Ethiopia: Digging for blue gold

Carlos Reyes-Manzo
1 October 2006

I remember my first visit to Ethiopia during the famine of 1984. Hundreds of thousands of people were dying in the mountains, along paths, and in towns where they were going to look for help. It was painful to see entire families perishing in the cold mornings of Makele, and equally distressing to see the lack of solidarity on the part of western governments. At the same time the solidarity of people around the world was vital for saving many people's lives.

More articles on Ethiopia in openDemocracy:

Ann Pettifor, "Ethiopia: the price of indifference" (February 2004)

Edward Denison, "Eritrea vs Ethiopia: the shadow of war" (January 2006)

Richard Pankhurst, "An Ethiopian hero: Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin, 1936 – 2005" (March 2006)

Simon Roughneen, "Hard to believe your eyes: drought in Kenya and Ethiopia" (May 2006)

I returned twenty years later in 2004, and I found Ethiopia recovering from years of civil war. In Addis Ababa new buildings were under construction, the city was changing but many things remained the same. There was still rampant hunger and poverty, but it was now largely hidden by urban development. In the rural areas - the highlands and the valleys - things weren't so different either. Farmers were working in the fields, gathering the harvest, planting trees, building dams, but people were still hungry and thirsty.

A few years later, in May 2006, I came back, but this time to travel the path of history - through Gondar with its old castle, Axum and the Ark of the Covenant, the obelisk and the Queen of Sheba's ghostly presence, the beautiful mountains and landscapes, and the people and their traditions. However, there was no escaping the harsh reality of the now, and the knowledge that after twenty-two years Ethiopia was still heavily affected by drought and in a dire development situation.

The country currently has the lowest recipient of development aid in sub-Saharan Africa. Basic services are unknown to many, and almost 90% of people live rurally and depend on agriculture for their livelihood. A meagre 6% of the population has access to adequate sanitation, the lowest level in the world. Only 22% have access to a safe water supply.

Taken mostly in the rural areas - where women build dams and men dig for water - these photographs are episodic-like images of how people live and work.

Click the picture below to launch the slideshow:

The photographs from this slideshow are from the "Digging for blue gold" exhibition, hosted by WaterAid, 2-24 October, Foyles Gallery, London.

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