Beyond the Fence-Double Agony

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Tue Jan 22, 2008 4:33 pm   
I received the following letter from Almaz Mequanint via esai e-mail account sent to the President and the Vice President. After reading the full story and searching information from the World Wide Web, I thought the issue deserves sincere attention from the ESAi community.

Also please look and read the amount of related case reported to Economic & Social Council of United Nation. This particular case is numbered 2004/78 on page 11 #41 found here

Beyond The Fence--Double Agony

The Ethiopian society is structured in such a way that people don't even second-guess once they built trust and unfortunately HVA International took advantage and violated that trust by withholding information of excess fluoride existence in the drinking water for 17 years and by providing safe drinking water to protect it's own citizens only, the Dutch. Secretly two treated water was planted inside their secluded fence where they lived called," Shibo Gibi" means fenced area. At that time nobody knew fluoride was harmful, except the owners of the HVA.International. The Ethiopian government had poor environmental policies so this Dutch company took advantage of the situation which resulted a huge injuries to the Ethiopian residents. A sad story and a cry for help by Wonji victims started erupting beyond the fence.

How much agony people had to go through and for how many years? It was disgustingly true that Wonji victims story is the world's most neglected emergency. From1954-1974, subtle tensions amongst the various ethnic groups of Wonji, Wonji/Shoa & Metehara residents have been exploited by corrupt power of HVA International that have little interest in the people of Wonji because the bottom line motive was always profit. When we look at a corporation like HVA International, just like when we look at a slave owner, we want to distinguish between the institution and the individuals.Wonji residents were under corporate colonial strict rules-segregated in their living areas, recreation facilities, medical treatment and inhumane working conditions.

In 2004 HVA denied any responsibility, you can see in this website: The general manager of HVA international and the Netherlands government undermined my allegation and refused to bear any responsibility. There is no doubt that HVA International made large fortunes in the exporting of sugar to the West consumers, but at what cost? The answer is at Wonji victims life cost.

Sadly, despite my allegation against HVA International the UN didn't push further to take extra measure beyond reporting the problem to The Netherlands government and the Ethiopian government. Unfortunately, there is a belief that in poor countries has to sacrifice environmental issues for it's development, or is considered a luxury to address environmental concern. I think the UN has difficulty to prioritize on sustainable development in third world because transnational corporate have greater influence on them. They lack fair regulation and punity for international corporate criminal activity in the third world. So, in another words the UN is pressured to echo the voices of the rich and downplay the crying voices of the poor countries. We can't expect the institutions of the UN like World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization to examine the human rights situation or any environmental pollution in poor countries. Because of this situation an undisclosed number of Wonji, Wonji/Shoa & Metehara residents are suffering and dying by receiving potentially lethal exposures to asbestos and flouride pollution until now. I am not anti-corporation but I want HVA International or other corporate polluters to be socially, morally and legally responsible for the people in the third world they have injured.

Despite HVA International continues to avoid liability for its negligence and withholding information about fluoride from Ethiopian victims -- they should not only compensate to the victims and their families but also they should be charged with industrial manslaughter. There is example where similar situation had been dealt with differently in the Netherlands comparing it with Ethiopian citizens: where Dutch citizens had been granted compensation for their injuries while Wonji citizens because of their color, race and background still waiting for justice!

Unfortunately too many Ethiopians are in the habit of looking to the Ethiopian government to solve their problems but that it is not going to happen. We the citizens of Ethiopia and other third world have to stand up for our rights ourselves. Even now under the Ethiopian government these victims are not given medical care because right now they are not active employees of the sugar company. Some of the victims I visited and interviewed their retirement wage ranges from 48-300 birr a month ($5.50--$34 dollars), not only that, these victims have to support with that amount of money children and family members living with them.

The passage of the canal which contains toxic waste of the factories was designed previously by the Dutch company to pass through Ethiopian residential areas is still potentially endangering the health of the community. The pungent smell of the toxic water is unbearable and I feel sad for the family who residing and raising children close to this passage of toxic waste. This shows that there is still lack industrial pollution control guidelines which should be the duty of the Ethiopian environment protection authorities. The Ethiopian environment protection authorities stated their mission "Improve the quality of life of the Ethiopians through the provision of environmentally sound social services" , but unfortunately they have failed to practice their mission and lost their vision in Wonji, Wonji/Shoa & Metehara factory areas. Issuing guidelines and policies without implementation is useless and this shows lack of awareness and commitment from the higher level management. I guess they are very busy having numerous meetings locally and abroad and neglecting what is going on their backyard. It is obvious there is no environmental auditing or inspection done until now in these three sugar factories. The multiple health effects on Wonji residents are horrendous going through double agony.

When I visited Wonji hospital the next day of the event, I observed that hospital in Wonji is in need of major renovations. They need extra funding be made available in the forthcoming health budget in order to receive the necessary equipment where beds, incubators and medical equipment are in disrepair. If continues like this it's going to be hazardous to both health workers and patients. This hospital need an urgent visit from the health department to determine the holes to fill.

In my recent visit there were some emotions and anger among residents I interviewed saying that they can't afford buying treated water and those who afford it bring water from nearby cities. Treated water was discontinued for a long time because of the pipes often are out of order most of the time it takes a while before it is repaired. In Metehara safe drinking water is provided to the residents and recently Wonji administration will be providing safe water to the residents eventhough it was too late, but it is better than nothing. Even though recently there will be available safe drinking water to the community I don't know if the retired victims will be provided free of charge?

It was heartbreaking to learn that the Catholic church which is located in Wonji-Gefersa area don't help Wonji victims who are non-Catholic. A church should appeal to assist those afflicted by poverty, disease etc.--presumably it should touch their compassion and common humanity, not their religious affiliation. Aid priorities should be calculated on the basis of need alone.’ Faith-based organizations marry their spiritual vision to the neutral and impartial humanitarian imperative when they heed their own religious texts. Assisting the poor should be a sacred task for all religions. Humanitarianism is a task that unites religions, rather than divides them.

It took 3 months to bring the donated wheelchairs from the port of Djoubti because of a huge bureaucracy. Government procedures are nightmare too many paperwork and time-consuming. That was another challenge to get clearance on time for Wonji administration staff but their commitment and dedication they made it happen.

During the event of wheel chair distribution Wonji victims and concerned citizens made a speech in a united voice to help ensure that their rights are fairly represented and protected, while raising public awareness about the dangers of fluoride and asbestos.

After the wheelchair donation event the pro-government newspaper like "The Ethiopian Reporter" stated about the wheelchair donation shying by not mentioning name of the organization, Free Wheelchair Mission, who donated the wheelchair or the person and people who assisted and help to clear customs regulations at the Djoubti ports of entry. I was interviewed by German radio station correspondent and after my interview was aired part one it was jammed before part two was aired. This is very sad to learn that Ethiopians right to information was taken away illegally.

And no Ethiopian government media or newspapers want to inform Wonji victims that HVA International company of The Netherlands government is responsible for their injuries. Instead, the Ethiopian government newspapers and media only highlights about The Netherlands government humanitarian aid provision which will help to cover from public scrutiny what The Netherlands's company HVA International had done to Wonji victims.

Ethiopian government should give preference to the interests of their citizens but sadly our government's absence of support ploy which can set back human rights. The Ethiopian government should do more to correct what HVA International wrongs but instead they are digging more deeper hole instead of filling it in. Two wrongs don't make either side right! Left in despair, beyond the fence, Wonji victims continued to go through double agony!

When I met those victims there was a flow of tears from victims and family and fighting back my tears was impossible, Through no fault of their own, these innocent victims are prisoners in their own home but now with the help of the wheelchair, family members do not sit behind the bars, they are also prisoners in an emotional prison due to a situation beyond their control.

What a difference it made for them and myself. The wheelchairs represented freedom and lifted their misery which brought the tears to many people who were there.Their gratefulness & blessing gave me the opportunity to hug and wipe their tears. No body can change what's in my heart or own what's in my soul. The people you love are always with you when you carry them inside and hold them close in spirit. These helpless people are thrown into a situation that leaves many of them feeling alone, helpless, hopeless and neglected by society.

Deep in their eyes lay a sadness, a puzzlement. I promised them nobody can clang the gates closed or no steel bars can come in between us that I will not forsake them. If they want someone to hear, to listen, my ear is just a whisper away. When they think that no one sees the pain in their eyes, I am somewhere in the shadows, watching. I am here for them if they need a tear shed on their behalf.
This sad story leave a sick feeling in the pit of my soul as I'm sure they do to many others (although unfortunately not to HVA International or the Netherlands government). These barbaric actions against innocent people must not be forgotten; their voices are clearly heard beyond the fence!

We citizens of this world also need a sense that we really are one community, that we are people who oppose corporate abusers but also to have the pull of obligations to isolate them.

I appeal to all the people who share this view to kindly write letters to the concerned authorities.
We need to fight and address to the Ethiopian Environmental protection authorities for the adoption and implementation of appropriate, ecologically sound, and socially equitable policies to satisfy our needs for such necessities as water, health, food, education and information to our society.
Let's make a difference which will transform the lives of so many victims in Wonji,Wonji/Shoa & Metehara. We are the citizens of this universe, Truth always triumphs.

May love and compassion prevail!

Almaz Mequanint


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Wed Jan 23, 2008 9:09 am   
Wow! Never knew! Soo sad how these so called foreign investors take advantage of Africa! Thanks for sharing. I always wondered why we were told as kids not to drink Wonji water without boiling it first.


Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly. Leave the rest to God.

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Sun Jan 27, 2008 11:28 pm   
langano wrote:
Wow! Never knew! Soo sad how these so called foreign investors take advantage of Africa! Thanks for sharing. I always wondered why we were told as kids not to drink Wonji water without boiling it first.

Me too...check out the following links to learn more.


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Mon Jan 28, 2008 12:09 am   
Sorry I didn't respond to this thread sooner; in fact, I just saw it.

I see an issue that deserves attention. However, I have a question. The PDF document from the UN says "During the time of nationalization by the then
Ethiopian Government in 1975/1976 the Ethiopian Government claimed a large amount as
compensation for the fluoride problem and at the same time accepted responsibility for all future

So if the factories are under the ownership of the Ethiopian government (and to make things worse the government took responsibility for the problem), how can the company be held legally responsible?

In addition, the Ethiopian government is the sole provider of drinking water in Ethiopia (am talking about the 'Wuha Limat'), right?

So, it is really the government only that can do something about it.

I don't see this problem being politically threatening to the government, so I would think they would be willing to do something about it if communicated to them in a non-threatening way. No?

Anyways, what is it that the government can do about the problem? What can the Ethiopian Environmental Protection Agency do about it? And once we know that, what can we do about it? May be a letter drive?

Says a tribal chief: “Here in Lesotho, we have two problems: Rats and the government.”

No body, no one, not even those who perpetrate or/and perpetuate it, deserve injustice.
Almaz Mequanint

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Sat Feb 02, 2008 3:08 pm   
I want comment to two commentators regarding my article. Fluoride is a binary compound of fluorine, which is a highly corrosive and poisonous element used in a wide variety of industrial compounds. Fluoride occurs naturally in drinking water is some areas of the world. It cannot be removed only by boiling the water. Fluoride can be removed by fluoride removal filters.

Only about 2% of the population of Europe is subjected to fluoridated water. Due to fluoride advocate propaganda, most Americans don't even realize fluoride is bad for them. EPA claims that water supply contains natural levels of fluoride of 0.1 to 0.4 milligrams per liter (mg/L) or parts per million. But still no low level of fluoride is safe. 98% of Europe is now free of fluoridated water. But today, two-thirds of US public drinking water is fluoridated including Massachusetts where I live. Federal agencies are forbidden from directly funding or implementing water fluoridation. Using of Federal Block Grant funds it is possible to fund water fluoridation which is prohibited by Federal law but it has never been addressed in the courts.

The first occurrence of fluoridated drinking water on Earth was found in
Germany `s Nazi prison camps so in W.W.II. Fluoride was used in atomic bomb as well as a weapon of mass control through water medication because it to communize the world.
Fluoride used by Nazis to sterilize inmates and make them docile.

Scientists who are anti- water fluoridation are subjected to unfair character assassination from people or groups who profit from the public `s ignorance as well as from their illnesses.

My family and I deserve to have our choice. Our civil right is violated by forced medication-we are swallowing bioactive substances on command!

For the second commentator who stated that the Ethiopian government has sole responsibility he or she sounds like my grandmather.It is a very naive and superficial perception.

What about for those past years of wrong doing against these innocent people? Since when the abuser like (HVA International) decide the amount of money is enough to compensate those victims? And where is the money? Was is it true that HVA gave money to Mengistu regime? Why HVA didn't gave money direct to the victims? Don't stand behind the abuser! We don't have to believe everything that we read. HVA didn't gave that statement under oath! Think deeply and wisely!


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