Ethiopian students arrive in UAE as part of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) cultural exchange program called UNESCO Biosphere Excursion Program.

By Silvia Radan |

It was a learning experience for eight students from Ethiopia who arrived in the UAE last Thursday.

The students arrived as part of the UNESCO Biosphere Excursion Program for environmental education and cultural exchange.

Last year, a few Emirati students visited two Ethiopian biosphere reserves, and now it’s the turn of Ethiopian students to study UAE’s ecosystem.

“We went to Abu Dhabi’s Marawah marine biosphere reserve, which was amazing! We visited a 7,000 years old archaeological site there and also went to Bu Tinah island, where we talked to the rangers about the island’s ecosystem and what is being done to preserve it,” Haftom Hagos, a Masters student at the Mekle University in Ethiopia, told Khaleej Times.

“Here, in the UAE, I was impressed how well the ecological site are managed! In Ethiopia, we have a lot more nature, but we could do better to manage our ecological sites,” he added. The Ethiopian students were to visit the Wadi Wurayah in Fujairah, which nurtures hopes of becoming a UNESCO protected biosphere reserve.

During a meeting at Zayed University between the Ethiopian and Emirati students in the UNESCO Biosphere Excursion Program, Abdulkadir Risku, the Ethiopian ambassador in Abu Dhabi, pointed out that relations and investments between the

two countries are growing.

“Trade between Ethiopia and UAE has grown from Dh123 millions in 2002 to Dh1 billion in 2014, food security being one of the key investments,” said Risku.

“We are also hoping to sign agreements soon on agricultural protection and labor exchange,” he added.

Pressing issues

One of Ethiopia’s most pressing environmental issues is deforestation. Less than half a century ago, 40 per cent of Ethiopia was covered by forests, yet, to create agricultural fields, these forests were cut down to nearly three per cent.

The result was severe weather changes, floods and landslides.

“The government has taken measures and things have improved. I believe we came back to 10 per cent forests, but more efforts and solutions are required,” said Hagos.

One of the few remaining old forests of Ethiopia is the Kafa Biosphere Reserve, the birthplace of the wild Arabica coffee and home to numerous rare and endangered animal and plant species.

Kafa, along with Lake Tana Biosphere Reserve, were the main sites visited by the UAE students.

“It was an amazing experience, full of cultural exchange and interaction with local families. We went hiking, river crossing, had a lot of daily activities,” said Khoulood Salem, one of the three students of Zayed University’s Sustainability Sciences and Humanities college, who paid a visit to Ethiopia.

“For me, the biggest learning outcome of this trip is that communities are intertwined with the environment and you cannot help one and neglect the other,” she added.

Abrar Maddi, another Zayed University student on the trip, was too touched by the experience.

“I can sympathize with the people cutting down the forest in Ethiopia because they do it for survival, to feed their families. Of course, sustainable solutions are needed to address this problem.

In my view, nobody invests positively in these areas. Investments could help the livelihoods of people, economic growth and protect the environment.”

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