News of Ethiopia
complied by Barry Hillenbrand
Ethiopia’s famine and refugee problem
Along with the rest of the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia is suffering from the effects of the worst famine to strike the region in 60 years. The famine is most severe in Somalia, but it has reached into the southern areas of Ethiopia. While the famine in southern Somalia has grabbed headlines, experts and aid workers say that southern Ethiopia is teetering on the brink of a food crisis. The Ethiopian government agrees that 250,000 people need food aid in the southern part of the country. But aid organization and agricultural officials say the number of people who need emergency food aid in southern Ethiopia is bigger, around 700,000. Maps, including the one below, released by the Famine Early Warning Network, a joint venture of USAID, the UN, and other agencies, show critical famine (the dark red areas on the map below) in several areas of southern Somalia, but less serious drought in the southern regions of Ethiopia. In early September, Ethiopia imported 300,00 tons of wheat to build up grain reserves, and is seeking more aid from the international community.
However Ethiopia suffers from another problem caused by the famine: a vast influx of refugees from Somalia who walk across the dessert in search of food. They are arriving in large numbers in camps in southern Ethiopia where international relief agencies are scrambling to house and feed them. Ethiopia is host to over 260,000 refugees out of which some 180,000 are Somalis. This figure includes over 41,600 Somali refugees in the three Jijiga area camps as well as an estimated 18,500 others who have recently crossed into Ethiopia through the Gode area. The other refugee groups flowing into the country include over 50,000 Eritreans and some 26,000 Sudanese, who include recent arrivals of about 500 from Abiye and South Kordofan in Sudan.
According to the United Nations, the number of refugees in four camps in the Dollo Ado area of Ethiopia has now crossed the 120,000 mark. Almost 80,000 Somalis have arrived this year alone — the majority crossing the border in June and July. The large influx prompted UNHCR and the Government to open two new camps in June and August while land for the fifth camp has been identified. It could be used to house some 18,000 Somali refugees who have crossed into Ethiopia further north along the border in the Gode region. Lately, there has been a significant drop in the number of new arrivals: from a peak of over 2,000 refugees a day in June/July to 300 a day in August.
The state of health of those arriving in Dollo Ado continues to be extremely poor. An assessment of mortality in one of four refugee camps at the Dollo Ado complex has found that death rates have reached alarming levels among new arrivals. Since the Kobe refugee camp opened in June, an average of 10 children under the age of five have died every day. While malnutrition is the leading cause of the high mortality, suspected measles is compounding the problem. Across all Dollo Ado sites the UNHCR have seen 150 cases of suspected measles and 11 related deaths. The combination of disease and malnutrition is what has caused similar death rates in previous famine crises in the region. The UNHCR is working to control the measles outbreak. A mass vaccination campaign against measles was completed in Kobe camp in the first week of September, targeting all children between the ages of six months and 15 years.
But there is little hope that the emergency will end any time soon. The rains in August were not up to par and drought conditions continue.
New Ethiopian diaspora: household help for Saudi Arabia
According to an article in the Arab News, a respected English language paper in Saudi Arabia, the chairman of the recruitment committee at Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Yahya Hassan Al-Maqbool, has urged the Ethiopian authorities to expedite visas and facilitate recruitment procedures for Ethiopian housemaids to work in Saudi Arabia. He wanted more Saudi recruitment offices to be set up to deal with a larger number of recruits and cut down processing time for maids which can take up to three months. At present each of the two Saudi recruitment offices was processing 60 visas from Ethiopia every month. “We are requesting to increase the number of visas given to each Saudi office to 500 monthly,” he said. He also called for increasing the number of weekly flights between the two countries. “These procedures will expedite the recruitment of housemaids from Ethiopia,” he added.
Al-Maqbool claims that the “manpower”— err, the woman power — recruited from Ethiopia has worked out well, but only time will tell whether Ethiopian household staff will be comfortable in Saudi Arabia. Al-Maqbool believed that the recruitment of 25,000 housemaids from Ethiopia during the coming few months would not be difficult if there was cooperation from the Ethiopian side. “The Ethiopian manpower has proved that they are a successful substitute for manpower from Southeast Asia, who were causing a lot of problems.”
There are 170 licensed offices in Ethiopia and 150 offices in Kenya to export manpower to Saudi Arabia. According to press reports, the Kingdom will open training institutes in the two African countries to qualify manpower before they are sent to the Kingdom. The demand for housemaids in the Kingdom has gone up because some South East Asian countries like the Philippines and Indonesia have put limits on household workers going to the Kingdom.
A new long-distance star emerges as Bekele fades again
Ibrahim Jeilan of Ethiopia sprinted past Briton Mo Farah to win the men’s 10,000 meters world title on August 26 after four-times defending champion Kenenisa Bekele had limped off the track. Once again Bekele tried for a comeback, but failed. Jeilan’s time was 27 minutes 13.81, just seconds ahead of Farah who took the silver. Another Ethiopian, Imane Merga, was third.
Bekele, who had never been beaten on the track over 10,000 meters, had not raced in almost two years because of a calf injury. Bekele is the double Olympic champion and world record holder in the 5,000 meters. After the race he said that he did not regret coming to the South Korean city of Daegu for the important World Championships. He did not rule out racing again this season. Running in next year’s Olympics in London still remains a possibility. “I didn’t want to miss this race because I thought I had a chance,” he added. “I’m glad I came, I wanted to try,” he said, confirming that it was his right leg that was again causing problems.
Farah, who was trying to become the first British world champion over 10,000 meters, looked like he had the race sewn up when he began his kick for home at the bell announcing the last lap. “It means a lot winning a major medal, it would have been nice with a gold but the better man won on the day,” he said. That better man, the joyous Jeilan, said: “I don’t have the words to explain how I feel.”
New Press law cuts fast and deep
Ethiopia’s tightly-controlled media has not been known for sticking its neck out on controversial issues, but a new law recently passed by an overwhelmingly government-controlled parliament will make the already gun-shy press even more cautious. And understandably so. The law expressly bans any form of communication with groups designated as terrorist organizations. This includes reporting from a press release of a possible terrorist group or interviewing their members. According to the law, any such act will be considered disseminating terror-related information and the publisher could be jailed. In August Reporters Without Borders wrote to Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi calling for the release of Reyot Alemu and Wubeshet Taye, two journalists who were arrested in June. RWB asked for an investigation into the conditions in which they are being held. Reyot, a young woman columnist, is in very poor health, while Wubeshet, the deputy editor of a weekly, says he has been mistreated.
“The situation of both of these journalists is alarming,” the letter to the prime minister says. “We were very disturbed to learn that their pre-trial detention was extended yet again and we call for their immediate release.” When they were brought before a judge on 17 August, their pre-trial detention was extended for another 28 days. Accused of complicity with a political group that has been classified as a “terrorist” organization, they are due to appear in court again in September.
The deputy editor of the Awramba Times weekly, Wubeshet was arrested on 19 June. When he appeared before a federal court two months later, he said he was beaten during interrogation and was manhandled by prison officials. He was also forbidden to receive visits from his family and to organize his defense with his lawyer.
Reyot, a columnist for the Amharic-language weekly Fitih, was arrested on 21 June. The equipment and material that was seized at the time of her arrest was finally returned to her family a few days ago. The few visitors that have been allowed to see her are worried by the rapid deterioration in her health. After two months in detention, this young woman is showing signs of physical and psychological trauma. Although her family has been able to send her medicine, she is in urgent need of proper medical attention.