nearly 80% of the Eritrean population works in agriculture, this sector only makes up about 13% of the nation’s GDP. Landscapes in Eritrea are naturally rocky and dry. This makes farming a difficult task even in the best weather conditions. During the most fruitful periods, domestic agriculture production still only feeds 60% to 70% of the population.
  5. Susceptibility to drought: When drought does strike northeast Africa, Eritrea is one of the countries that experiences the greatest blow. Months can pass in the Horn of Africa without rainfall and these episodes are frequent and recurrent. This results in food shortages and increased rates of malnourishment among children. Statistics show that malnutrition has been increasing throughout Eritrea as nearly 22,700 children under the age of 5 suffer from the condition. Plans have already emerged as an acknowledgment of the crisis, one being the African Development Bank’s Drought Resilience and Sustainable Livelihood Programme for 2015-2021. For this, the Eritrean government has agreed to reserve $17 million to administer solutions for drought effects in rural communities.
  6. Many children are out of school: Public education in Eritrea is inconsistent across the nation. Children living in rural areas or with nomadic families do not have access to quality education like those living in urban regions. Overall, 27.7% of Eritrean children do not attend school.
  7. Low HDI: Recently, GDP in Eritrea has been growing. One can attribute this to the recent cultivation of the Bisha mine, which has contributed a considerable amount of zinc, gold and copper to the international economy. Even so, Eritrea’s Human Development Index is only at 0.351. The country is far behind other sub-Saharan nations, whose average is 0.475.
  8. Violence at the southern border: The central government has created large holes in the federal deficit in its preoccupation with Ethiopia. While the countries officially separated in 1993, discontent with the line of demarcation has left them in a state of “no war, no peace.” The Eritrean government sees the stalemate with Ethiopia as a primary concern, and the military forces needed to guard their territory has occupied most of the nation’s resources.
  9. High rates of migration: These realities listed above have encouraged much of the Eritrean population to flee the country. Eritrea is the African country with the highest number of migrants. Furthermore, the journey to Europe is a dangerous one, as the pathway through the central Mediterranean is highly laborious.

Looking Ahead

These facts about poverty in Eritrea show that while poverty in Eritrea has been an ongoing challenge, efforts are under way to provide aid to the country’s people. Hopefully, the work of the African Development Bank’s Drought Resilience and Sustainable Livelihood Programme will help alleviate hunger and malnutrition in Eritrean communities.

Annie O’Connell
Photo: Flickr