The state and aftermath of violence in southern Ethiopia

World Vision is one of the aid agencies responding to the unfolding humanitarian situation in southern Ethiopia where over a million people have been displaced because of internal conflict in West Guji (in the Oromia region), Gedeo (in the SNNP region) and parts of the volatile Somali region in southern Ethiopia.

Although the security situation has improved in some of these areas, tension among communities prevails.

Families are in need of urgent life-saving food assistance and immediate health care to avert cases of disease outbreaks and stem a severe increase in malnutrition. 

In July aid agencies raised concerns about the magnitude of this crisis and appealing for critical and urgent assistance to mitigate a further deterioration of the situation for the IDPs. 

"This is one of the worst humanitarian emergencies I have seen in nearly 20 years of working in World Vision," said Edward Brown, National Director for World Vision Ethiopia. "I've been in disasters like the Haiti Earthquake and the Zimbabwean crisis and the level of suffering endured by internally displaced people in southern Ethiopia is as bad as anything I've seen. Many have lost everything and are living in appalling conditions."

World Vision has started providing emergency food assistance donated by the United States Government to displaced families, reaching a total of 640,000 people between July and August. 

In September, the organization will scale up its food assistance and nutrition programing to target close to 1,050,000 people per month based on recent assessments it has conducted in the areas of need. 

World Vision has been providing life-saving kits to more than 24,000 people including items such as sanitation items, soap, buckets and water purification tablets, sitting/sleeping mats, blankets, and plastic sheeting.

A substantial number of internally displaced families are crammed in public institutions such as schools and vocational centres that need to be vacated as students are expected to return to school in in the coming weeks. Some families have put up makeshift shelters from banana leaves and wood that need to be rebuilt frequently given the heavy rains and poor quality construction. 

“Displaced families are struggling to survive, everyone is just trying to survive with what they can, but critical services are in short supply. Some IDPs are sleeping on the cold concrete floor with nothing warm to cover and being the cold and rainy season, they are extremely vulnerable to sickness,” says Moussa Sangara who is leading World Vision’s response efforts in West Guji (in the Oromia region) and Gedeo (in the SNNP region) 

Some positive signs are beginning to show, a series of reconciliation meetings facilitated by the Government of Ethiopia have been held between Gedeo and West Guji leaders and the hope of returning home is high. 

“Finding solutions for the resettlements will take time, and support in the areas of livelihoods and recovery will be needed to help returnees rebuild their livelihoods and assets,” Sangara adds. 

September is the coffee harvesting season, and most IDPs who are coffee farmers would wish to return for the harvests to get back on their feet as quickly as possible.

By Lucy Murunga