UNICEF Focus On Ethiopia

A changing scene in  part of north-east Africa

By Roger Childs

Civil war raged in the 1990s

Her mother worked for UNICEF and now Elinor Mills is following in the footsteps. As a child she spent two years in Ethiopia at a time when war and poverty plagued the large African country. She remembers houses riddled with bullet holes.

Elinor spoke recently at Southwards on progress, problems and challenges in Ethiopia.

Back in the early 1990’s when Elinor was living there, the country was one of the poorest in the world. Things have changed since then, but currently the age-old problem of drought besets the land.

UNICEF is active in Ethiopia helping families especially in the provision of clean water. New Zealand has been assisting.

Making progress

Since the early 1990s there has been considerable progress in Ethiopia.

Residents fetch water at a water point in Amari Yewebesh Kebele in Amhara Region of Ethiopia 3 July, 2013. Photo by Jiro Ose

The data in many indicators shows what has been achieved by 2015 (compared with 1990.)

~ Life expectancy: 64 (47)

~ Child mortality: 6.6% (20.4%)

~ People with access to clean water: 57.3% (13.2%)

~ Access to toilets: 92% (25%)

The economy has being doing well compared to border states such as Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea, where there are problems of drought, instability and conflict.

However, because of its open door policy Ethiopia is struggling to cope with refugees from nearby states, many from the South Sudan, where civil war is raging. With over 800,000 the country is the fifth largest hosting nation for refugees in the world.

The scourge of drought

Photo credit: Martin Plaut, World Press

Sadly Ethiopia is currently experiencing its worst drought for 50 years. The areas in the north, east and south are worst affected.

~ Over 300,000 children are severely malnourished

~ 6 million people face food shortages

~ 2 million are in need of fresh water

~ 440 school have been forced to close.

Water is life

Around the world women and girls spend a staggering 200 million hours per day! collecting water. It is a colossal waste of time and energy, however it is necessary. Sadly it means that many girls miss out on schooling.

It is often a long and dangerous journey to and from wells and rivers, with the risks of

  • attacks by hyenas and crocodiles
  • abduction and rape.

The lack of water is obviously compounded by drought and leads to frustration. One farmer commented: People are angry because they can’t feed their children and cattle.

The role of UNICEF

The organisation has been involved in Ethiopia since 1962 and has set out to support local communities, help people by providing basic services, build infrastructure and work with regional governments.

A New Zealand woman has played a key role in helping with the provision of clean water. Jennifer left her Auckland house and investments (a total of $NZ1.5 million), to UNICEF to support the Lega multi-village water project in  the Amhara region of Ethiopia.

The water system she has helped to fund will

~ provide clean water for 34,000 people

~ supply 21 villages including 6 schools with over 6,600 pupils in total

~ support a major health centre and three other health facilities.

The road to the main water bore is elevated, so that if there are floods access remains open. This bore supports 3 reservoirs and 45 km of pipeline move the water to 45 easily accessible collecting points.

More girls are now going to school

For young girls in particular, this system means

~ no danger from wild life

~ more time in school

~ more time to play and be with family.

UNICEF of course is involved in providing clean water in many developing countries and in 2016 helped 4.8 million people get access to this vital resource.

Satellite mapping is a key element in finding the best place to sink wells an drones are also used.

Changing attitudes and cooperation

UNICEF works cooperatively with many agencies in Ethiopia such as World Vision.

An area where work is on-going is improving the lives of women and girls. There are many issues in male-dominated societies like Ethiopia, such as genital mutilation, rape, early marriage and exploitation of labour.

There are no easy solutions, however UNICEF is active in involving national and regional governments.

(Leaving money in your will is one way of assisting UNICEF in its work. Contact Bequest Manager John Daysh to get more details: Freephone 0800 243 575 or email john@unicef.org.nz )