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by Almaz Mequanint

I am so happy to learn that this year (2003) is declared to be an international year of fresh water. Being victims of polluted water; at the same time; I feel helpless and in despair when I think of myself, my whole family and for the 100,000 voiceless residents of Wonji, Wonji/shoa and Metehara. Thousands of children and adults are at risk by drinking the poisonous water in these industrial communities.

Even though, famine and Aids/HIV is the priority concern nowadays in Ethiopia, there is a silent killer like industrial pollution which had affected and still affecting thousands of lives of residents who live in Wonji, Wonji/Shoa, and Metehara sugar factories. In 1950s, HVA started to pioneer the sugar industry in Ethiopia. Wonji, Wonji/Shoa and Metahara sugar factories were established in 1954, 1960 and 1968.

There are three major departments in sugar factory manufacturing, a) mill house, b) process house, c) boiler house. Each produces different types of waste in the air and are responsible for the emission of harmful gases into the air. There was also pungent smell from the mill house. Molasses were poured on the streets in Wonji, Wonji/Shoa, and Metehara which produced odd smell, flies around the town and sticky to walk on it. Wouldn't be nice if HVA had an asphalt paving instead?

These three communities were exposed to toxins emitted from the factory, and they are less informed and less aware. These communities were vulnerable because they perceived as weak and passive citizens who will not fight back against the poisoning of their environment in fear that it may jeopardize their jobs and economical survival. I know this much damages had happened to me, my family and other people.

1) The exhaust fumes get so thick until they form a sort of fog around the community I was living. Dust, gases and smoke had affected many people lung and respiratory tract, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cardiovascular disease and cancer of the lung.

2) Drinking water was heavily polluted by the hazardous wastes generated from the discharge by the factory, and excess of fluoride

3) The noise pollution was also very prominent due to the power looms situated in the community.

4) HVA also neglected the defluoridation of the drinking water. Hva withheld information about the excess fluoride in the drinking water from the Ethiopian workers.HVA violated the human rights of Ethiopian workers in those three communities. Excess fluoride in a drinking water causes dental and skeletal fluorosis. Normally fluoride should not exceed 4.0 milligram per litter, I wonder to what level of fluoride I and my family were exposed.

5) Asbestos was widely used for ceiling panels, pipe insulation, well insulation, cement pipe and sealant. No doubt I and my family are exposed to asbestos fiber concentration. As we know asbestos are extremely aerodynamic and it may affect someone to cancer, shortness of breath, and pain in the lower back. Even after 1970 when asbestos use was curtailed by scientist, HVA did not took action to prevent the community.

6) Heavy vehicular traffic who carry sugar canes to the factory pass through resident area which caused a lot of dust and resulted many death to many people due to vehicular accident.

Approximately around 1967 I came to Wonji as a kid. I grew up in Wonji, and my two children were born and raised in Wonji until the age of 6 & 7. At that time in Wonji the drinking water had excess fluoride, the air was polluted from the smoke and dust which was coming out of the factory, and most of the houses were built from asbestos. As we know human health is closely tied to environmental conditions, the quality of air, water, in Wonji, Wonji/Shoa, and Metehara had risked the health of many families including myself and my family.

When I was a kid there were Dutch citizens who were the top representatives and employees for H.V.A. the rest in the bottom of the pyramid were all Ethiopians.

At that time the Dutch were living in a secluded area called "Shebo Gibi," which means "wired area." No, Ethiopian was allowed to go to that area unless she or he had a pass, or working as a baby sitter, kitchen maid, or a garden boy. The Dutch also had their own club, swimming pool, tennis court, hospital, and school. They were drinking bottled water, because they knew that the drinking water at the time was not pure and had excess of fluoride. But they let us use the well water which was contaminated and with excess of fluoride.

In most reports of chronic fluoride toxicity indicate that it cause weight loss, dental skeletal changes, indicators of carcinogenesis, hypocalcemia (low blood calcium), hyperkalemia (excess blood potassium) which will affect the spine, cerebral impairment, and damage of soft tissues. Excess fluoride consumption also lead to cancer, osteoporosis, neurological, cerbrovascular effects, and other physical ailments.

The Dutch were using the Awash River for irrigation which some runs in our area, which resulted many death from drowning and ameba infection. If the Dutch had fenced these irrigation instead of their home, they would had saved many lives. It is too late for me and my family who are totally exposed to the pollution, but I believe we have to help the present generation and the next coming generation.

I am one of the victims who is suffering from asthma because of the air pollution at that time. I am also suffering from teeth decay, knee and other joint problem because of the excess fluoride in the water. My parents had knee joint problems but they passed away recently. My kids are suffering from teeth decay, cavities and staining. Recently I visited Ethiopia and I found out that many people whom I know were sick from various disease caused from the air and water pollution. Some of my father's friends are sick and bed bounded because of the skeletal fluorosis. Many young beautiful girls of these communities hide their mouth with their hand when they smile to hide their heavily stained teeth, and those who have money replace their front teeth with artificial teeth. The sad thing is nobody knows whom to blame, or where to seek help. Many children have discolored and fragile teeth.

The 30 Articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
[From 1 to 10 ] [ From 11 to 20 ] [ From 21 to 30 ] Article 1: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights."
You have the same human rights as everyone else in the world, because you are a human being. These rights are inalienable -- they cannot be taken away from you. Every individual, no matter who they are or where they live, should be treated with dignity.

Article 2: "Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind."

Article 13: "Everyone has the right to freedom of movement."

Discrimination in health care is a violation of internationally declared human rights and defies the very fabric of freedom and justice. The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights states in articles 2, 3, and 25 that everyone has the right to all freedoms in the declaration, including health and security of person, without distinction of race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

Wonji, Shoa, and Methara were segregated Ethiopian community in which outsiders had full control of these communities. Since the Dutch are white, it's the all-Negro section that was a segregated community. When you're under someone else's control, you're segregated. The Dutch were always treating us as the lowest and offering the worst to Wonji, Wonji/Shoa and Metehara communities. My father used to warn me not to go to Shebo Gibi because is a white residential areas, and I asked him why? His answer was we are black, they are white who run these three sugar factories, back then It is morally wrong that these communities had to face the burden of factory pollution, and it hits the poorest hard. Why in my country?

I want a response from H.V.A. why this happened to me, my family and all residents that are exposed to the pollution? I wish my voice will be heard and to see some changes on this issue. I hold HVA accountable and to clean up the mess that it had left behind. Fluoride has been banned in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, Austria, France, and The Netherlands. HVA was run by the Dutch and their main office is located in The Netherlands.

I sent emails months ago to HVA regarding this pollution in Wonji/Wonji-Shoa and Metehara, but they didn't respond back. Ethiopia has no budget to eradicate this pollution right now while facing famine and Aids crisis. There is no enough environmental and health pollutants data collected in these communities, I know this much, many children are dying from this pollution, and it is a human violation of these residents. I will be happy to receive any email, help from agencies, or posting this article in newspapers to make the world hear my voice and end pollution in these three communities.

Almaz Mequanint