A deadly sickness is sweeping across Ethiopia – and no one knows how or why it came to be

For most of this month the news has been full of the coronavirus outbreak in China, and the possibility this will turn into a pandemic like the Spanish flu’ outbreak in 1919 which killed millions of people worldwide. First we need to allay freas spread by scaremongering propaganda aimed at diverting public scrutiny for several very unpleasant and undemocratic agendas currently being implemented by the ruling elites. We are talking about the cashless society, the mass migration policy and the suppression of free speech amongst other attacks on individual liberty. Spanish ‘flu, occuring as it did in the wake of World War One rampaged through European societies in which many people were poorly nourished, in which standards of food hygiene, public sanitation and healthcare, which a century ago were poor by modern standards anyway, were still recovering from a destructive war, and when people were much less well educated on how to deal with illness or take steps to avoid catching it.

Coronavirus is not likely to wipe out millions of people in the developed world, if people like you and I take sensible precautions, should we be unfortunate enough to develop the disease we are unlikely to experience effects worse than a heavy cold. It is in third world nations where the infection, aidfed by poor nutrition, overcrowded living arrangements, poor sewerage systems etc. is likely to wreak havoc. And coronavirus is not the only health threat the third world is currently facing.

A “mystery” disease is currently epidemic in rural communities across eastern Ethiopia’s Somali region. A report published in The Guardian reveals locals and officials believe that this deadly mystery disease may be linked to a nearby Chinese natural gas project. Though this claim has been repudiated by government officials in Addis Ababa they have also denied the existence of a health and environmental crisis, as well as issues with large-scale energy projects, in the region.

The natural gas extraction project in question is operated by Poly-GCL, a Chinese oil and gas company that has been investing heavily in East Africa for some time. The company has been involved in talks with Ethiopia and Djibouti government agencies to build a 767-kilometer (or 476-mile) gas pipeline that will run between the two countries. In the region of Ogaden Basin, the Chinese engineers have been prospecting for oil and gas since 2014 and are planning to start commercial production soon.

Something in the water?

For local community leader Khadar Abdi Abdullahi and many other people the disease can be traced back to hazardous chemical waste that has contaminated their water supply and is linked to the gas extraction project.

“It is the toxins that flow in the rainfall from Calub [gas field] that are responsible for this epidemic,” Khadar told The Guardian. He had been discharged from hospital shortly before the report was published, after collapsing from a fever. Before that, his eyes and his palms first turned yellow, he was bleeding from his nose and mouth, and he was swollen all over. By the time he was released, his doctors said there was nothing they can do for him.

Khadar died shortly after his release from hospital.

In a statement, Ketsela Tadesse of the federal ministry of mines and petroleum said that the government is unaware of any reports of spillages in the Ogaden Basin, adding that, in any case, there were “there are no permanent settlers” in nearby areas.

An adviser to the Somali regional government says otherwise. In the report, he said the region is now experiencing new diseases “that have never been seen before in this area.”

“Without any public health protection, it is very clear that Poly-GCL uses chemicals that are detrimental to human health,” he added, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Khadar wasn’t the first in his neighbourhood to succumb to the mystery disease. Other locals in the area have died from the same symptoms – swelling, fever, sleeplessness, yellowing eyes and palms, and lack of appetite. According to Xuseen Sheekh Siraad, the chairman of Dhoobaweyn district (where Ogaden Basin is located), there have been at least 2,000 similar deaths since 2014. At the time of writing the cause of the disease has not been identified.

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