Ioana Moldovan

Ioana Moldovan


Ethiopia – 30 years after the great famine


“Fuck you, the famine was in 1984. We have not had one since”, user meleszenawi1111 commented 4 years ago on a YouTube video titled BBC on Ethiopian famine 1984. True, 30 years have passed since the great famine, but its recollection is still present today and the label it casted on the Ethiopians is each day more frustrating and infuriating.

2014. The Addis Abeba light metro construction site sets the “frontier” of the Sebategna slum, on the outskirts of the Ethiopian capital. On a long stretch, people are playing football. Even though Ethiopians are well known for their achievements in athletics, the king of sports rules here as well. Several meters away from the improvised fields, you see rows of cars. Toyotas. 90% of the registered cars are made in Japan, 20 to 30 years ago. Next to them, adolescent boys or grown-up men earn a buck from cleaning the omnipresent rainy season mud off the cars.

Beyond the light metro and the cars lie the slushy streets of the neighborhood covered in dirty rainwater and human dejections. The smell is what gets hit first entering the slum. The sight then discovers tiny houses, makeshift shacks used for housing or small businesses and lots and lots of people. Yellow spots garnish the scenery. It’s the countless water cans.

Despair is a common feeling around the Ethiopian slums. And the slums are quite common in Ethiopia. 72% of the country’s urban population lives in extremely poor neighborhoods where water supply is a luxury and access to sanitation a dream. Only 40% of Addis Abeba’s 3 million can use a toilet, and this definition ranges from the latrine to the modern water closet. Seen at the continental level, the situation raises a problem of huge proportions. According to UN estimates, in 2009 there were around one billion people living in slums in sub-Saharan Africa. Their number is expected to double by 2030 due to the feverish urbanization in Africa. The evolution is not abnormal. On the contrary, it’s only natural that the development gap between Europe and Africa diminishes. The problem is state authorities are not equipped to manage this process.

Slum inhabitants earn about 50 US dollars a month. That explains for example the numerous plastic basins that lay on the streets collecting rain water. Free of charge water represents huge savings in a family’s budget which, in order to have access to a safe water supply, has to pay up to 6 times more that an American citizen for a liter of water.

The lack of access to sanitation leads to the contamination of natural water sources, such as the few wells Sebategna inhabitans were allowed to dig. People’s health is in jeopardy here. The majority of the diseases affecting the slums are caused by unsanitary water: cholera, malaria, dengue, yellow fever or dysentery. In addition, the huge population congestion in these neighborhoods is a dream land for infectious diseases.

Nevertheless, the rural population continues to migrate to the capital’s slums in hope of a better life and bigger opportunities, only to contribute to the depreciation of living conditions where they arrive.

Most affected are the children living in the slums. 40% are malnourished, a direct consequence of poverty and most disease cases appear with the little ones.

It is true, in the 30 years that passed since the great famine in 1984, Ethiopia has not been hit by such a disaster again. Nevertheless, with millions of people still living in extreme poverty, food insecure, without access to improved water or sanitation, this should not set anyone’s mind or soul at ease.

2015. The referee whistle will blow. It’s time to draw the line and see which of the 8 Millennium Development Goals were achieved and which not. Reality on the ground looks far from reassuring. Is poverty going into overtime?