(IRIN) – Inhabiting some of the harshest terrain in the
world, the people of Afar are famed for their resilience,
pride. Yet, in the searing heat of northeastern Ethiopia,
they are now
earning another reputation – that of being the most neglected
marginalised ethnic group in the country.
Afar have fewer hospitals, schools or social services than
almost any other region in Ethiopia. They generally die younger
less likely to be able to escape their cycle of deprivation.
of Afar, Ali Mireh Hanfareh, recognises the severe problems
facing the state. He told IRIN that education was the key
to solving many
of them. "Education is the most important thing for my
people," he said
from his home in Asayita, the capital of Afar State. "You
anything without education."
sultan, who is the region’s traditional ruler, said the entire
state had just three secondary schools – one of which he had
himself. Only one percent of Afars ever finished primary school.
he pointed out, the miniscule educational component available
serving to drive away the people who benefited from it, lured
wages and better lifestyles in other parts of the country
the Afar move over vast distances with their livestock,
irrespective of borders. The lowland region, which covers
270,000 sq km,
occupies one-fifth of Ethiopia, has a population of about
according to the last census in 1994.
five percent of the Afar population have access to proper
health care. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO),
hospitals serve the entire population, which, it says, is
infrastructure such as electric power supply, transport and
communications, are grossly deficient, which have posed serious
on the service delivery," a 2001 WHO report said. In
almost every area of
health, the Afar were well below the national average, the
No health outreach service has been offered for three years
financial constraints and a lack of transport. Immunisations
disease were almost zero, it added.
sweltering capital of the region, Asayita, where temperatures
reach 45 degrees centigrade, electricity is only available
– if at all –
to half the town at any time. A 45-km dirt track links Asayita,
overlooks the Awash river, to the tarmacked Addis to Djibouti
new capital, Semara, is being built on the highway, although
moved there yet.
of basic services, like roads and electricity, pose real problems
to NGOs trying to establish themselves in Afar. Few of them
operate in the
state. Only 13 NGOs are currently running programmes there.
Six years ago,
it was just two, but the World Bank and IMF are now targeting
projects, whose funds attract new development groups to the
World Bank-funded programme worth US $250 million known as
Ethiopian Social and Rural Development Fund (ESRDF) targeted
but often did not reach pastoralists. Now the Bank is launching
to channel funds direct to the pastoralists. The scheme, the
Community Development Project, is far more "geographically
its focus than the ESRDF from which it evolved.
Girma, head of Community Aid Abroad (CAA) – who started work
Afar six years ago – said historically the group had been
"There is no question over whether the Afar are marginalised,"
"They lack basic rights. All the political decisions
been taken elsewhere. They should have basic health and education
are primary rights which can’t be denied."
also seeking to empower women through literacy programmes
advocacy work. Esayas said the marginalisation of the Afar
was in part
historical – the divide between the lowlands of Ethiopia and
highlands, where the majority of the population live.
Communications Initiative (PCI), a new organisation in
Ethiopia, agreed with Esayas’s views. Daoud Tari of the PCI
pastoralists across the Horn of Africa had been marginalised.
production system they pursue is very different from the agrarian
agriculture production system. The state in Ethiopia was formed
agrarian agriculture that looked at pastoralism as a backward
production, not worth investing in."
Afar became a regional state in 1995 – it is supposed to control
own budgets and priorities – the problems were compounded.
[transformation] has [engendered] a lot of problems, because
there is no
capacity. The regional state has a strong lack of capacity,"
agencies complain they are concerned over security as
skirmishes can break out between rival clans. Almost every
man wears the
fearsome looking three-foot-long Jile sword. Most men carry
rifles. Parts of the state are often out of bounds to the
because of strict rules governing staff security. The sultan
the Afar are peaceful – but much of his time is spent settling
between rival clan leaders, who regularly call at his home.
in Afar say the security issue is influenced by the regional
state’s political boundaries, Djibouti and Eritrea being places
Afar, who do not recognise borders, also live. Daoud said
that groups of
Afar spread over three countries meant that they could often
be used as
political pawns by rival governments.
that the clan system – often blamed for insecurity – can
actually facilitate operations. "It is an advantage for
NGOs. If you know
exactly the architectural structure of the society, it is
for NGOs to work, not a source of frustration," Esayas
said. "Like the
land management system is done, which is based on a clan system.
people who go there see plain lands [they] think nobody’s
somebody is managing that one. So if you understand the clan
system, who o
perates [it] and who are really the power – I can’t see it
as a problem."
the region receives 300 mm of rainfall a year – an amount
can fall in a single month in the country’s capital, Addis
according to Farm Africa, which focuses on pastoralist development,
of water is not the problem – it is poor management. Dr Seme
of Farm Africa, said gradual encroachment by large-scale commercial
cultivation using the Awash river for massive irrigation was
the Afar from reaching the river bank to graze their animals.
is not really the water – the water is there," he said.
"It is the
land that is creating the problem, because these people migrate,
commercial activities are in the way of the migratory route.
It also means
fertile land where crops are now grown are off-limits to the
are on an endless search of fine grazing lands. That has created
and this is the issue of management – how to share resources,"
pastoral community was not well understood in the past. There
efforts by the previous governments, beginning with the Haile
period up till now, but the kind of development programmes
implemented were not really appropriate to the pastoral community.
result they could not really benefit from this kind of development,"
had been a number of livestock programme activities, but the
approach had been more suited to the highland environment
agriculture rather than pastoralism, Seme said. "The
kind of development
plans initiated were not participatory, did not really appreciate
distinction between highland settled agriculture and pastoral
even agro-pastoral activities. So there was this dichotomy.
Now we are
learning: the government has even set up a pastoral extension
also trains the Afar in animal health, equipping them with
medicines to tackle livestock diseases. Seme said many areas
needed to be
targeted and improved, particularly the ability of the Afar
programmes once NGOs pulled out. "The social infrastructure
is very weak,"
he said. "Unfortunately they don’t have the resources
financial and others. So there is a big need for the Afar
region, like for
most pastoral regions."
that non-Afars held the available jobs in the region. "Who
the commercial farms, who are the truck drivers, who are the
storekeepers, secretaries? They are not Afar, and this human
is very weak now."