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Oxfam, Harvard Document Ongoing Crisis in Southern Ethiopia

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Boston -– Oxfam America reports that a humanitarian crisis in southern Ethiopia is continuing, despite the return home of some internally displaced people who fled as clan conflict rocked the Borena and Guji zones over the last two months.

Oxfam, in conjunction with physicians and public health professionals from the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI), conducted a Rapid Public Health Assessment of the internally displaced peoples (IDPs) in the Borena Zone of Ethiopia during July. The assessment states that the movement of people due to clan conflict has resulted in severe disruptions of livelihoods as people fled for their lives leaving behind all assets, while others had their assets stolen during their displacement.

Thousands of people are left without food, shelter, and essential non-food items such as water-carrying containers, blankets, and cooking materials. Protecting these people was identified as crucial, both in shelters as well as in the villages as people return home.

"The humanitarian needs among the IDPs in both the Guji and Borena zones are significant. At the time of the HHI/ Oxfam assessment, immediate food, shelter, and non-food items were needed as well as establishment of long-term peace building activities," said Harvard’s Dr. Jennifer L. Chan, M.D.

Reports indicate that many of the internally displaced people are being pressured by local government institutions to return to their villages even though there is a fear of repeated violence. According to Oxfam, peace building interventions are crucial to ensure people’s safety upon their return.

“There is no reliable security situation,” said Abera Tola, Oxfam’s Horn of Africa regional director. “No official peace building process is underway. People are not being consulted or asked their opinion when they are told to return home. And there is no assurance that the violence will stop.”

The conflict has had a destructive effect on the local communities that are already suffering food insecurity and loss of livestock from recurrent droughts. Expected mid-July rains have also failed, increasing the likelihood that another drought and food crisis is looming in the coming months.

“Even before the fighting broke out these people were suffering greatly from the extreme drought that has affected this area for the last year. If the rains don’t come, the situation in these pastoral areas will only get worse," said Tola. "There will be a scarcity of resources and an increase in the likelihood of competition and conflict over them.”

Discussions around IDP figures has become a point of controversy as aid groups, UN agencies, and the Ethiopian government have come up with conflicting numbers of people displaced in the Borena and Guji Zones of Ethiopia. In addition, the regional and federal governments are still not recognizing the IDP numbers estimated by the district officials which continue to fluctuate between 90,000-150,000. Oxfam staff and partners confirm that thousands remain displaced and in need of humanitarian assistance.

Oxfam has been responding to the current crisis by working with the Ethiopian Red Cross Society (ERCS) to distribute blankets, plastic sheets, jerry cans and household items to the most vulnerable displaced people.

To read the Oxfam/Harvard Humanitarian Initiative report, please click here.

Oxfam America is an international development and relief organization that works with others to fight global poverty, hunger, and injustice.

For additional information, contact Communications Officer Liz Lucas in Addis Ababa, 251 911 831 248 (mobile); or by email at [email protected]

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