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Ethiopia Begins Second Phase of Controversial Relocation Program

The Ethiopian government is entering the second phase of its three-year program to voluntarily relocate up to two million people to what it says is more fertile land.

The manager of the Ethiopian Forum for Social Studies, Dessalegn Rahmato, says 50,000 or so households were relocated last year, and the preliminary results are not encouraging.

"There are a lot of problems," he said. "The places they have been settled in are lowland areas, difficult areas, areas which are hazardous to health, you know, malaria and so on. Many have not received the basic package of support that they are supposed to have received, and the amount of land that they have been distributed is not really any better or any bigger than the one they had already in their original home."

The Ethiopian government's plan to resettle about two million people across the country so that they can farm on fertile or unused land is part of Ethiopia's plan to increase the country's food security and wean it off international aid.

The United Nations says one-fifth of Ethiopia's 70 million people rely on food aid. For the past 15 years, 700,000 metric tons of food aid have been imported annually.

But international aid agencies, diplomats and others have criticized the program, saying resettlement sites are isolated, disease-ridden, and lack the proper health and other infrastructure.

Mr. Rahmato argues that fertile, high-quality land in Ethiopia is very scarce. He says the land has been degraded over time because of deforestation, soil erosion, removal of the vegetation cover, and overpopulation.

He says the government should be looking at other ways to help Ethiopians.

"A strategy that would enable farmers to give up agriculture and move onto jobs in the modern sector would be a better option," said Mr. Rahmato. "If you compare the standard of living of urban people with rural people, at all levels, urban people are better off."

A spokesman for Ethiopia's Ministry of Information, Zemedkun Tekle, says the relocation of the 50,000 households is going well, contrary to reports from aid agencies and others.

"The peoples who are resettled are starting to live their own life," he said. "They are producing [on] their own land. So, what we have seen in the pilot program is very encouraging. Every possible effort is underway to facilitate every infrastructure, in order to make the life of the re-settlers appropriate."

Mr. Tekle says most of Ethiopia is malaria-infested, so that is a problem everyone has to deal with.

According to Mr. Tekle, agriculture is the key to Ethiopia's development.

"Eighty-five percent of our population lives in rural areas based on, you know, agricultural activities," he explained. "The capital we have for development is our human resource[s] and the land we have."

This is Ethiopia's second resettlement program. The former regime resettled about 600,000 during its 17 years of rule, which ended in 1991.