Eritrea is located in East Africa, more specifically the Horn of Africa, and is bordered on the northeast and east by the Red Sea. The country is virtually bisected by one of the world's longest mountain ranges, the Great Rift Valley, with fertile lands to the west and the descent to desert in the East. Off the sandy and arid coastline is situated the Dahlak Archipelago and its fishing grounds. The land to the south, in the highlands, is slightly drier and cooler. Eritrea at the southern end of the Red Sea is the home of the fork in the rift.The Afar Triangle or Danakil Depression of Eritrea is the probable location of a triple junction where three tectonic plates are pulling away from one another: the Arabian Plate, and the two parts of the African Plate (the Nubian and the Somali plate) splitting along the East African Rift Zone (USGS). The highest point of the country, Amba Soira, is located in the centre of Eritrea, at 3 018 metres (9,902 ft) above sea level.The main cities of the country are the capital city of Asmara and the port town of Asseb in the southeast, as well as the towns of Massawa to the east, and Keren to the north.EnvironmentEritrea formerly supported a large population of elephants. Ptolemaic kings of Egypt used it as a source of war elephants in the third century BC. Between 1955 and 2001 there were no reported sightings of elephant herds, and they were thought to have fallen victim to the war of independence. In December 2001 a herd of about 30, including 10 juveniles, was observed in the vicinity of the Gash River. The elephants seemed to have formed a symbiotic relationship with olive baboons. Is it estimated that there are around 100 elephants left in Eritrea, the most northerly of East Africa's elephants.In 2006, Eritrea announced it would become the first country in the world to turn its entire coast into an environmentally protected zone. The 1 347 km (837 mile) coastline, along with another 1 946 km (1,209-miles) of coast around its more than 350 islands, will come under governmental protection.EconomySee also: Eritrean Railway and Transport in Eritrea Like the economies of many other African nations, the economy is largely based on subsistence agriculture, with 80% of the population involved in farming and herding. The only natural disaster that sometimes affects Eritrea, drought, has often created trouble in the farming areas.The Eritrean-Ethiopian War severely hurt Eritrea's economy. GDP growth in 1999 fell to less than 1%, and GDP decreased by 8.2% in 2000. The May 2000 Ethiopian offensive into southern Eritrea caused some $600 million in property damage and loss, including losses of $225 million in livestock and 55,000 homes. The attack prevented planting of crops in Eritrea's most productive region, causing food production to drop by 62%.Even during the war, Eritrea developed its transportation infrastructure, asphalting new roads, improving its ports, and repairing war-damaged roads and bridges as a part of the Warsay Yika'alo Program. The most significant of these projects has been the building of a coastal highway of more than 500 km connecting Massawa with Asseb as well as the rehabilitation of the Eritrean Railway. The rail line now runs between the Port of Massawa and the capital Asmara.Eritrea's economic future remains mixed. The cessation of Ethiopian trade, which mainly used Eritrean ports before the war, leaves Eritrea with a large economic hole to fill. Eritrea's economic future depends upon its ability to master fundamental social problems like illiteracy, and low skills.Society´ Demographics of EritreaEritrean society is ethnically heterogeneous. Independent census has yet to be conducted but the Tigrinya and the Tigre people together make up about 80%. These form the bulk of the countries predominantly semitic population which are thought to have originated from massive migrations from Saba in Southern Arabia between 900 and 500 BC. The Sabean area in Eritrea is mainly to be found in the Kebessa highlands in central and northern Eritrea. There the Sabeans found the same geographical conditions as in their native Saba, suitable to terracing and their pre-existing agricultural modes of production. Later more recent migrations from Arabia includes the Arabic speaking Rashaida who arrived in Eritrea in the late 19th century and comprise less than 1% of the population.The rest of the population comprises the smaller nations of the Saho, Hedareb, Afar, Bilen who constitute the cushitic stock of the population and are thought to be some of the oldest inhabitants of the Horn of Africa region along with the nilotic peoples who are represented in Eritrea by the Kunama and Nara.Each nationality speaks a different native tongue but, typically, many of the minorities speak more than one language.There exist minorities of Italians and Ethiopian Tigrayans. Neither is generally given citizenship unless through marriage or even more rarely: having it conferred upon them by the State.The most recent addition to the nationalities of Eritrea is the Rashaida. The Rashaida came to Eritrea in the 19th century from the Arabian Coast. The Rashaida do not typically intermarry, are typically nomadic, and number approximately 61,000, less than 1% of the population.The Kunama are one of the earliest settled peoples in Eritrea. They adopted rain-fed agriculture and settled into communal villages in the 'lowlands' of Eritrea.Languages Many languages are spoken in Eritrea today. The two language families that most of the languages stem from are the Semitic and Cushitic families. The Semitic languages in Eritrea are Arabic (spoken natively by the Rashaida Arabs), Tigre, Tigrinya, and the newly recognized Dahlik; these languages (primarily Tigre and Tigrinya) are spoken as a first language by over 80% of the population. The Cushitic languages in Eritrea are just as numerous, including Afar, Beja, Blin, and Saho. Kunama and Nara are also spoken in Eritrea and belong to the Nilo-Saharan language family. English is spoken to a degree by more educated Eritreans, and there are still some speakers of Italian leftover from colonial times.The local Tigrinya and the wider Arabic language are the two predominant languages for official purposes.EducationThere are five levels of education in Eritrea: pre-primary, primary, middle, secondary, and post-secondary. There are nearly 238,000 students in the primary, middle, and secondary levels of education. There are approximately 824 schools in Eritrea and two universities (University of Asmara and the Institute of Science and Technology) as well as several smaller colleges and technical schools.One of the most important goals of Eritrea's education policy is to provide basic education in each of Eritrea's mother tongues, as well as to develop a self-motivated and conscientious population to fight poverty and disease. Furthermore it is tooled to produce a society that is equipped with the necessary skills to function with a culture of self-reliance in the modern economy.The education system in Eritrea is also designed to promote private sector schooling, equal access for all groups (i.e., prevent gender discrimination, ethnic discrimination, and class discrimination, etc.) and promote continuing education, both formally and informally.Barriers to education in Eritrea include traditional taboos, school fees (for registration and materials), and the opportunity costs of low-income households.ReligionEritrea has two dominant religions, Christianity and Islam. Muslims, who make up about 49% of the population predominantly follow Sunni Islam. The Christians (about 49%) consist primarily of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church, which is the local Oriental Orthodox church, but small groups of Roman Catholics, Protestants, and other denominations also exist.Since May 2002, the Government of Eritrea has officially recognized the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church, Sunni Islam, Catholicism, and the Evangelical Lutheran church. All other faiths and denominations are required to undergo a registration process that was so stringent as to effectively be prohibitive. Among other things, the Government's registration system requires religious groups to submit personal information on their membership to be allowed to worship. The few organisations that have met all of the registration requirements have still not received official recognition.Other faith groups such as the Jehovah's Witnesses, Bahá'í faith, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and numerous Protestant denominations are not registered and cannot worship freely. They have effectively been banned, and measures have been taken against their adherents. Many have been incarcerated for months or even years. None have been charged officially or given access to the judicial process. In its 2006 religious freedom report, the U.S. State Department for the third year in a row named Eritrea a "Country of Particular Concern," designating it one of the worst violators of religious freedom in the world.There is one last native Jew in Eritrea, formerly from a community of hundreds in Asmara, whose ancestors had crossed from Aden in the late 19th century.Culture Cuisine of Eritrea, Literature of Eritrea, and Music of Eritrea The Eritrean region has traditionally been a nexus for trade throughout the world. Because of this, the influence of diverse cultures can be seen throughout Eritrea. Today, the most obvious influences in the capital, Asmara, are that of Italy. Throughout Asmara, there are small cafes serving beverages common to Italy. In Asmara, there is a clear merging of the Italian colonial influence with the traditional Tigrinya lifestyle. In the villages of Eritrea, these changes never took hold.In the cities, before the Occupation and during the early years, the import of Bollywood films was commonplace, while Italian and American films were available in the cinemas as well. In the 1980s and since Independence, however, American films have certainly become the most common. Vying for market share are films by local producers, who have slowly come into their own. The global broadcast of Eri-TV has brought cultural images to the large Eritrean population in the Diaspora who frequents the country every summer. Successful domestic films are produced by government and independent studios with revenue from ticket sales typically covering the production costs. Traditional Eritrean dress is quite varied with the Kunama traditionally dressing in brightly colored clothes while the Tigrinya and Tigre traditionally dress in bright white costumes, resembling traditional Oriental and Indian clothing. The Rashaida women are ornately bejeweled and scarfed.Popular sports in Eritrea are football and bicycle racing. In recent years Eritrean athletes have seen increasing success in the international arena.Almost unique on the African continent, the Tour of Eritrea is a bicycle race from the hot desert beaches of Massawa, up the winding mountain highway with its precipitous valleys and cliffs to the capital Asmara. From there, it continues downwards onto the western plains of the Gash-Barka Zone, only to return back to Asmara from the south. This is, by far, the most popular sport in Eritrea, though, as of late long-distance running has garnered its own supporters. The momentum for long-distance running in Eritrea can be seen in the successes of Zersenay Tadesse and Mebrahtom (Meb) Keflezighi, both Olympians.
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