Growth without Alleviating Structural Poverty [Ethiopian Dialogue Forum]

The Ethiopian Dialogue Forum (EDF) expresses its heartfelt condolences to the families of victims of the preventable and inexcusable landslide in Addis Ababa that claimed the lives of at least 72 poor Ethiopian citizens, most of them children and women.

The regime’s declaration of three days of national mourning does not bring back their lives. Nor does it address the fundamental structural development problems in the country, including gross and inequitable distribution of incomes, which characterize the desperate and degrading lives of millions of Ethiopians in urban and rural areas.

These innocent lives were lost because they have nowhere else to live; nowhere else to find food; and nowhere else to find alternative or meaningful employment. In many instances in Addis Ababa and other urban areas, poor families have been forced to abandon their homes to make way for the construction of villas, luxury single family homes for the newly rich, condominiums, skyscrapers, expansion of embassies and other facilities catering to the donor, diplomatic and investment community. Land grab in urban and rural areas has left millions dispossessed, marginalized and poor.

The country’s development model has not offered the requisite industrial employment alternative that would absorb the millions of rural poor who migrate to cities such as Addis Ababa.

The World Bank, UNCTAD and others recognize Ethiopia’s growth while acknowledging the depth and breadth of structural poverty. At least 30 percent of Ethiopia’s 102 million people live in abject poverty. Drought induced famine has become a norm. Ethiopia is “begging” the international community for an additional $1 billion to feed at least 5 million people affected by drought in the Somali regional state.

Last year, the country witnessed widespread unrest, killings and imprisonments of tens of thousands, drought-induced famine affecting millions, a cholera outbreak and continued exodus of its youthful population. These sobering and staggering realities of life on the ground remind us that the development model is detached from the lives of the vast majority of the population it is intended to lift out of a cycle of poverty to which the country is known.

The glass and metal skyscrapers, the lavish and outlandish villas of the rich, the condominiums for the middle class including the Diaspora, the ultra-modern satellite suburban neighborhoods and gated communities with security facilities etc. do not mask the reality that millions of Ethiopians, including hundreds of thousands in Addis Ababa and other cities comb through the trash, scrap out and eat the left over from those who are lucky enough to eat three meals a day, competing often with birds and other animals.

The tragedy that occurred in Addis Ababa exemplifies growth that has no soul, a development that is top-down and is not based on careful and integrated social, environmental, political planning that will lead to sustainability and resiliency. The landfill called Koshe (dirt and dump) is literally a mountain of hazardous filth where thousands of children, old women and men are forced to live and scrap foods. Rural immigrants join those who survive in this unhealthy environment because there are no other options for them. Injuries, sicknesses and deaths are too common and have been normalized by the regime.

EDF believes this tragedy should have and could have been prevented had the Federal and municipal governments made the effort to create alternative employment opportunities for the poor; relocated those who live at or around the site to affordable homes with better sanitation, safe drinking water and other amenities; and not forced long-time residents to vacate their homes to make way for the newly rich and for industrial parks where residents cannot even work.

The government of Ethiopia is totally and exclusively accountable for this preventable disaster. It must compensate the families of those killed; and offer others a viable and humane option that frees them from dependency on trash dumpsters to survive.

Long Live Ethiopia

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