Ethiopia: Massive migration of livestock, displacement of people in Shinille zone - rapid intervention necessary

Originally published
Short summary of assessment in Shinille and Jijiga zones 15-23 December
by Ahmed Ali and Hugo Rämi, UN-EUE field officers

The situation in Shinille zone as of December 23 was deteriorating fast. Pasture and water resources were dwindling further and Issa-pastoralists have started to migrate. Thousands of cattle are moving southwards to the valleys of Jijiga zone and eastern Hararghe. But, there is no relief in sight. The traditional refuge for Issa-cattle during drought is practically bare of pasture. The situation requires immediate attention. The spread of animal diseases must be avoided and conflicts diffused before they arise. Moving pastoralists need assistance for themselves and their cattle.

No Rainfall

Although almost all the areas along the road between Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa received torrential rainfall at times during the preceding week, no substantial rains had been recorded for Shinille zone. Usually in December, the zone expects the Haiza rains, two or three days of erratic showers that should bring some growth to tree canopies for browsing animals like camel and shoat. But, except for a few showers in Mieso area and around Dire Dawa just at the end of last week, the zone is drier than ever.

Lack of water

Except for the southern border along the mountain areas of Mieso and around Dire Dawa that received some showers, the water situation is critical in the whole Shinile zone.

Shallow wells are drying up, a number of boreholes are out of order and animal herds have to travel far to reach water sources. As a rule, wherever there is pasture, there is no water and vice versa.

So far, the regional government has deployed 8 water tankers. Two are operated by Oxfam, two by the administration and four by Save the Children USA (SC-USA). According to these agencies, their capacity is not enough and they are requesting more tankers. The water delivered to the most drought-affected areas is intended for human consumption only and is not sufficient for livestock. Some areas cannot be reached by water tanker and people have to travel up to 30 kilometers for drinking water.

The Hararghe Catholic Secretariat (HCS) is currently drilling some emergency boreholes and repairing other water supply systems. A big problem exists at the Afar-Issa border in the west of the zone where 9 boreholes are abandoned because of recent conflicts.

Diminishing grazing grounds

The livestock, which is supposed to be distributed around the whole of the zone at this time of the year, was concentrated by November in four areas, putting enormous pressure on the diminishing available resources.

Concentrations were reported from marshy areas in the central part of Shinille Wereda, in the northern parts of Erer Wereda and in the mountain areas south of Afdem and Mieso and South of Dembel.

The UN-EUE team visited the Harawa area around 50km north of Dire Dawa in Shinile wereda and kebeles of Dembel and Aisha wereda along the road from Dire Dawa to Aisha town.

In Harawa there was absolutely no more pasture for cattle and a first batch of about 600 cattle were transferred southwards to mountainous areas of Oromiya by December 12.

In Dembel and Aisha Weredas, the situation was even worse. The acacia canopies and bushes were virtually bare of any green and people in one area close to Aisha town told us that it had not rained in two years. Camels were extremely thin and even shoats did not look good. Camels were eating dead branches and wood and according to the locals many animals have already died.

Permanent migration

In a kebele called El Helle, about 20 km east of the road from Dire Dawa, 45 kilometers north of Aisha town, the people told UN-EUE that from around 600 families only 100 remained in the area. The others have left in search of work and food in Djibouti, Somaliland, Dire Dawa and other areas. The El Helle well (El Helle means, "I found a well") was about 8 meters deep, six meters deeper than usual.

According to the Hararghe Catholic Secreatriat (HCS), which is monitoring the whole zone on a by-weekly bases, the drought situation is similarly alarming in all the weredas of the whole zone.

Large scale cattle movements

The people from Harawa in Shinille zone were the first to migrate. They left around the 10th of December and moved southwards through Dire Dawa with a destination of Gobele Valley in Eastern Hararghe.

Browsing animals such as camel and shoats were left behind together with a few milking cows. Left behind were also most women and children who by now live from food aid.

Groups of usually 4 men accompanied around 100 cattle. Male calves were killed before the trip. The men said they had no food with them and are hungry. All cattle were emaciated.

The group that left Harawa was just the start of a large scale migration which followed and still continues

Until the 23 of December, more than 15,000 cattle had passed along the same route. Dozens of cattle that could not make the journey were slaughtered along the road, mainly in the steep ascent between Dire Dawa and Dengego.

Movements were also recorded from Dembel through the mountains with the usual destination of Erer Valley, Dakata Valley, Fafan Valley and Jerrer Valley all south of Shinille zone in Chinagsen.

Another exodus is trickling towards the coastal regions of Somaliland.

The crackdown on contraband seems to have created some problems in the east of the zone. The UN-EUE mission was told that a lot of cattle from Aisha wereda got stuck on their way to their traditional grazing grounds in Somaliland and had to move southwards to Lefe'Issa east of Jijiga where grazing is very poor at the moment.

Almost no pasture in the valleys

In the five valleys of Eastern Hararghe and Jijiga zone, to where livestock from the Shinille zone are moving, grazing is very limited. According to local people, it may last for one to two months maximum. As far as the UN-EUE team observed, there is almost no more grass cover in the area. Menschen f=FCr Menschen, a German NGO, reported that in their area of operation in the Erer valley south of Babile, pasture is almost nonexistent.

Some of the local people have crop residues from their failed harvests which they can feed to their animals, but the migrants from Shinile will have no access to it.

Water is also a major problem. Some of the perennial rivers that should carry water at this time of the year are dry and the wells in the riverbeds are already more than a meter deep. The ground water table will quickly recede further once thousands of cattle from Shinille arrive.

SC-UK is currently assessing the grazing condition in all the valleys. New information will be available in about a week's time.

Problems with disease

A major problem is the transfer of disease due to migration. Veterinary teams of the zonal government, supported by NGO's that work in the area, are presently at work all over the Shinille zone, but in fact some are too late. In Aisha wereda, a team leader informed the UN-EUE mission that of 20,000 cattle they were supposed to vaccinate, only 3,000 could be treated at the scheduled time. The present moving pattern of livestock makes it difficult to reach the animals. Another problem is that these vaccination-campaigns are not done on a regular basis. What is done now is more of an emergency response than anything else. The problem could have been predicted and prevented.

The experts feel that the current massive migration might lead to disease outbreaks. As an emergency response, SC-UK is contemplating the dispatch of mobile veterinary units to follow the migrating cattle.

Conflict potential

During recent years, migration from Shinille southwards had less conflict potential than it has this year. During the drought of 2000, the grazing grounds in the valleys were in tact. This year, grazing and water resources are extremely limited. The result is increased pressure on the already scarce resources and serious competition among livestock owners.

As usual, all the migrating Issas are armed with guns and sufficient ammunition. In the case of those that migrate to Gobele valley, this could cause serious problems, because they will be entering Oromiya territory, where the inhabitants are equally armed.

In the Somali dominated areas of the valleys, people usually welcome the migrants as is their tradition in times of crises. Nevertheless, there also is conflict potential there. Quite a number of farmers have stockpiled crop residues of their failed harvest. Should the hungry migrating animals touch them, there could be trouble.

Influx of IDP's into Hartisheek camp, IDP-concentrations along the road

The deputy of the Hartisheek wereda administration reported on the influx of about 580 destitute families into Hartisheek IDP camps in the last couple of months. They are said to be residents of surrounding areas whose harvests have failed. Other sources said that these people are poor Hartisheek town people, who suffered from the clampdown on contraband and lost jobs as day labourers and the like. None of them has received food aid so far.

The once vibrant smuggling town of Hartisheek is virtually dead now in terms of economic activities. No contraband is being sold and traded there anymore. The people in Hartisheek area have lost their livelihoods. As a result of the border closure, important food commodities such as rice, sugar etc, are in short supply and prices are rising. Basically, all commodities used to come from across the border before.

IDP' s are also concentrated along the Harar-Babile road. They came from surrounding kebeles in search of food aid. Menschen f=FCr Menschen is currently assisting them.

Conclusions and recommendations

The migration of livestock from the Shinille zone into neighbouring areas, mainly the valleys in the South, is set to continue and gain further momentum. It is therefore suggested that following measures be taken to prevent things from getting out of control:

1) Because of the conflict potential at destinations where there is heavy competition for resources, pasture in particular, the regional government must urgently facilitate

a) exchange of information and

b) negotiations between clan elders of the migrating people and between the local people who are set to receive them.

2) The migrating herds and the pastoralists, which accompany them, should be given support along the road. The people are hungry and need food and blankets. The animals should be provided at least with water and if possible some fodder along the migration route.

3) Livestock vaccination campaigns must be stepped up in order to avoid massive outbreaks of opportunistic diseases that prey on weakend animals. Mobile veterinary units should be dispatched to all the valleys to where people migrate with their livestock.

4) It must be ensured that the borders to Somaliland are open for migrating herds to pass.

5) Some could say that the fight against contraband comes at an inopportune time. Until the overall situation improves, the effects of such measures could be reconsidered.

The designations employed and the presentation of material in this document do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever of the UN concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.

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