By Ataklti Tsegay Tesfay,MD
On part one of my article, I tried to write about the depth and magnitude of the ethnic conflict induced crisis of the internally displaced peoples (IDPs) in Ethiopia which has been neglected or not paid attention, for almost a year. Such displacement has a significant negative effect on people’s lives and livelihoods. The IDPs and returnees are exposed to protection risks, suffer constrained access to basic social services, and experience the disruption and loss of their livelihoods. The latest IOM assessments confirm that there are 3.19 million IDPs and returnees in need of assistance, out of whom 30 percent are experiencing acute needs .
Conflict continued to drive displacement, leading to a significant increase on the number of food insecure IDP populations and host communities. In Gedeo Zone of SNNPR, thousands of households were displaced from Guji zone of Oromia region, beginning June 2018 following the ethnic conflict. This area is one of the most densely populated areas in the country with high number of children per mother; hence you can imagine the size of a household displaced in Gedeo-Guji areas. Local and international media reported about the worsening IDP situation in Gedeb woreda prior to the visit by the high-level Government officials. The situation has been particularly dire in Gotiti kebele, Gedeb woreda where, according to interviewed IDPs in the area,” IDPs were deprived of assistance for the past 8 months because humanitarian partners were denied access” . As a result, acute malnutrition worsened, and protection of disease outbreak risks heightened. According to the Germany’s international broadcaster, Deutsche Welle (DW) Amharic, as reported on March 16, 2019, currently up to four civilians are dying every day due to lack of nutrition, prevalence of water-borne diseases and lack of hygiene . Such news is devastating, but unfortunately it is the reality what innocent citizens are facing. Though such catastrophe has nothing good to tell, it is painful to see severely malnourished children and nursing mothers lying in camps that can hardly be taken as shelters. As seen posted on different websites, things that were easy to prevent and reverse are getting out of hand due to lack of keen leadership and organization within the government. The government has chosen to externalize the cause, instead of addressing its own limitations, to fix the root cause of the problem that has already imposed pain and suffering, in to the life of millions of innocent civilians. What is more worrisome is that IDPs in Gotiti have suffered secondary and tertiary displacements from their areas of origin indicating the alarming level of state failure to protect the very same people the state is there to protect.
“The Crisis below the Headlines: Conflict displacement in Ethiopia”, 14 Nov 2019, The Refugee International(RI) Reports , shows in September 2018 a team of Refugee International travelled to the Southern Oromia and SNNPR to assess the situation of the displacement and the response. The team found that, the government made a proactive effort to partner with international humanitarian organizations. The New PM’s administration took laudable action in collaborating openly with the UN agencies and other humanitarian organizations to mobilize and coordinate a response to the plight of IDPs. Unfortunately, like the nature of the government on other matters, this positive trend was swiftly vanished. It is the must to do job for any responsible government, to work hard on it and allay with partners to prevent such devastation from happening. But the government seems to deny the reality rather prefers to give priority to sale the image of the government than to get evaluated on practical benchmark. In late August 2018, the government started to restrict the delivery of assistance, telling IDPs that they would only receive help if they return home, to force them to return to their home. It is against the fundamental principles of natural justice, to withhold to provide necessities of life to force people to comply with the need of government officials. It is easy to understand with common sense that nothing can replace home. However, because many return areas were destroyed in the violence the IDPs feel insecurity to return to their home without prior fixation and promise to get adequate protection. IDPs who were forced to return to domicile found themselves living in a secondary displacement site .
If such degree of government’s awareness was there early from the outset of the displacement (as mentioned above) and if the UN agencies and other humanitarian organization were willing to partner the government in alleviating the problem, why all this terrible chain of events allowed to happened without adequate response by the responsible governmental organizations??. Though late, it is good that the government has started to act, but the Ethiopian people need effective response: why so late after being displaced by conflict, being in a shelter which is well below the UN standard for camp shelter space and with No or very limited basic nutritional and health services for nearly a year? The fact that even it was not visited by a single high-level government official while the government is there to reach in such top priorities of its people poses a question? Thanks to The Guardian and different local media, the issue received coverage of different powerful media outlets. It’s after this irreversible damage to the propaganda of the government that the government was forced to acknowledge the devastating problem of the IDPs in Gedeo areas and started to act, including site visits by high level federal and regional authorities.
More Alarming, Such kinds of devastating tragedy could potentially happen in other IDPs centers/sites as well. Either due to security problem or negligence of the government, there are areas which are still difficult to access or not accessible for humanitarian assistances. A report from the UNOCHA issued on 29 March 2019 on Ethiopia’s Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) clearly mentioned that access has been impeded or prohibited, resulting in the likely disruption or cessation of routine health and nutrition service delivery. The government either knowingly or due to lack of capability, is not working to place law and order all over the country. Notably the situation in Dawe zone of Somali region where access was impeded throughout 2018 requires partners intervention to curb rising acute malnutrition; Kamashi Zone, Benishangul Gumuz where access has been limited since last September 2018 and concerns have been raised regarding significant loss of trained health personnels . In addition to the shortage of humanitarian aid supplies, this difficulty in access to deliver basic humanitarian and health services-like water, food, first aid kits… to the IDP collection centers may lead to lack of sanitation and hygiene, and it is obvious that acute malnutrition will take over. In such scenario Acute Watery Diarrhea, Measles and other infectious diseases may occur in an epidemic form. Obviously Pregnant mothers and children are most vulnerable social groups. Considering the current difficulty of access to these IDP centers, the existing shortage of life saving resources, and the approaching of the rainy season, one can imagine the magnitude of the Epidemics (if it occurs) and its consequences in terms of human life. Hence planned, coordinated, well prioritized and very urgent humanitarian assistances and interventions are mandatory at this time.
What is Most worrisome is still ethic induced conflicts are going on, which may lead to further increments of the internally displaced people, hence the government has to do its number one job – Law and Order !!!!!
- Vulnerability and food insecurity among Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in East and West Hararghe zones, Ethiopia – March 2019. Report from World Food Programme. Published on 03 Apr 2019
- Ethiopia Humanitarian Bulletin Issue #5 | 4-17 March 2019. Report from UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Published on 17 Mar 2019.
- Deutsche Welle (DW), Amharic. Live TV report. Reported on March 16, 2019.
- “The Crisis below the Headlines: Conflict displacement in Ethiopia”, The Refugee International (RI) Reports. By Mark Yarnell. November 2019.
- Ethiopia’s Neglected Crisis; No easy way Home for doubly displaced Gedeos. Report from IRIN. 28 Feb 2019. Ethiopia
- Ethiopia: Immediate Humanitarian Funding Priorities (for April-June). A report from the UNOCHA issued on 29 March 2019 on Ethiopia’s Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP).