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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

Poverty in EritreaEritrea is a country in the Horn of Africa, bordered by Sudan in the west, Ethiopia in the south and Dijibouti in the southeast. The country gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993 and has been led solely by unelected president Isaias Afwerki since 1991.

Eritrea has isolated itself from other countries and become one of the poorest in Africa. The most recent data on poverty, from 2004, showed that poverty in Eritrea affects more than 50 percent of the population. Between 1990 and 2001, 44 percent of children under the age of five were underweight and nearly two-thirds of Eritrean families experienced food insecurity.

Conflict with both Ethiopia and Djibouti has consumed Eritrea for more than three decades. The threat of war with Ethiopia has led to a large amount of defense spending that leaves very little room for economic development. Additionally, 18 months of military service is mandatory for men and often takes them away from making a livelihood for their families.

According to the World Bank, two-thirds of employment in Eritrea is accounted for by rain-fed agriculture. Around 65 percent of the population lives in rural areas and 80 percent depends on the agriculture to survive. In 2011, the worst drought in 50 years hit the Horn of Africa and devastated the agriculture and increased poverty in Eritrea.

While humanitarian groups tried to help during the drought, there was only limited data and communication from the Eritrean government. “[The Eritrean people] most likely are suffering the very same food shortages that we’re seeing throughout the region [and] are being left to starve because there is not access,” U.N. ambassador Susan Rice told the BBC. “There’s a clear-cut denial of access by the government of Eritrea of food and other humanitarian support for its people.”

A constitution was developed in 1997 but has not been put in place and other countries are unwilling to have diplomatic relations. The regime has shut down the independent press, limited civil rights and allegedly denied basic human rights to its people.

The government has placed restrictions on religion, speech, expression and association. According to the Human Rights Watch, there were 474,296 asylum-seekers in 2015 — this is 12 percent of the population attempting to escape poverty in Eritrea.

Many families and children traveling alone have begun the dangerous journey across the ocean to Europe. Many European countries have attempted to accept Eritrean refugees, while countries such as Israel have refused to take any. Refugees who make an unwilling return to Eritrea are met with imprisonment and sometimes torture.

While times have been tough in Eritrea for a long time, awareness of the issue maintains important. The Human Rights Council for Eritrea was created in May 2016 and has condemned the deplorable human rights violations and totalitarian practices. Reports like this are what can help reduce poverty in Eritrea and lead to a more democratic system.

Economic growth and food security have been a part of Eritrea’s political agenda since its independence in 1993, despite various setbacks. The government continues to work on eradicating poverty by improving the export markets for livestock and produce, increasing the productivity of the agriculture process and receiving investments from the private sector.

Additionally, when poverty problems arise, Eritreans hold a strong sense of community. If the government solutions fail or are set back, wealthier people often loan livestock and money to poorer relatives and neighbors to keep them afloat.

Madeline Boeding

Photo: Flickr

Eritrea Poverty RateAn Eritrean man named Binyan left behind his family and hiked 19 hours to the Ethiopian border. He would have to brave a dangerous journey that involved crossing the Mediterranean on overfilled boats and avoiding human traffickers. He did all of this just to get out of Eritrea. The poverty rate in Eritrea and harsh military conscriptions are forcing young people to leave the country.

Currently, Eritreans are the third-largest group of people that are coming across the Mediterranean to Europe. The U.N. estimates that nine percent of the country has evacuated in recent years. Eritreans, however, also account for the majority of the 3,000 people who have drowned in the Mediterranean on the journey. However, the situation looks even more worrying. Policy toward Eritrean refugees is shifting. The U.K. has cut the number Eritrean refugees’ applications being accepted from 77 percent to 29 percent.

There are not many figures on the poverty rate in Eritrea. The government has repeatedly denied the U.N. and independent human rights groups access to the country. However, by GDP per capita, Eritrea is the ninth-poorest country in the world. Joblessness and lack of opportunities are prevalent. Many Eritrean youths are fleeing the country precisely because they are unable to obtain work. The government halts most imports, has stopped the World Food Programme’s free distributions to roughly a million people and has refused a $100 million development loan from the World Bank.

Many factors contribute to the current rates of poverty in Eritrea. For example, the government’s harsh military conscription pays only two dollars per day, keeps young men out of work and can be extended indefinitely. Teenagers are inducted at the Sawa military base where they get four months of training and then take an exam that determines whether they are put into active service or allowed to go back to their education. The men are forced into awful conditions; they are not even given blankets and eat low-quality food. One former conscript spoke of being forced to lie in a 131-degree sun for hours.

However, there is some hope for the country. President Isaias Afwerki has been conducting a self-reliance program, with some good results. Education and healthcare are free, the HIV rate is down to less than one percent, measles and polio have been virtually eradicated and child mortality rates have decreased by two-thirds since 1995. According to the U.N., Eritrea scores higher on health than its neighbors Ethiopia and Kenya.

However, this is not enough. The country desperately needs U.N. examination and aid. If the country would open its borders to imports and aid, especially economic aid, the poverty rate in Eritrea would drop dramatically and the country would no longer see a large portion of the population fleeing its borders.

Bruce Edwin Ayres Truax