The confluence of rapid urban expansion, ongoing conflict over land and resources and high levels of vulnerability to ongoing drought and seasonal floods continue to generate numerous new displacements every year.
About 2.9 million new displacements associated with conflict were recorded in 2018, the highest figure recorded worldwide. Despite many important and positive political changes that took place in the country in 2018, old conflicts became more entrenched and new conflicts escalated along various state borders. Disasters also triggered 296,000 new displacements, most of them associated with flooding and drought in the Somali region.
Average expected number of displacements per year – for sudden-onset hazards:
What causes displacement?
Internal displacement in Ethiopia is a complex phenomenon, and it is difficult to distinguish between its numerous interlinked drivers. High levels of vulnerability among rural populations exposed to severe drought and floods, political and resource-based conflict and overstretched government capacity create a high-risk environment in which significant new displacements take place each year.
Eighty-five per cent of the country’s workforce depends on agriculture and pastoralism, and weather-related hazards regularly force large numbers of people to leave their homes in search of livelihoods, food, water and pasture for their livestock. In 2018, as many as 296,000 new displacements associated to disasters were recorded, the majority of which was caused by flooding. Internal displacement associated with drought was reported on a much larger scale in 2016 and 2017 than in previous years, primarily in the Somali region. In 2018, 120,000 new displacements were triggered by drought.
The impacts of what was Ethiopia’s worst drought in 30 years, which left about ten million people in need of humanitarian assistance in 2015, have also continued to aggravate other drivers of displacement by fuelling communal tensions and conflict. The seasonal movement of pastoralists has caused conflict over resources, as grazing becomes increasingly scarce. Tensions over access to resources in the Somali region, in particular, have morphed into conflict over resource ownership.
The proliferation of arms and political exploitation of the ethnic and cultural differences that fuel local struggles also help to drive conflict and displacement. The border dispute between the Oromia and Somali regions flared up again in 2017 and continued unabated into 2018. Hundreds of thousands of new displacements associated to this conflict were recorded in 2018.
A new Prime Minister took office in April 2018 and has had a less lethal approach to protestors, with fewer reported clashes between the state and protestors. He has also ended the state of emergency and has released political prisoners, lifted bans on social media websites and forged a peace deal with Eritrea. Despite positive political change, new displacement figures are at an all-time high, with almost 2.9 million new displacements associated to conflict and violence recorded in 2018, the highest number globally. Conflict and displacement were recorded along three of Oromia’s regional borders, with the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s (SNNP) region in the south-west, the Benishangul-Gumuz region in the north-west and the Somali region in the east.
Rapid urbanisation is also an issue. With an urbanisation rate of nearly five per cent and almost one in five Ethiopians living in cities, the country is at the forefront of urban development in the region. Rapid urban growth, both planned and unplanned, has displaced significant numbers of people. The government’s announcement in 2016 that it was to expand Addis Ababa into neighbouring farmland led to protests, arrests, killings and displacement.
Ethiopia also has large numbers of IDPs living in protracted displacement as a result of its wars with Somalia from 1977 to 1978 and Eritrea from 1998 to 2000, and years of internal conflict between government forces and insurgent groups in the Somali region and the south of the country.
Where and how do people move?
Displacement is most pronounced along the regional borders, due to resource scarcity and land ownership disputes. In particular, the border between the Oromia and Somali regions has been a site of large-scale conflict and displacement since 2017. In 2018, a number of other regional borders were newly affected by conflict and mass displacement.
Pastoralists, the demographic group most affected by drought and ensuing resource competition and conflict travel between rural regions in search of grazing land, but if their livestock dies because of lack of food and water they often move into displacement camps where they can access aid. Others move to urban centres in search of alternative livelihood opportunities and join the ranks of the urban poor.
Our probabilistic modelling of displacement risk suggests that Ethiopia will have to deal with significant displacement associated with disasters in the future. Unless underlying drivers are addressed, the current overlapping patterns of displacement triggered by conflict and disasters can be expected to persist and the number of people affected to rise.
What is life like for IDPs and communities hosting them?
IDPs’ most pressing needs are access to livelihoods, improved access to food and safe water and sanitation and restoration of an adequate standard of living. After consecutive droughts that have deprived many pastoralists and sedentary farmers of their livestock and traditional livelihoods, there is an overwhelming need for income-generating opportunities among IDPs and host communities.
Water and food shortages have also caused widespread malnutrition, and many IDPs are vulnerable to the spread of diseases. Few, however, have access to nutrition services or physical or mental healthcare. Many displaced children’s education has also been disrupted.
Where does data on displacement come from and what are the main challenges?
IDMC’s calculations are based on data from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM)’s displacement tracking matrix, IOM DTM rapid response assessments, OCHA, the government, ECHO, ACLED and international media reports.
IDMC’s estimate of the total number of IDPs in Ethiopia is based on an analysis of several sources: IOM DTM data as of 31 December 2018 covering most of the country; IOM DTM data from 30 November covering West Guji and Gedeo; and government data from December 2018 for Benishangul Gumuz. IDMC also added about 111,000 Ethiopians deported from Saudi Arabia and reportedly living in precarious conditions to the total number of IDPs.
IDMC’s estimate of the number of new displacements in 2018 was calculated by analysing increases in figures published by IOM DTM and new caseloads identified by other sources including OCHA, the government, local and international media and the European Commission.
IDMC’s estimate of partial solutions is based on government reports and refers to IDPs who returned to their homes in Addis Ababa but are still in need, and IDPs who returned to their former homes along the border of the Oromia and Somali regions and whose conditions following their return are unknown.