|Our Commitment to Poor Rural Communities
IDP works in North Gonder Zone, part of Amhara Region in northern Ethiopia. The area, north of Gonder town and up to the Simian Mountains, covers some of the poorest and most remote parts of the country. The specific districts in which we work are the 'woredas' (districts) of
Debat, Debark, Adi Arkay and Janamora.
The Highland Plateau of Ethiopia comprises most of the north and central parts of the country in the Amhara Region. Gonder, one of the main towns on the plateau, lies some 750 kms (470 miles) north-north-east of Addis Abeba.
The Simien Mountains are situated in the north-eastern part of Amhara Region, in North Gonder Zone, roughly 850 km (530 miles) road distance from Addis Ababa. The area includes many peaks above 4000 m and Ethiopia's highest summit, Ras Dejen, above 4500 m. Temperature in these extreme highlands regularly falls below freezing at night. The topography in parts of the Simien Mountain areas, particularly in and around the National Park, comprises a dissected plateau, the edges of which plunge dramatically into deep gorges with rivers flowing towards the eastern and northern lowlands, mainly into the Tekeze River.
Once capital of the former region of the same name which occupied an area of the country to the north of Lake T'ana, Gonder and its associated hinterland now forms a part of the larger Amhara administrative region which has a total population of 17,214,056, 87.4% of whom live in rural areas (Ethiopia Population and Housing Census 2007).
Underdevelopment, chronic food shortage and limited coping mechanisms
Our project area, comprising the four weredas (districts) of Adi Arkay, Debark, Debat and Janamora, is particularly deprived, having directly suffered the devastating effects of famine for the past three decades. To the south of Gonder the contours are relatively gentle, leading to quite fertile land around Lake T'ana, but to the north the landscape changes quite dramatically to steep escarpments and depleted soil.
Accessibility is difficult and most places can only be reached on foot or on horseback. In remote areas even the most basic infrastructure facilities, such as access to safe water and basic health services, are still unavailable. The area is highly degraded, i.e. deforested, eroded and any cultivable soil depleted. Excess rains harm crops in these highlands because they are often accompanied by hail storms and other natural disasters such as water logging and landslides.
The weredas situated around the Simien Mountains are recognised as particularly drought prone and food-insecure. Generally these areas are characterised by significant structural deficits, including high land degradation and lacking basic infrastructure facilities. People living in remote areas around the Simien Mountains and in the Tekeze River watershed have to deal with the fact that, due to the remoteness, they have only a limited range of coping mechanisms at their disposal to face climatic unpredictability.
The remote areas in and around the Simien Mountains lack most basic infrastructure facilities such as access to safe drinking water and basic health services. The absence of any kind of roads in most of the area, is the factor which hampers any other type of development.
The people of North Gonder Zone are very poor indeed and the journey to hospital on foot is particularly arduous.
Ethiopia is a desperately poor country which ranked 171st out of 182 countries in the 2007 United Nations Human Development Report. The country contains one of the largest concentrations of poor people on the planet.
31 million of Ethiopia's people live on less than half a dollar a day and between 6 and 13 million people are at risk of starvation each year. Poverty in Ethiopia affects the majority of the population: 81% of the country's 77 million people live below a poverty line of $2 a day.
Livelihoods are predominantly based on agriculture, which accounts for 85% of employment, 47% of national income and over 80% of export earnings. Life expectancy is 55 years (WHO, 2009), under-5 mortality is 119 per 1,000 live births, and an estimated 1.4% of the adult population are living with HIV/AIDS (Demographic and Health Survey 2005). Food security is a major challenge. 15 million people are regularly at risk from food insecurity and over 8 million people are classed as chronically food insecure.
Commitment towards reducing poverty is starting to bring results but, despite these signs of progress, Ethiopia remains unlikely to meet any of the MDG targets by 2015. If it is to have any chance of doing so, there will have to be a major improvement in economic growth and a massive increase in assistance from donors.
Ethiopia is never free from the shadow of recurrent drought and starvation which brought it to the forefront of international media attention during the 1980s and early 1990s. Although fighting has stopped and the country is trying to move towards democracy, we should not assume that Ethiopia is no longer in need of assistance.
Without continued support the people of Ethiopia remain one step away from calamity. Restructuring of the economy has led to high unemployment and increasing hardship. Access to basic health, education and social welfare services is outside the reach of most of the population, both urban and rural. Relief and emergency interventions act to stabilise communities and prevent further decline, they do not help the country provide effective services, for this we need programmes of development.
It can generally be said that Ethiopia has stabilised - now we seek to work across the board to help rehabilitate the country so as to prevent a return to the levels of deprivation recently experienced.
The health, education and welfare services of most developing countries chiefly depend for their operational costs upon government revenue. In many of the poorer countries, including Ethiopia, government revenue has progressively fallen to the point where, in many areas, services scarcely exist.
This problem has been steadily growing since the rise in oil prices in the 1970's - more recently it was aggravated by IMF economic restructuring programmes. These typically demanded substantial reductions in expenditure on public services. Salaries are often paid at a level less than the basic subsistence and supplies, essential to maintain effective service provision, often stop completely. For all practical purposes, in many parts of Ethiopia no government health, education or welfare services exist at all.