Focus on Ethiopia - Jul 2005

Situation Report
Originally published


Sadness is all you see in Fituma's face as the two white UN Land Cruisers drive into the IDP camp in Hartishek, Somali Region. In the past six months United Nations missions have come to the camp many times to speak to Fituma, an elder representing the female IDPs. But so far all she has seen is talking. There has been no food distribution in eight months and little assistance after the floods in April that left them knee deep in mud. This visit, she was told, was a United Nations Country Team (UNCT) mission aimed at reintegrating her and the other IDPs to their areas of origin.

Fituma Mohammud came to the camp five years ago from Gobbo woreda of Fik zone with her husband and seven children after the 2000 drought killed her 80 goats, 30 cattle and four camels. "I lost everything, everything except one camel which I brought with me, but now that is gone too." She now survives by selling milk that she buys from the distributors. "The profit depends" she says, "sometimes it is 10 cents and sometimes it sells for 20 cents for a cup."

There are up to 73,000 internally displaced people in Jijiga, Degahabur, Fik, Korehay, Gode, Warder and Liban zones in the region. A large proportion of the population are pastoralists or agro-pastoralists, engaged in cyclical migrations. Pastoralists in the region experienced significant loss of livestock when sources of water and grazing became exhausted as a result of the drought in 2000, which affected more than half of the population. Families were separated and many were rendered completely destitute; coping mechanisms collapsed and people had little alternative but to leave and seek help elsewhere.

According to regional authorities there are an estimated 5,600 IDPs in Hartishek, a town located 75 km east of Jijiga. The town was previously a thriving business centre and home to the world's largest refugee camp, hosting a quarter of a million Somalia refugees. The refugees began arriving after the collapse of the Siad Barre government in 1988 and clan warfare in the early 1990s. The main reason drawing IDPs to Hartishek was a search for water and food, as UNHCR was providing emergency assistance to the refugees. However, UNHCR stopped this relief activity when the refugees were repatriated in 2004.

In Fafen, according to official figures the number of IDPs is 6,000. These IDPs came to Fafen as it was one of the few fertile places in the region where people could survive the 2000 drought. These people have been more or less dependent on the host community. Recently though, the community of Fafen has been expressing signs of fatigue with the IDPs, who are draining their increasingly depleted resources.

A joint UN Country Team mission is currently working towards the permanent reintegration of camp dwellers to their home communities. The principal partners in the UNDP led joint mission are IOM, UNICEF, UNHCR, OCHA, FAO and WFP. The regional government is also actively supporting the reintegration efforts within the overall framework of the UNDP-sponsored Regional Recovery Programme and the Pastoralist Community Development Programme, funded by the World Bank. The DPPB and Food Security Coordination Bureau (FSCB) have also initiated processes of reintegration by selecting camps in Hartishek town and Fafen Valley, Jijiga zone, as pilot sites for the reintegration exercise. Subsequently, UNDP and IOM selected a 5,600 IDP caseload who will be moved from Hartishek and Fafen camps to Deghabur zone, as most of the IDPs are from the zone (Degahabur, Aware and Degahamadow woredas).

Prior to securing movements the UNCT tried to assess short to medium term needs of the returning population and their home communities. It also tried to link these needs with longer term recovery needs of developing sustainable livelihoods that effectively prevent further displacements. The communities in the return areas are increasingly turning to agro- pastoralism, and as such characterise a dramatic cultural shift amongst these people away from nomadism towards a more sedentary lifestyle. The IDPs do not want to return to pastoralism either. To this end, Ogaden Welfare Development Association (OWDA) and the Government Line Bureaus have conducted assessments in terms of social services and priority actions in the areas of return.

The socio-economic situation of the region is characterised by a low level of development, low income, high level of mortality, low level of nutritional status, limited access to health services, low rate of school participation and lack of clean drinking water. The integration program has been delayed for a number of reasons including lack of funds, severe drought in the areas of return and the recent floods. In addition, the IDPs status is also problematic: it has not been possible to easily determine those who are IDPs, that is, those who voluntarily moved due to drought, from voluntary migrants.

After the April flood waters subsided, the favourable gu rains improved the situation in the region, including areas of return, and using UNDP's allocated US$ 400,000 and in-kind support from the region and the UNCT, it was agreed to kick start the project. Meanwhile, funds needed to cover additional requirements will be complemented by collaborating partners and a mobilisation of additional resources. However, since distinctions between IDPs and other vulnerable populations are difficult to produce and particularly problematic to apply, it is recommended to first urgently revalidate who are IDPs.

In March 2005 a joint DPPB/Emergency Nutrition Coordination Unit and SC-UK survey indicated critical malnutrition rates, 24.2 percent GAM and 5.1 percent SAM in Hartishek and 15.5 percent GAM and 1.2 percent SAM in Fafen camp. Even though the situation in terms of water and medical access has improved, neither camp has received food since last 'Ramadan' eight months ago. "We need food" said Fituma. "We are so weak; we need to get our strength back before moving". Consequently, the team recommends general food rations for both camps urgently, before the reintegration operation begins. The April flood also worsened their situation as the rains damaged their temporary homes and left them in deplorable conditions. Malaria and diarrhoea are serious threats and there is immediate need for distribution of Insecticide-Treated Nets. In addition there is a need to establish sanitation facilities for both camps.

These factors and the fact that they are depending on the host community, who have little to share has made the IDPs desperate to return. Abdi Jebril Mohammud, spokesman of the Fafen IDPs said "just put me in a truck and let me die in my birth place." According to reports, some households have already started to migrate from Hartishek, escaping the poor conditions there, to Togwajale in search of labour, since Hartishek is no longer active for trade due to the ban on contraband by the government.

In the past, the main food source for the IDP communities had been the exchange of labour, relief food and remittance. Currently, the communities in both camps rely on begging and small labour activities including shoe shining, herding and cleaning houses for the host communities. Three of Fituma's children are livestock herders for the host community pastoralists and each work for less than two birr per-day.

Humanitarian partners have been responding to the IDPs ongoing needs. UNICEF, for the past two years has spent 120,000 a month on therapeutic and supplementary feeding and water tankering that reaches to 7,000 camp residents. However the agency warns that this will not be sustainable unless additional funds are received. In June, WFP dispatched 10.8 tonnes of CSB and 1.1 tonnes of oil to the camps for supplementary feeding.

The Mother and Child Development Organisation (MCDO), an NGO operational in the camps for the last few years, report that they have reintegrated 300 households from Fafen IDP camp to Fik zone in November 2002. According to MCDO all reintegrated families have coped and now stay in their places of origin leading a normal life with their community. However the program is debated by others and there has not been an assessment exercise to confirm such a positive outcome.

While there is consensus that the IDPs should return to there original locations, the process should not be a desperate measure. There is need to sensitise the IDPs prior to movement and a revalidation exercise is needed in the camps, as previous experiences show that reintegrated camp dwellers often appear at a later date on food distribution lists in the camps. There is also need to mobilise resources to fill the 78 percent funding gap as the overall operation needs US$ 3,710,000 to return the first caseload of 5,600 IDPs. As a result serious attention should be paid to the finalisation of the operation plan and necessary preparation should be done before the move of the first cluster of 950 IDPs selected as part of the first case load scheme.

For Fituma and her family, effective humanitarian assistance in Hartishek is essential while the conditions for their return are provided. A rushed integration, it is feared, will leave them in a much worse situation than at the time of the drought. "I want to go home" said Fituma "but only Allah knows what waits for me there."

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