By Ataklti Tsegay Tesfay,MD
Despite the continuous record of human rights violation and different political turbulences in the country, Ethiopia was showing an ascent on its economic development for about a decade. The projection of the government and other trusted independent agencies was to see the country in the group of middle-income nations of the world in the coming decade. Yet the confluence of rapid urban expansion, on-going conflicts within Ethiopia and in the region and high levels of vulnerability to on-going drought and seasonal floods continued to generate numerous new displacements every year. At the same time, the gap between the few privileged entities and the unfortunate majority continued to grow. Significantly, the country has invested in progressive social protection programmes and sustainable development for a number of years and is making progress in addressing a number of drivers of displacement. But the number of internal displacements remains persistently high with a particularly alarming level of new displacements recorded for 2017 .
Ethiopia is a part of the “cradle of ancient civilization” and is one of the few countries to never been colonized. This has not, however, prevented the country from suffering ethnic conflict and political instability, accompanied by social crises, including large scale displacement. In recent years, Ethiopia has been suffering from internal displacement because of different reasons. Ethnic violence, conflict over resource and local boundaries, protracted drought, seasonal flooding and so on. Even under such a circumstances it continued to become the largest refugee-hosting country on the continent .
In the month of April 2018, a new prime minister sworn and took office with promises of bringing substantial change to the overall life of the country through “political reform”. The inaugural speech of the new prime minister ignited hope in the heart of millions of Ethiopians. The social chaos that ruined the country for the past three or four years was expected to end. However, the humanitarian crises in Ethiopia significantly deteriorated, experiencing an increase in the number of internally displaced people . The continued inter-communal/ethnic violence along border areas of Oromia and Somali regions and The emergence of conflict in West Guji and Gedeo, situated along the border between Oromia region and SNNPR region are the major inter-communal/ethnic violence regions that have contributed to the significant increase in the number of internally displaced people in the country. The conflict in the Gedeo and West Guji zones of the SNNP and Oromia Regions displaced more than 950,000 innocent citizens, and the ethnic conflict in the Somali region that took place in August 2018 forced more than 140,000 people to leave their homes and to reside in open fields, without proper support. It is also known that the conflict along the regional Somali-Oromia borders, which intensified in September 2017, led to the displacement of around 1 million people from both regions . In August 2018, with the violence having subsided in the Gedeo and West Guji zones of the SNNP and Oromia Regions respectively, the Government of Ethiopia has been actively insisting the displaced people to return to their homes.
‘Ethiopia’s Neglected Crisis’, by IRIN journalist Tom Gardner, 28 Feb 2019 indicates that the Ethiopian government pressurized ethnic Gedeos to return to their homes, in spite of the unsolved and legitimate concerns of the people. The Gedeos tried to comply with the order of the government. However, another mass displacement occurred in June which was for the second time shortly after return to their domicile. In both times, the sole cause of their displacement was ethnic clash and violence, which is beyond control of the government. The New action plan drawn up in February by the National Disaster Risk Management Commission (NDRMC) aimed to resettle or return those people to their origin in 60 days, as the rainy season is approaching. The government expects displaced Gedeos to return home, without a feasible plan to enable them to return to “normalcy”. Aid workers said that food assistances for the IDPs in several regions, especially near the border with the west Guji have been blocked since August 2018, in order to force their return to the Oromia region. They also say they are worried about the spread of infectious diseases. According to IRIN visit to the site, he observed that families of up to 10 individuals were living in wooden shelters well below the UN standards for camp shelter space. Many children had swollen bellies/sign of malnutrition/ as well as scabies, diarrhea and other indications of unhygienic living conditions . It’s only at the beginning of 2019 that humanitarian agencies were allowed to carry out formal verification process before rendering distribution of aid.
From 10 to 12 December 2018, UNHCR and partners conducted a rapid survey in 74 IDP sites in Gedeo and Guji zones to assess the views of the IDPs on the possibility of return to areas of origin and to ensure a voluntary and principled return process. The result of the survey indicated that 94% of the interviewed IDPs preferred not to return to their homes before peace and tranquility is restored in the respective regions. On top of the security threat for their lives, they raised concerns of lack of sufficient support, and the difficulty to live in burned and damaged homes . The existence of such complicated crises made the IDPs feel uncomfortable to return to their homes immediately. It is said that some non-governmental partners are closely lobbying the Government agencies to allocate budget and to restore peace and security to make the returnees safe, and to afford them additional time, instead of pushing them to return, focusing only on addressing the political aspect of the crises. They are insisting that the government should design and implement a lasting peace and security plan to make sure that such crises will not happen again.
Similar displacements are also taking place in the northern part of the country. A report released by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in January 2019 disclosed that Tigray region experienced a 60% increase in the influx of displaced population from other parts of the country over the past two months. In this regard, 72,113 displaced citizens of Tigray Ethnic origin are currently sheltered in 149 transitional shelters in Tigray region. Women and minors under 18 years of age account for 42% and 37% of the total number of displaced respectively. Ethnic conflict remained as the primary cause of displacement for an estimated 98 % of the displaced population [5 and 6].
A report from European Commission’s Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations/DG-ECHO/ published in 25 Feb 2019 indicated that Clashes over the first 2-3 weeks of Feb 2019 in North Gondar have raised the number of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Amhara region to an estimated 90,000. Of those, 40,000 of them are displaced in relation to the conflict between ethnic Kemants and Amharas that took place in North Gondar zone. Dozens of deaths and extended burning of houses and villages have been reported. Violence and displacement have been occurring particularly since November 2018. Displaced people in the region also came from Oromia regional state mainly from Buno Bedele, Jimma, Nekemt and Kelem Wellega zones, Benishangul Gumz, Kemash zone, SNNP (Bench Maji zone) and Somali regions since October 2017. Overall, the IDPs lack adequate access to basic needs such as food, water, shelter. It is also difficult to provide those people with sanitation, education, health and resources that are vital for their daily living. On February 15/2019, the Amhara regional state announced that the humanitarian crisis in the region is beyond its response capacity and readiness. Having said that, the regional government pleaded for support from indigenous and international humanitarian communities. Because of the deterioration of the security of the region, though it was not categorized as a state of emergency, a strict decree similar to state of emergency was declared in the West & Central Gondar as well as the city of Gondar. The regional state requested the federal government to deploy soldiers from the ministry of defense to implement such decree, in the region.
In general, in 2018 the Ethiopia became a leading country with fastest growing internally displaced population (IDPs) in the world. More than 80 per cent of the near 3 million IDPs were displaced due to ethnic conflicts and inter-communal violence. The rest fall under other factors of displacement like protracted drought and seasonal flooding. Women and the youth account for 51% of the total displaced population in the country, calling for gender and youth-sensitive programing in addressing the displacement crisis such as prevention of gender-based violence, availing education, vocational training and other livelihood opportunities.
The preliminary report of The Government-led multi-sector and multi-agency needs assessment/conducted from 17 Nov to 15 Dec 2018 in all regions/ indicate that the level of humanitarian needs in 2019 will remain similar to that of 2018 mainly due to mass internal displacements in various parts of the country, and related humanitarian and protection needs.
Additional concerns are the incapability of the IDP-hosting communities to accommodate the additional new consumers on top of the already existing scarcity of resource. It is obvious that those hosting communities will need sustainable assistance in 2019. The majority of the displaced population in the country is residing with host communities (37%), which are often themselves vulnerable; or are settled in make-shift camp sites (33%) . the unrests have disrupted basic public services and upset livelihoods, contributing to the deterioration of the food, health and nutrition in some areas. The massive conflict-induced displacement since April 2018 in different parts of the country has strained water and health care services in host communities, which were already in deficit prior to the displacement. Even prior to the displacement crisis, there was widespread food insecurity and acute malnutrition in most of the IDP-hosting communities.
Meanwhile, humanitarian needs resulting from direct/immediate drought impact have decreased because of the climate induced displacements shown a slight improvement declining from 531,001 to 498,417 people. Despite the overall good seasonal rainfall, food insecurity and malnutrition remained high in 2018, and is projected to remain the same or worst in 2019 due to slow or limited recovery. This is a result of the severe impact of two years of back-to-back (2016/2017) drought, as well as failed rains in pocket areas of the country in 2018. Between January and October 2018, at least 280,892 children under-5 were treated for severe acute malnutrition, representing 90.3 per cent of the projected admissions for this period based on the annual target of 370,000. Admissions for acute malnutrition treatment remained high in Somali and Oromia regions. Also during the same period, at least 1 million moderately malnourished children under-5 were treated, representing 64 per cent of the annual target. Even in a ‘normal’, non-drought year, there are approximately 2.2 million moderately malnourished children under-5 and pregnant and lactating women; as well as 300,000 children under-5 that are severely acutely malnourished. The annual projection for children treated for severe acute malnutrition (SAM) in 2018 has increased from 350,000 to 370,000 during the 2018 Humanitarian and Disaster Resilience Plan (HDRP) mid-year review. Similarly, the projection for children and pregnant and breastfeeding mothers treated for moderate acute malnutrition (MAM) was increased from 3.5 million to 4.16 million, with increased coverage of support provided for IDPs living within and beyond priority one woredas. Looking at IDP-specific data, 260,000 IDP children under-5 were treated for MAM, while 201,000 IDP pregnant and breastfeeding mothers were treated for acute malnutrition. Food insecurity and malnutrition remain a high concern due to protracted drought conditions and massive internal displacements resulting from inter-communal conflict in various pockets of the country.
Disease outbreaks such as acute watery diarrhea (AWD), mainly due to poor water and sanitation facilities in IDP sites and in drought and flood-impacted communities were also identified as areas requiring continued prevention and response measures in 2019. According to the latest displacement tracking matrix (DTM 14) covering November-December 2018, 92 per cent of the internally displaced people in the country do not have access to safe drinking water at 5 liters per person per day; while 61 per cent of the IDPs do not have access to sanitation facilities, posing health outbreak risks.
Over all the public unrest that took place in many cities in the country between 2014 and 2018 was expected to bring a social and political reform that leads the country in to a better status. Many Ethiopians were hoping to see some kind of transitional that could design a road map to rescue the country from disintegration and further crises.
The ruling front that led the country for the past twenty seven years did not want to establish a transitional government formed by different stakeholders. Instead a group of politicians from that same front came as a faction and made some significant changes. The release of prominent politicians, journalists and activists ignited hope in the heart of Ethiopians. The sense of national unity and democracy that was preached by the current prime minister was taken as a green light to permanent liberation of the country.
However, such hope did not last long. The government began to deal with violence and lawlessness as an arbiter, not as a government responsible to make sure that all citizens are protected, by law. The leniency of the government led to the establishment of gangs everywhere in the country and mob justice replaced courts and police services. The government became incapable or unwilling to enforce law. Such unprecedented decision of the government encouraged criminal gangs to loot, rape robe and kill innocent citizens, like that of Burayu, small town near the capital.
The government also entered in to a routine of attacking and blaming other social groups, instead of conferring with the public to resolve the crises. Many Ethiopians lost hope and remained uncertain about the future. Some criminal gangs also continued to cause clashes between ethnic groups, which will be unlikely to end up soon.
It’s unfortunate to have such huge number of internally displaced people at home which are facing hunger and disease. From my articles review I learned that the Ethiopian Government clearly understood the magnitude of humanitarian/ health crises that the country is facing. But, I feel that enough due attention was not given proportional to the degree of the problem; which I believe shall be started from acknowledging the huge magnitude of the problem followed by trying to mobilizing resources and involving international humanitarian and aid organizations in overcoming the problem. Keeping peace and security throughout the country, and urgent humanitarian/ health assistances to the IDPs shall be one of the few government’s top priority as both issues are a matter of survival for the citizens. That is why The Guardian on its editorial opinion on Ethiopia, published on January 7, 2019 says
‘’Change is welcome, but must be secure”
In the process of such crises women and young children are the most vulnerable. If the handling of the government does not change dramatically, it will be sad to see serious social crises of its kind, in the coming season. The government needs to act swiftly and take some magical measures to save the lives of millions of Ethiopians, who potentially in a dangerous situation.
To be continued
- European Civil protection and Humanitarian Aid Operation/ECHO/- 21 January 2018
- Danish Refugee Council: Regional Mixed Migration secretariat, Horn of Africa and Yemen, Update May 2016
- UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, Operational Update, September 2018.
- Ethiopia’s Neglected Crisis; No easy way Home for doubly displaced Gedeos. Report from IRIN. 28 Feb 2019
- IOM-OM: Ethiopia-Displacement and Tracking/DTR/ Report 15,Jan-Feb 2019.
- The Reporter: IDPs continue to climb in Ethiopia, 19 Jan 2019. By Dawit Endeshaw
- Report: European Commission’s Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operatio/DG-ECHO/, Published on 25 Feb 2019.
- Ethiopia Humanitarian response Situation Report No. 20, January 2019.
- UNOCHA, Humanitarian Bulletin ,Ethiopia, Issue #3| 04-17 February 2019
- IOM-OM: Ethiopia-Displacement and Tracking/DTR/ Report 14, Nov-Dec 2018.