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General Situation in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is a blessed Country

Ethiopia is a country which is blessed with sunshine! The light energy coming from the sun to Ethiopia is so abundant, that the energy would be large enough to supply the whole world with electric power! Thirteen months of sunshine is the slogan of the Ethiopian Tourist Organization and it seems that attracting tourists is the only way this blessing is used at the moment.  In fact Ethiopia has thirteen months of unused sunshine!  More people  suffer from sunshine and heat than recognize this blessing and treasure.  Ethiopia is a country which in also rich in natural and biological resources and treasures. Thousands of tourists from all over the world are coming every year to enjoy the unique wildlife in Ethiopia, especially in the national parks. There are many animals living in Ethiopia which are unique in the world, like the Simien fox, the Abyssinian Long-claw, the Abyssinian Catbird, the Thick billed Raven and many more.  People coming from the financially rich countries are willing to pay a lot just to see the beautiful nature and wildlife in Ethiopia, a treasure they have destroyed in their own countries a long time ago.

fetching bushes

The desert grows every minute

Today every child learns at school how forests influence the climate. Forests play an important role in the water, oxygen, carbon and nitrogen cycles. Trees are able to store large amounts of water between their roots, in the trunk, the branches and leaves.  The living roof of leaves provides shade and regulates water evaporation. In the dry season, water is retained  because the tree closes its pores in its leaves.

Whenever rainwater falls on land covered with bushes or trees, erosion and flooding is reduced and more water is likely to seep underground, forming pools and springs of fresh water.  Without trees, the water of a heavy rain shower flows very quickly down the hills, taking away the fertile soil, making small rivers huge and dangerous, causing mud streams and floods. Without trees and bushes, there is no shade on the ground, so the sun will dry up the rain again into the clouds. The next heavy rain will come shortly afterwards, and a destructive cycle starts. Erosion mud streams take Ethiopia's fertile soil, and future, into the sea, killing the people and cattle who destroyed the vegetation, and leaving only dead soil and  naked rocks.

The world's forests are rapidly disappearing and even the rich people in the industrialized countries are beginning to worry that they might have already reached the point where it is almost impossible to stop deforestation, either at home or world wide.  In Ethiopia, the wooded areas have been reduced from 40 percent of the country to now only 4 percent in only ten years! This is not enough for firewood and not enough to stop the desert areas in Ethiopia from growing. In large areas even small bushes now have to be used as firewood (see picture).

woodpile 

In former times the kings in Ethiopia lost their power and their kingdoms because the land around their capitals, Gondar and Axum, had been destroyed by deforestation. Now with more and more people living in Ethiopia, the disastrous effects of deforestation are a nightmare. And deforestation is even becoming a world wide problem for the whole of mankind. The climate is changing and nature is punishing mankind more and more with catastrophes for this stupid and selfish deeds.

Wood is the primary energy source for 90 percent of the people living in poor countries.  Around 1500 million people are cooking or heating with wood.  The average family burns about 4 tons of wood a year. About 50 to 70 percent of all the wood used on our earth ends up under someone's cooking pot.  Women and children have to spend many hours of the day --- possibly the whole day, for nearly their whole life searching for firewood! In the end, they will still have to leave their increasingly waste and destroyed homeland with bad health and damaged bones, fleeing from the desert!  In order to survive, these people have to move with their herds to a more habitable land, which means that they have to clear forests again for agriculture, thus starting a new cycle of deforestation and desertification.

It should be understood that population growth is only one reason for this process.  Modern  agriculture and also many development projects have added to the destruction of the world's forests.  Very often new land cannot be found any longer. So villagers move to places where they have relatives to help them. In this way whole villages are slowly moving to escape the desert.  These displaced people migrate to the big cities in great numbers.  Very few find the better life they were looking for.  As urban poor they are worse off than ever. Once in the city the refugees are forced to pay more for wood, charcoal or fuel than for food.

It is true there are other important problems to solve, but deforestation takes Ethiopia's treasures now and forever! Erosion will take all fertile farmland into the sea and makes the water salty. There will not be enough for everybody to eat and there will be no way to plant trees again, when the soil is spoiled or washed to the sea.  Together with the forest, Ethiopia's  rich  and unique wildlife and nature will become poor and meaningless. Less water can be kept, the ground water will sink to a greater depth,  ---  droughts in the dry season and floods in the rainy season will become normal, wells will dry up.

There is no doubt that for the survival of humankind the world's forests have to be saved.  Deforestation must be stopped.  Substantial reforestation has to be undertaken.  It is absolutely impossible to get enough trees to grow, to save Ethiopia from this bad future and to have enough firewood at the same time. Reforestation programmes are bound to fail where the people and animals living nearby are in desperate need of fire wood and fodder. There is an urgent need for education, teaching the importance of natural forests. A replacement for firewood has to be found! 

 

 

What about Arba Minch?

In Arba Minch the described blessings and problems are very obvious. Sunshine is a gift in Arba Minch throughout the year. Even during the rainy season, there is almost no day without some hours of bright sunshine. There is not much air pollution and the ground elevation is more than 1200 m, so concentrated sunlight energy can be collected.  Nature shows its full variety. The Nechisar Park (see picture) next to Arba Minch is one of Ethiopia's diamonds and almost nowhere in Ethiopia can so many different kinds of birds be found as in the trees around Arba Minch! It is easy to see zebras, crocodiles, kudus, hippos, hyenas, porcupines, mongoose, Civet- and Genet-cats, warthogs, different snakes, turtles, bush bucks, antelopes, monkeys and all kind of birds close to the town. With some luck you even see pythons and lions right behind the airport. (see a YouTube-video about Ethiopia's wildlife)

Arba Minch prepares to become the tourist centre of the south. The new asphalt airstrip is ready, many new shops were built in the last year, a new Commercial bank is under construction and a modern hotel meeting the latest standards of comfort to be built next to Bekele Mola Hotel is on the way.  In my country, Germany,  people are willing to spend up to 12 000.- Birr for a journey to see the amazing nature around Arba Minch and Jinka, and some of this large amount of money may be spent in Arba Minch, in restaurants, hotels, shops and at the market.

At the same time, the problems of  deforestation, erosion and destruction become more and more demanding! Due to soil erosion and degradation, the soil in the high lands can not feed the growing population of Arba Minch and forces them to settle in the lowlands. But in the lowlands, people are killed by mud streams due to erosion (e.g. 40 people died in Arba Minch 1998) and high floods have been destroying private and public property,because on the hill sides there is no forest to retain and store the water. Last year the whole village of Lante was under 1.5 m of water and mud, three times; the Kulfo bridge was destroyed by water masses coming from the highlands and many old people, children and cattle drowned when the floods suddenly came at night time.

Firewood becomes more and more expensive in Arba Minch town. With the growing wealth of the inhabitants, the demand for firewood increases.  In the last years, more and more firewood has been taken illegally from the unique forests of Nechisar park. Rangers and soldiers started even shooting at the illegal wood cutters, but without much success. Taking wood from the park (see picture) is a good bargain. A family in Arba Minch had to pay about 1000.- Birr for firewood last year and it will be more next year!  The firewood bargain destroys the unique forest around the forty springs. Some years ago it was not possible to see the sky from any place in the forest, in future people will need sun protection! Only a few more years of wood-cutting and the hundreds of years old treasure of Arba Minch no longer has a chance of recovery.

Deforestation can not be reduced without providing alternatives for cooking which are affordable and acceptable to replace firewood.