After more than a decade of astounding economic development, Ethiopia is on course to become a middle-income country. Yet the confluence of rapid urban expansion, ongoing conflicts within Ethiopia and in the region, and high levels of vulnerability to ongoing drought and seasonal floods continue to generate numerous new displacements every year. Significantly, the country has invested in progressive social protection programmes and sustainable development for a number of years and is making progress in addressing a number of drivers of displacement. But the number of internal displacements remains persistently high with a particularly alarming level of new displacements recorded for 2017. In addition, while Ethiopia produced large numbers of refugees and migrants until the early 1990s, it has since become the second largest refugee-hosting country on the continent.
Internal displacement in Ethiopia is multi-causal and complex, making it difficult to distinguish between the numerous drivers of displacement. The interaction between high levels of existing vulnerability in rural populations exposed to severe drought, heavy rains and floods, ongoing political and resource-based conflict, coupled with overstretched government capacity, create a high-risk environment in which new displacements are likely to continue.
Eighty-five per cent of the country’s workforce depends on agriculture and pastoralism, and so weather-related hazards such as drought and floods regularly force many people to leave their homes in search of a livelihood and food, water and pasture for their livestock. The movement of pastoralists, although a normal part of life, has caused resource-based conflict, as grazing pastures become increasingly less abundant due to drought. In the Somali region, tensions over access to resources have shifted to conflict over resource ownership.
Other important drivers, or enablers, of conflict in Ethiopia are the proliferation of arms and political exploitation of ethnic and cultural differences that fuel local struggles. In 2017, the border dispute between the regions of Oromia and Somali flared up again and led to significant new displacements. This conflict was particularly pronounced in the last quarter of the year, during which an estimated 500,000 people were displaced around the border between the two regions.
Another driver of displacement in Ethiopia is rapid urbanisation. With an urbanisation rate of almost five per cent and almost one in five Ethiopian citizens living in cities, the country is at the forefront of urban development in the region. The rapid growth of urban centres, both planned and unplanned, has displaced large numbers of people within the country. For example, in 2016, the government’s announcement to expand Addis Ababa into neighbouring farmlands led to protests, arrests, killings and displacement.
In addition to internal constraints and challenges, Ethiopia was in active conflict with neighbouring Somalia and Eritrea for decades. The two wars from 1977 to 1978 and 1998 to 2000 caused large numbers of displacements within and outside the country’s borders. Some of the protracted displacement within the country has also arisen from years of internal conflict between government armed forces and insurgency groups in the Somali region and in the south.
In pastoral areas of Ethiopia affected by drought, internal and cross-border displacement has been brought on by a number of factors. Lack of rainfall was just one of them, and not necessarily the most significant.
Internal displacement associated with drought was reported in Ethiopia on a much larger scale in 2016 and 2017. The impacts of what was thought to be Ethiopia’s worst drought in 50 years, which affected more than nine million Ethiopians in 2015, continued to aggravate other drivers of displacement in the subsequent years, fuelling communal tensions and conflict even further. In 2017, drought-related displacement was reported to have displaced over 380,000 Ethiopians, primarily in the Somali region. Floods also hit Afar and Oromia particularly hard in 2017, while the majority of conflict-induced displacement, affecting approximately 724,000 people, took place in Oromia and Somali.
Though a large majority of those displaced are estimated to return to their areas of origin within several months, the high numbers of initial displacements reflect the severely compromised capacities of individuals and communities to absorb and mitigate the impacts of climate-related hazards. Pastoralists (the demographic most affected by drought) travel between rural regions in search of grazing land, but if their cattle die due to lack of food and water they usually settle in IDP camps where they have access to aid. For lack of a better option, they sometimes move to urban centres in search of alternative livelihood opportunities and join the ranks of the urban poor.
Probabilistic modelling of displacement risk indicates that Ethiopia will need to deal with significant displacement related to major natural hazards in the future. Unless the underlying drivers are addressed, the current patterns of overlapping disaster and conflict displacement in Ethiopia are expected to persist and rise.
The most pressing needs of Ethiopian IDPs are access to livelihoods, restoration of land and property, and an adequate standard of living. With consecutive droughts driving many pastoralists from their land and killing large numbers of cattle, there is an overwhelming need for income generation opportunities among IDPs and in host communities.
In addition, water and food shortages have created widespread malnutrition, and many people are vulnerable to diseases such as acute watery diarrhea and have no access to healthcare. Other impacts of displacement that need to be addressed include disruption of children’s education, mental health issues, and limited access to health and nutrition services.
The Ethiopian government has restricted access to certain areas, for example to the south-western province of SNNPR, while insecurity in Oromia and Somali has also led to lack of access to those regions. This makes it difficult to assess humanitarian needs and provide support for those living there.
Although drought is one of the main drivers of displacement in Ethiopia, the multiple interlocking factors make it difficult to isolate and estimate the number of people displaced by drought conditions, and surveys rarely capture more than a single reason why people flee. Some people may name drought as the primary cause for their displacement, while others may refer to loss of livelihood, hunger or conflict. Drought displacement data is particularly hard to obtain, for while drought is usually an underlying driver for much of the displacement, it is not always identified as such even when that is actually the case. IDMC relies on IOM DTM estimates as well as information from the International Federation of Red Cross and media accounts in its reporting on internal displacement in the country.
|Displacement type||IDPs (Stock)||New Displacement (Flow)|
|Geographical disaggregation||Admin 2 or more||Admin 2 or more|
|Geographical coverage||Partial coverage||Partial coverage|
|Frequency of reporting||Other||Other|
|Disaggregation on sex||No||No|
|Disaggregation on age||No||No|
|Data triangulation||No Triangulation||Some local triangulation|
|Data on settlement elsewhere||No||No|
|Data on returns||No||No|
|Data on local integration||No||No|
|Data on deaths||No||No|
|Data on births||No||No|
The IDMC estimates were based on IOM DTM assessments. IDMC additionally used IFRC assessments to calculate new displacements between September and October. The main limitation of the estimates is the nature of the DTM which captures only stock figures. New displacements estimates were calculated by using the positive differences between the stock figures. Thus, IDMC is not able to capture new displacements which occur between DTM rounds. We believe that for this reason our new displacement estimate is an underestimate. The figure is significantly higher to last year's due to escalation of violence along the Oromia-Somali border