By Fredrik Brogeland Laache
Influx of Refugees
Touching borders with South Sudan and Sudan in the West, the Amhara-region in the North-East and the far-stretching Oromia-region in the South-East, Benishangul-Gumuz (BG) is a religious and cultural melting pot. Not only is the region home to a wide variety of languages, tribal expressions and ethnicities; it is also home to an increasingly large population of refugees who have fled conflict and instability in South Sudan, as well as the Blue Nile State in Sudan.
During our visit, we were taken to Tsore Camp – one of four refugee camps in the region.
Tsore was established in June 2015, and currently hosts 10,200 refugees from both South Sudan and Sudan, of which the majority are young people, including many children under the age of 18. With the kind assistance from representatives from UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), and NGOs such as Save the Children and Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), the Norwegian delegation was introduced to the everyday life of the camp.
It was only in 2011 that BG became an important destination for refugees. Before 2011, approximately 4000 refugees resided in the region, but because of a sudden outbreak of violence in Sudan’s Blue Nile State the same year, thousands of people were forced to cross the border into Ethiopia. Only between June 2015 and November 2015, a total of 35,000 refugees fled to BG.
In an effort to try to make life in the camp active and eventful, vocational training programmes, organized and supported by the NRC, have been established. These include training in hairdressing, construction work and sowing, and build on similar programs initiated by the NRC in other camps worldwide. With the support from the Norwegian Government, NRC is also providing material for shelters and assistance with self-sufficient farming projects.
While being able to provide refugees with shelter and food, UNCHR-representatives outlined several challenges in relation to the day-to-day operation of the camp. The lack of alternative energy sources besides wood was pointed out as one of the main challenges faced by refugees, and camp administrators alike. Cutting of trees is not only unsustainable in an environmental perspective, it also creates conflict between the refugees and the host community.
Norwegian Mission Society in BG
A five-hour drive East from Tsore, travelling through Oromia, and into the beautiful green hill-landscape in South-Eastern BG, one has entered the woredas of Kamashi and Agalometi. It is here, deep in the valleys and along the hillsides that the Norwegian Mission Society organizes several development projects with the support from, among others, NORAD.
One of the projects is a youth centre in Kamashi, where young people gather to play table-tennis and volleyball, and sing and play instruments. While visiting the youth centre, we were treated to local food prepared by the Gumuz-people (one of the many ethnic groups in BG) and a singing performance by members of the centre. According to Sophie Küspert Rakotondrainy from the Norwegian Mission Centre, who accompanied us during the whole field trip, the youth centre has become an important place for young people, regardless of their ethnic background, to engage with each other through sports and music.
The Norwegian delegation was also taken to a small village in Agalo Meti, where an agricultural collective consisting of women has been set up and is now supported by the Norwegian Mission Society. On a relatively tiny parcel of land in the middle of the village, the women grow vegetables in order to be more self-sufficient, using climate-smart cultivation methods. The Ambassador got to sit down with Kamashe – one of the women benefiting from the program – and ask her about the effects of the farming.
“My life has improved since I became part of the collective. We are more self-sufficient, and other women in the village want to cultivate vegetables like we do”, Kamashe said.
One of the reasons why the agricultural output is so limited in Benishangul-Gumuz has to do with the lack of female participation. Development programs involving collective farming and climate-smart agriculture is therefore committed to the inclusion of women.
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam
Some hundreds kilometres North-East of Agalo Meti, tucked in between hilltops close to the border with Sudan, a gigantic infrastructure project is under way. When finished, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will be the largest power plant in Africa, with a total installed capacity of 6000 MW. The dam is located only 40 kilometres from the border, and sits on top of the Abay River (The Blue Nile) in the Northern part of BG.
The Chief Engineer showed the Ambassador and his delegation the construction site, and gave an insightful presentation about the functionality of the power plant, and the technical solutions that give life to the dam.
The reservoir area will cover 1,874 square kilometres, and the total storage volume will amount to 74 billion cubic meters of water. The aim is to provide affordable and green power to Ethiopia, as well as neighbouring countries.
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is supposed to be completed in July 2017
See photos from the field trip in the album attached to the article at the top.