Fluoride Action Network

Ethiopia: Victims of Wonji sugar factories launch web site

Source: Ethiopian Review | September 11th, 2009 | By Dr. Ashagere Germow
Location: Ethiopia

In 1950’s, HVA International NV started to pioneer the sugar industry in Ethiopia. Wonji, Wonji/Shoa and Metahara sugar factories were established in 1954, 1960 and 1968. Wonji,Wonji/Shoa and Metehara Sugar Estates are located 110 km from Addis Ababa the capital city of Ethiopia. Wonji, Wonji/Shoa and Metehara are close to the Rift Valley where there are excess fluoride hot springs/volcanic rocks. Except HVA International administration and it’s Dutch employees the rest (Ethiopian) employees of the three sugar factories and their families had no knowledge of the existence of excess fluoride in their drinking water.

HVA International violated the trust of it’s employees and their families by withholding information of excess fluoride existence in the drinking water for 17 years. Sadly, HVA was providing safe drinking water to protect only it’s own citizens only, the Dutch. Secretly two treated water were planted inside their secluded fence where they lived called: ” Shibo Gibi” which means fenced area.

“The existence of ‘fluoride’ problem’ in the state was first recognized in 1957 when the children of the Dutch families had dental examination while on holiday in Holland. In 1962, two de-fluoridated plants were installed in the two factory villages where the Dutch families lived. In 1972 the existence of skeletal fluorosis in the estate was discovered. Between 1974 and 1976, de-fluoridated water was made available to all villages of the estate” (historical data were obtained in 1997 from records & files of WSSF.A review done by Genene Shifera,MD and Redda Tekle-Haimanot,MD FRCP(C),PhD 2)

Thousands of children and adults were and still are at risk almost four generations are affected from dental and skeletal fluorosis which is a bone disease caused by excessive consumption of fluoride. These three communities were exposed also to toxins emitted from the factory. Dust, gases and smoke had affected many people’s lungs and circulation. And the houses’ roofs were built from asbestos.To this day HVA International continues to be reluctant to admit violating the human rights of those poor voiceless Wonji/ Wonji/Shoa and Metehara residents.

Wonji, Wonji/Shoa and Metehara fluoride victims situation now is all more alarming as they are the most archaic human beings. The number of people leading “a painful and crippled life” from fluorosis has risen. Being disfigured and disabled, physiological and mental particularities had pernicious consequences such as suicide in some cases. Children were forced to abandon schooling because their deformed limbs could no longer take them to the secondary school.

Negative tendencies are traced out in finding a job, friendship and also a marriage because of the appearances of Wonji young adults. The only chance the youth has is to marry within their community that have the similarity to stained teeth and find a job in their community-in the three sugar factories.

Sugarcane cutters (unskilled laborers) wage average was US$0.40 cents a day (Revolutionary Ethiopia page 111,By Edmond J. Keller). Right now Wonji retirement wage ranges from 48-300 Birr a month (US $5.50–$34 dollars) Wonji victims have to support with that small amount of money their children and family members who are living with them.

As a result, timely and comprehensive, and especially prophylactic, medical services appear to be in urgent need of social, economic and medical assistance.

Please see the photo album of the victims, WSMPPA members, the administration staff of Wonji sugar factory and Almaz Mequanint and her husband Elias Gizaw who flew from USA to attend the wheelchairs distribution event in December 2007.