/ 29 August 2007

Ethiopia welcomes millennium, not its homeless

Thousands of homeless people will be moved from the capital to the countryside before next month’s millennium celebration and provided help with food, shelter and medicine, a development group said on Tuesday.

Homelessness is a huge problem in Addis Ababa, a city of five million where an estimated 90 000 live on the streets. Beggars are a common sight, with everyone from young children to the elderly seeking money or scraps of food.

Ethiopia — which is celebrating its third millennium in September in accordance with the Coptic calendar, which is about seven years behind the more common Gregorian — is planning a 10-hour, $1,6-million party in Meskel Square to mark the milestone. The celebrations are expected to draw tourists from around the world.

Elshadai Relief and Development Association, a local group that receives government funding, said $930 000 has been set aside to move about 5 700 people out of the capital in time for the celebrations.

The group said most are from the northern Tigray region and that Elshadai is simply sending them back home.

”It’s good for the whole world, not only for Ethiopia,” Elshadai spokesperson Blen Yehdego said Tuesday. ”Nobody wants to have this miserable life for their citizens.”

Yehdego said only those who volunteer will be moved.

Government officials did not immediately return calls for comment about the project, and calls to Hope Enterprises, a homeless advocacy group, were not returned on Tuesday.

Elshadai bills itself as a development group that works for the ”well-being of children and sustainable community development”. It also conducts research on street children and Aids. — Sapa-AP