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Eritrea - People

According to the United Nations, in 2004 Eritreas population reached 4.3 million, with an annual growth rate of 2.6 percent. Twenty percent of Eritreans lived in urban areas, which experienced an average annual growth rate of 5.8 percent between 2000 and 2005. Population density was 36.7 persons per square kilometer, with the greatest concentration in the highlands and the lowest along the Red Sea littoral. At the end of 2004, nearly 120,000 Eritreans were refugees abroad, mostly in Sudan.

Arabic, English, and Tigrinya are the three official languages in Eritrea. Arabic and Tigrinya are the most widely used languages and, along with Italian, are used in commercial and public business. English is also widely spoken and is the medium of instruction in middle and secondary schools and in higher education. Other languages spoken in Eritrea are Afar (Denkali), Amharic, Beja (Hadareb), Bilen, Kunama, Nera, Saho, and Tigre. Languages in Eritrea belong to one of three linguistic families: Semitic (Amharic, Arabic, Tigre, Tigrinya); Cushitic (Afar, Beja, Bilen, Saho); and Nilotic (Kunama and Nera). Linguistic categories do not always coincide with ethnic identities; for example, the Beni Amir include both Beja- and Tigre-speakers.

The Eritrean government recognizes nine major ethnic groups in Eritrea, although the ethnic and linguistic context is complex. The Tigray and Tigre-speakers (such as the Mensa, the Marya, and others) constitute 80 percent of the population. The other seven groups are the Afar (Denakil), Bilen, Beni Amir (Beja), Kunama, Nera (Nara, Barya), Rashaida, and Saho.

The Tigray live on the central and southern plateau and are agriculturalists. The Tigre-speaking groups inhabit the northern hills and lowlands and are mostly pastoralists. The Afar, nomadic herdsmen, live along the Red Sea coast. The Bilen are agriculturalists in the Keren area. The Beni Amir are pastoralists who live in the western lowlands and along the border with Sudan. The Kunama occupy the region between the Gash and Setit rivers. The Nera reside north of the Gash around Barentu. The Rashaida, Arabic-speaking bedouin from Saudi Arabia, live along the Sudan border. The Saho, farmers or herdsmen depending on elevation, live on the escarpment and coastal plain southeast of Asmara.

The human rights situation prompts many Eritreans to leave their country. Former members of the Government, EDF members or football players, are the more well-known cases among the thousands of people fleeing Eritrea every year. In its report Asylum Trends 2014, UNHCR stated that the increase in the number of Eritrean asylum-seekers observed in recent years continued into 2014 reaching unprecedented levels among the group of 44 industrialised countries. The figure was at its highest with 48,400 new asylum applications registered during the year, thereby more than doubling compared to 2013 (22,300). This made Eritrea the fifth largest producer of asylum seekers.

At the elementary level between 39 and 57 percent of school-aged children attend primary school; only 21 percent attend secondary school. Student-teacher ratios are high: 45 to 1 at the elementary level and 54 to 1 at the secondary level. There are an average 63 students per classroom at the elementary level and 97 per classroom at the secondary level. Learning hours at school are often less than four hours per day. Skill shortages are present at all levels of the education system, and funding for and access to education vary significantly by gender (with dropout rates much higher for girls) and location. Illiteracy estimates for Eritrea range from around 40 percent to as high as 70 percent.

Eritrea remains one of the poorest countries in the world. About one-third of the population lives in extreme poverty, and more than half survives on less than US$1 per day. Health care and welfare resources generally are believed to be poor, although reliable information about conditions is often difficult to obtain.

Eritrea has an epidemiological profile that places its health status among the worst in the world. The rate of prevalence of human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS), although low by sub-Saharan African standards, was high enough at 2.7 percent in 2003 to be considered a generalized epidemic. In the decade since 1995, however, impressive results have been achieved in lowering maternal and child mortality rates and in immunizing children against childhood diseases. In 2003 average life expectancy was slightly less than 53 years, according to the WHO.

In 2004, 44.8 percent of the population (male 998,404; female 993,349) was less than 15 years of age, 51.9 percent (male 1,140,892; female 1,166,481) was 1564, and those aged 65 and older accounted for 3.3 percent of the population (male 72,776; female 75,405). In the overall population, there were 0.99 males for every female. The number of births per 1,000 population was 39; the number of deaths, 13.4. The infant mortality rate per 1,000 live births was 75.6. The total fertility rate was 5.7 children born per woman. Life expectancy at birth was estimated at 52.7 years (51.3 years for men, 54.1 years for women).

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Page last modified: 29-06-2015 20:56:43 ZULU