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Lifewater Mourns with Ethiopians as Tragedy Strikes

Bishoftu, Ethiopia – On October 2, 2016 millions of Oromo people gathered from around the country to celebrate the end of the rainy season in an annual festival called Irreecha, much like American Thanksgiving. Irreecha is hosted every year in the town of Bishoftu, about 25 miles outside of Addis Ababa (the nation’s capital).

Sadly, the peaceful demonstration of the Oromo people during Irreecha turned deadly as a stampede broke out. Sources report that during the demonstration, some demonstrators started to protest and shout anti-government slogans, to which the police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. Some say protesters threw bottles and rocks at police, while others say the protest was entirely peaceful. As thousands fled, many people fell down steep ravines or were crushed by the crowd.

The Oromia regional government reports the death toll at 52, but some protestors insist there were hundreds lost. More information can be found here: BBC

The Oromo people are the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, and have been protesting what they consider economic and political marginalization by the Ethiopian government. Over the past two years, many protests have turned deadly. What are the protests about?

Bishoftu is also the same town where Lifewater is currently training Ethiopian staff to better serve communities in the region. All Lifewater Ethiopia and Headquarters staff and volunteers are safe, but their hearts are broken and their spirits heavy about this tragedy on Sunday.

Irreecha, a time of thanksgiving to God, has turned into a sorrowful point in Ethiopia’s history. As Paul instructed the early Church in Rome, we will mourn with those who mourn. Lifewater Ethiopia Country Director Zerihun Hailu asks, “Please join us in mourning for the lives lost. Pray comfort over the families and healing for those hurt. We are asking God’s presence to be known by those who are suffering.”

As the Government mourning period ends, the WASH training continues this week in Bishoftu, now with renewed purpose. Justin Narducci, President/CEO of Lifewater International says, “We have been mourning with Zerihun, our Ethiopian staff, and the Oromo people today. We have been praying for peace. And we also remain steadfast in serving the most vulnerable people, including the unreached and underserved families and communities in the Oromia region, until every child has safe water.”