The Long and Winding Road to Peace: Ethiopia’s Internally Displaced Persons

 

Addis Ababa - In Awassa, the capital of one of Ethiopia’s nine ethnically-defined regions, the peaceful waters of Lake Awassa welcome tourists and business travellers alike. Less apparent is imagining that a few hours to the south of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ (SNNP) region, a humanitarian crisis is unfolding due to inter-communal conflict.

 

SNNPR has the largest number of rural dwellers out of Ethiopia’s population of over 100 million people.

 

The Gedeo community from the Gedeo Zone in SNNPR have traditionally shared land with Oromo communities in West Guji zone, Oromia. However, recent politically-charged and resource-related tensions have altered relations between Gedeos and Oromos.

 

In April 2018, inter-communal violence resulting from these inter-ethnic tensions broke out between neighbouring Gedeo and Guji communities, south of Awassa – along the border between SNNP and Oromia regions.

 

Since last year, nearly a million people have fled their homes due to fighting and insecurity, and over 500,000 individuals remain displaced in the area, the majority living with local host communities.

 

In addition to its status as having the largest numbers of migrant movements in the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia now also accounts for 2,227,109 internally displaced persons (IDPs), according to IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) Round 15 assessment conducted in January-February 2019.

 

In July 2018, IOM Ethiopia launched an appeal for USD 22.2 million meant to cover critical humanitarian assistance. Since then IOM staff have been on the ground every day assisting those in need of shelter, non-food items, as well as Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) services.

 

During a recent visit to SNNPR, an IOM team led by Site Management Support officer Isabel Skrine arrived in the town of Dilla in Gedeo zone, located south of Awassa in SNNPR.

 

Dilla is a hub for humanitarian agencies coordinating assistance within the zone. Here non-food items donated by government agencies such as the UK Department for International Development (DFID), are stocked in a UN-managed warehouse prior to being transported to distribution sites.

 

After Dilla, the team reaches the town of Gedeb, also in SNNPR, which houses the highest concentration IDPs in the country -  tens of thousands, from the conflict-affected border areas. IOM recently constructed emergency and communal shelters for IDPs to assist in protecting these populations from the August rain. Blankets were distributed to over 50,000 people.

 

Continuing another three hours south of Dilla, the team entered West Guji Zone in Oromia region across the border from SNNPR. Kercha woreda within West Guji remains one of the most conflict-affected areas of the border region, and is where IOM teams focus much of their assistance in the area.

 

Among those who have attempted to return to their homes in West Guji, only to find them destroyed or occupied, is Assefa. He now lives in a makeshift residence, as his original home remains partially collapsed.

 

Assefa tells the IOM team that he was a recipient of the organisation’s recent Hygiene Kit distribution exercise. The kits contain items such as washing buckets, jerry-cans, soaps and female hygiene supplies for women-specific distributions. 

 

In addition to coordinating services within IDP sites, IOM’s site management support (SMS) teams seek to track the number of people within each site with the aim of understanding the scale and locations of need, and to identify vulnerable people such as persons with disabilities, or the elderly who may need additional tailored assistance.

 

Among the other stops, visited was the Kebele (ward) administration office in Suke Giga, where a group of displaced people had gathered three weeks earlier in hope of returning to their homes. As Skrine’s team listened, the group voiced their need for medicine, clean water and new latrines.

 

After the meeting, the IOM team identified two new sites where displaced families had gathered behind a nearby church. During these conversations, Skrine’s team listens and takes notes – a critical first step before giving voice to the affected communities and working to address their needs.

 

In order to have a lasting and positive impact on the communities and economies of Gedeo and West Guji zones, IOM pairs its humanitarian assistance with training workshops meant to build local capacity in a variety of technical areas and so tackle obstacles at the community-level.

 

In line with this, the team now heads back to Dilla where IOM WASH Officer Josep Trincheria is leading a four-day training with local builders and water bureau staff on well drilling. IOM implements water point rehabilitations and well construction across dozens of sites in Gedeo and West Guji to serve both displaced and host communities.

 

After a quick trip to Gedeo and West Guji zone, it is time for the team to depart. But for IOM and its partner communities, the work continues. The needs along this part of the SNNP and Oromia remain vast, as fighting continues to displace many.