Mystery illness kills hundreds in Ethiopia

Ama Nunoo Mar 17, 2020 at 04:30pm

March 17, 2020 at 04:30 pm | News

Ama Nunoo

Ama Nunoo | Staff Writer

March 17, 2020 at 04:30 pm | News

Photo: Abecrombie & Kent

As the world is dealing with the recent coronavirus pandemic, Ethiopia has twice the menace to deal with as the country is battling with a mystery illness. The Somali region of Eastern Ethiopia is the worst affected as some hundreds of people have died over the last few years.

The mysterious deadly sickness is rummaging the nomadic communities that roam the Ogaden Basin, where some foreign companies with government ties are prospecting for oil and gas, an investigation by The Guardian reveals.

According to a regional official, more than 2000 people have died from the mystery illness and a greater number of people are reported to be terribly sick.

It took the work of a human rights researcher, Juweria Ali, who spent several months probing into the issue to know the extent of damage of the mysterious illness, dubbed Disease X by the WHO.

Ali said the symptoms are gruesome and one infected by the illness will have their eyes turning green or yellow, nosebleeds, really high fever, fainting and even untimely death.

Her investigation further revealed that the illness could be as a result of the activities relating to those trying to exploit what many believe to be vast reserves of oil and gas. However, his claims are yet to be backed by scientific research.

“Locals describe seeing white powder spilled in their neighborhoods by companies operating. When it rains, these toxins then flow into the river, which people drink – so it’s a vicious cycle,” she said.

Although reports of these sudden deaths and several sick people have been known since 2014, companies operating in the area have refused to comment on the happenings relating to the plight of the people and the chemical spillages.

The Ethiopian government authorities regardless of the increasing demands from affected communities seeking answers have not made any major strides to resolve the imminent problem of these nomadic communities.

“Government officials in Addis Ababa have completely denied the existence of any health or environmental issues. In fact one official denied that anyone even lives around the area, which is of course contrary to what we know,” said Ms Ali.

However, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has reiterated the importance of oil and gas to the Ethiopian economy and the country’s future. He said it will eventually generate the much-needed jobs to ease unemployment in the country.

This is not the first-time attempts have been made to exploit the natural resources at the Ogaden Basin and things ended up turning on its head. Emperor Haile Selassie tried during his time only to be stopped by mass demonstrations to abandon the project.

In 2007, rebels attacked a Chinese led oilfield that resulted in 74 people dying. As things look now, the mystery illness and the minor protests by the people would further delay the exploitation of the land for oil and gas.

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