Ethiopia: Victims of Wonji sugar factories launch web site

Victims of the Wonji and Metahara sugar factories in Ethiopia have launched a new web site.

A brief History of the Wonji victims

Dr. Ashagere Germow

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.

Click here to visit their web site.

9 comments on “Ethiopia: Victims of Wonji sugar factories launch web site

  1. nameless Ethiopian on

    According to international accounting standards the Dutch company must have set aside funds for potential legal actions that might come from past activities. One needs good lawyers on this matter, and the victimes must get proper compensation.

    • marius on

      HVA has been sold, taken over, resold and legally does not even exist anymore, I fully agree with being responsible for its actions, however see no chances of ever getting any compensation for past activities!

  2. on

    I visited Wonji Shoa Sugar Factory in 2003 while making a radio programme. Though the fluor excess was apparent in people’s teeth – either extremely white or completely rotten – this is certainly news. HVA having helt back information to its Ethiopian workers is a serious offense if proven true. Have any charges been pressed as of yet?

    Since 1994 HVA International is a member of the Koop Group, a major Dutch engineering and contracting company with an annual turnover of some 800 million US dollars.

  3. Sven on

    I visited Wonji in 2007 and it was quite obvious that all the workers were living in sub standard conditions. Being paid less than 10 birr a day and living in asbestos shanties two metres squared for six people. It is apauing that this is not a more widely known issue.

  4. tokochaw on

    My parents live there for more than half a century in Wonji and ofcourse all my siblings were a victim of this excess fluoride. It is surpeising for me to hear such a painfull story. The dutch poeple indeed commited a huge crime against our poeple. The should be taken to the court. It is known that they are the most cruel people in the world.

    • marius on

      even the Dutch, born and growing up in Metahara are having the same huge dental problems like all that have been exposed to excess fluoride in drinking water. I have no idea if info was withheld, but all “Dutch born” there have the same problem as the Ethiopians have. Dental care is a nightmare, and trust me, there is no compensation for the Dutch side either.!

  5. senait afework on

    we lived in wonji shoa, i was born there, its very sad what happened to us,the dutch should take responsbility

  6. Almaz Mequanint on

    It doesn’t matter if HVA International existed or not The Netherlands government should be held accountable for it’s companies abroad who pollute & exploit. This is environmental crime that has no moral standards that is still accountable of many lives in Ethiopia by making huge profit at the cost of the innocent people.

    Foreign companies should not use double standards in Third world. HVA built roofs made of asbestos in Wonji,Wonji/Shoa & Metehara while it’s forbidden in The Netherlands. My father died from lung disease complications apparently it was mesothelioma caused by asbestos. Recently, in June 23,2012 I attended a talk show conducted by Mr. Kibret Mekonnen in The Hague regarding this case & hopefully we, Ethiopians/Ducth citizens who are affected by this horrific pollution will get justice!

  7. Abdi on

    I was born and grew up in metahara. All my geneqration were victams of excess floride in the water. While growing up we knew what causes the decaying of our tooth but we didn’t have solutions so does nazret, wolonchiti, awash, dagahboor. Since i left metahara when i was teenager my tooth got better so does my sibilings tooth.

    Metahara and Wonji had good living facilities compared to the other ethiopian cities : schools were beautiful surounded by gardens and trees, well maintained soccer fields, and affordable movie theaters. Forget the floride i have a good memory of metahara…..

    Not only in third world even in the states and europe, industrial waste was a huge problem in the health of the society and it is hard to win againest capitalists.

    Our responsiblityis to make sure the government enforces environmetal regulations without taking the job away.

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