Nearly one million people in southern Ethiopia have been forced to flee their homes since April due to intercommunal violence in the Gedeo and West Guji zones, according to a survey from the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
The survey found the overwhelming majority of displaced, or more than 800,000, are living in precarious conditions in Ethiopia’s Gedeo zone. The rest are in West Guji’s Oromia region.
It is not known what triggered the outbreak of violence, although disputes over borders and the allocation of pasture and water resources have long been a source of tension between people in Gedeo and West Guji.
The IOM reports most of the displaced in both zones are living within local communities, while the rest are sheltering in ad hoc collective centers, such as schools, disused or unfinished buildings. IOM spokesman Joel Millman calls conditions there abysmal.
“The buildings in the collective sites that we have been visiting generally are not fit for human habitation and are extremely overcrowded — forcing many people to sleep outside on dirt, rarely with anything but a single sheet of tarpaulin shielding them from the rains, which are in season now," he said. "Food is reported as the primary need in both of these zones that we checked. This is in addition to major shelter needs as well as concerns over the access to safe sanitation.”
Millman said IOM teams were able to go to only four of the six districts in West Guji, where people are displaced because of security concerns. A more detailed assessment of displacement sites in both zones is underway, he said, and this should produce better data in terms of how many people are displaced and their needs.
In the meantime, he said the IOM is scaling up its humanitarian operation. Work on constructing latrines, communal shelters and kitchens is moving ahead, he added.