Desperate Ethiopians flee to overcrowded displacement camps

News and Press Release
Originally published
Deep in the last protected forest in eastern Oromiya are the remains of a huge military training camp - abandoned for more than a decade by the former military regime. Today the camp is home to more than 37,000 people - all are from the Hararghe region far to the east.
They have been driven there out of desperation. Their land, already largely infertile due to over-farming and the pressures of over-population, has been hit by three years of drought. They have also been lured by government promises of resettlement on new, fertile land here in the Bale region.

These promises worry Alemu Lemma, the district administrator for the area. 'The number of the displaced people is too large, we don't have land to give them,' he says. 'The burden will remain with us since we cannot settle them. Given the situation in the camp and the distance they have travelled, it is not surprising they are dying.'

The situation in the camp is dire and people - especially children - are dying every day. Christian Aid's partner, Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMK) is providing supplementary feeding of FAMIX (a special nutritious porridge) for more than 4,500 children and pregnant and nursing mothers. There is also a basic health clinic for the children.

But food in the camp is in short supply, the government is responsible for supplying food but deliveries have been erratic. EECMK workers worry that, although they have specified that FAMIX must only be given to children; it is being shared among all family members.

Disease is also present - a measles epidemic in the camp has resulted in the deaths of many children.

The measles epidemic has left Ahmed Usman 25, in shock. He sits in a corner of a disused barrack, next to him under a blanket is the body of his son Abadir, aged three, who has just died. Yesterday, seven-month-old Ibrahim died. His third - and remaining child - four-year-old Mohammed is in the EECMK health clinic. They have all had measles.

'I thought it would be better here. Already it is not better; already we have lost two children,' he says softly. ' There is a big change in the climate, it is hot and there is malaria. The children get sick and sweat a lot in the night.'

But Ahmed is adamant, he does not regret coming. He is desperate for land to cultivate; believing that, if he had land, life would be better. He repeats what many say, 'here at least we have land to bury our dead.'

Behind a partition sits Ahmed's wife, Fatuma. She is rigid with sorrow and whispers: 'They had measles. I am very worried about my third child.'

Aid workers in the camp are also extremely worried. The flow of people has not stopped and the food and sanitation situation will only deteriorate. Although the government has promised to resettle the displaced people, local administrators say the land identified for resettlement is not suitable - most are in drought prone areas of the district.

One Christian Aid field worker, who had visited the camp last October, was struck by the change on his latest visit in January. 'In October I read hope in their eyes,' he says, 'now there is no hope. They are hopeless and nervous, they are beginning to wonder where this will all end.'