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Internally displaced persons (IDPs)

Internally displaced persons (IDPs)

Conflict-induced displacement

Following the Ethio-Eritrean war, which erupted in May 1998, over 350,000 people were internally displaced from areas along the common border of the Tigray and Afar regions. The majority of displacement in these regions occurred in eight woredas (similar to US or British counties) of Tigray and seven woredas of Afar. The bulk of displacement occurred before the end of June 1998, during which time approximately 143,000 Ethiopians were displaced from areas close to the border ( UN Country Team 1999 ). As the conflict escalated, more people were forced to leave their homes. The government also evacuated civilians living within range of possible shelling. By the end of the year, the Government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (GFDRE) reported that the number of displaced had reached 350,000. This number had more or less remained the same until the last round of fighting in May–June 2000 when the GFDRE reported the displacement of an additional 15,000 people.

In addition to the displaced, others were deported from Eritrea. Although most of the displaced were integrated into nearby communities, some were settled in makeshift camps and caves. The Ethio-Eritrean war was notable in that not many civilians were actually caught in the fighting. However, it did result in the loss of lives of many soldiers, major psychological trauma for those remaining, and damage to existing infrastructure such as schools, health facilities, major water and power supply systems, and other public service-giving institutions.

In 1998, the Organization of African Unity (OAU)

Now known as the African Union (AU).

proposed an eleven-point framework agreement to settle the war, which was accepted by Ethiopia and rejected by Eritrea. This was later adjusted and presented as the August 1999 modalities, which were accepted by Eritrea and rejected by Ethiopia. Cessation of hostilities between the two countries was signed in June 2000, and a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed in Algiers in December 2000 ( Global IDP Project 2003 ). Following the CPA, close to 80 per cent of the IDPs began returning to their homes. The remaining 20 per cent (mostly those from Gulomekeda woreda) were unable to return either due to the presence of landmines or because their homes were in areas that were contested by the two countries. Initially, the number of causalities caused by Unexploded Ordnance (UXO), or mines, was very high. The majority of victims were children herding cattle and domestic animals. However, there were also some reports of farmers who were injured or died as a result of farming on un-cleared mine fields.

In addition to landmines, the IDPs faced problems related to shortages of shelter, agricultural inputs, household utensils, health services, water sources, and education facilities, as well as to HIV/AIDS. The problems were further aggravated with the destruction of household and productive assets as well as many socio-economic structures. Interruption of economic relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea also affected and continues to negatively impact the lives of many, especially those living in border towns such as Zalambessa, Adigrat, Rama, and Humera. The border closure has interrupted cross-border trade of grain and livestock, which had helped in stabilizing prices in times of scarcity. Livestock sales were especially important sources of income for middle- and upper-income households. Labor migration to and from Ethiopia had also traditionally served as an income-generation opportunity, especially for poor households on both sides of the border ( Hammond 2001 ). In an effort to compensate for lost income-generating opportunities, and fostered by the presence soldiers in the area, prostitution has become a major source of earnings for many young women. The spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases in these areas has thus increased immensely.

The Tigray region, the closest and most populated region along the border, was inundated with over 300,000 IDPs and 77,000 returnees/deportees from Eritrea. The region also had to assist close to 40,000 families (about 144,000 family members) of the deceased as well as the demobilization and reintegration of about 150,000 able and disabled soldiers. The numerous effects of the war, coupled with existing chronic food security problems in the area, had left the region ill-equipped to effectively respond to the needs of the various groups affected.

International response to displacement and conflict

Subsequent to the signing of the peace agreement, a number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and UN agencies including the World Bank, began to actively engage in addressing the needs of the war-affected population. The World Bank’s Emergency Recovery Program (ERP), by far the largest, is valued at US$230 million financed through a ‘soft’ loan made to the Ethiopian Government. Other major programs include the Border Development Program funded by USAID, along with standard food aid distribution by the World Food Programme (WFP) and Relief Society of Tigray (REST). The overall rehabilitation program also includes assistance to Eritrean refugees predominantly from Kunama. Generally speaking, the rehabilitation programs have been geographically concentrated in the eastern part of the Tigray region, with particular focus on Erob and Gulomekeda, which have been highly affected by the border conflict both in terms of population and in damaged/destroyed infrastructure. This has resulted in a certain amount of duplication of efforts. Please refer to Table 1 for a list of organizations involved in rehabilitation programs for war-affected populations. Many reconstruction programs are currently on hold awaiting the final demarcation of the ruling of the Border Commission.

Table 1: List of agencies involved in ERP
Programs Agencies involved
Nutrition INICEF, WFP
Environmental sanitation UNICEF, CRS
Agricultural inputs FAO, REST, COOPI
Women and children’s protection UNICEF
Mine action/Awareness UNICEF, UNDP, WHO, RaDO, REST, UNMEE
Reintegration UNHCR, ICRC, WFP, IOM
Roads ILO
Income-generation COOPI, REST, VOCA
Emergency Recovery Program (ERP)

The ERP targets war-affected people including IDPs, families of the deceased (FDs)—families who lost their primary breadwinners, deportees/returnees, and demobilized soldiers. The program is implemented through the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development (MoFED) and is well complemented by other post-war recovery and rehabilitation programs undertaken by various agencies. At the regional level, the Regional Emergency Program Management Unit (REPMU) undertakes management and coordination of the program. REPMU works in close collaboration with the Office for Rehabilitation and Social Affairs, which is in charge of coordinating the post war rehabilitation efforts in the region.

The ERP has five major components, namely:

Household rehabilitation of IDPs, FDs, and deportees/returnees

Rebuilding community socio-economic infrastructures

HIV/AIDS prevention, care, and support


Road rehabilitation.

The ERP became effective in February 2001 and was originally expected to end in February 2002. However, reconsidering the timeframe required to accomplish planned activities, the end date has now been postponed to December 2005. The first phase of the program mainly focused on meeting the needs of IDPs and FDs through agricultural rehabilitation, house construction, and the provision of basic household goods and income-generation packages (house construction was excluded from services provided to FDs). However, deportees received minimal assistance during the second phase. The third phase is expected to be all-inclusive, addressing the needs of IDPs, FDs, and deportees.

The Household Rehabilitation Project, being the largest of the five components of the ERP, targets 63,000 IDP households, or approximately 360,000 IDPs (90 per cent of whom come from the Tigray region and the rest from the Afar region). Based on a household assessment, eligible beneficiaries are given cash and industrial materials to reconstruct damaged or destroyed houses. Additional cash is also provided for the purchase of essential household utensils and agricultural inputs, as seed money for income generation.

According to the ERP implementation manual, ‘About 36,000 civilian and militias who were breadwinners for their families have lost their lives. The deceased were supporting about 144,000 family members’ ( UN Country Team 1999 ). From notification of the death of a militia member to identification of eligible beneficiaries of the program and provision of compensation payments, various levels of government offices are involved. Compensation payments mainly depend on family sizes. The ERP has made available over US$2 million for its rehabilitation program, targeting over 12,000 households. In addition, well over US$10 million has been paid to FDs towards agricultural and non-agricultural income-generation activities.

Since the beginning of the war, nationals of both countries have been forced to go back to their place of origin. Between May 1998 and August 2001, close to 95,000 Ethiopian nationals who were living in Eritrea returned to Ethiopia, the majority of which (over 70 per cent) were from the Tigray region. The deportees were initially registered by the Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission/Bureau and were provided, as part of the ERP program, a one-time assistance package, which included food rations for nine months and a grant of Birr 1,000 to 1,500 per head of household ( Birr is the Ethiopian currency; US$1 is approximately equal to Birr 8.60). This, however, has not been sufficient, as they have little opportunity to supplement it with additional income.

Although local government authorities encourage returnees to move into rural areas, most have ended up settling in urban centres, considerably increasing the urban population and making the recovery process more difficult. Existing social infrastructure such as schools and health stations have been stretched in attempts to accommodate the augmented population. As a result, urban poverty has increased tremendously. This, coupled with increased competition for off-farm employment opportunities, has placed returnees in a frustrating situation. Such problems are more evident in the towns of Adwa, Adigrat and Mekelle. For instance, in the town of Adigrat, the population of about 50,000 has increased by approximately 37,000 deportees/returnees in addition to its 10,000 IDPs ( Proceedings of the Review Workshop on the Tigray Emergency Recovery Program 2002 )—the town’s population has almost doubled. The inability to become economically self-sufficient has led to an increase in prostitution, especially in areas of high military presence. The prevalence of HIV/AIDS in these areas is reported to be very high.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), in close collaboration with the Tigray Women’s Affairs Office and other regional counterparts ( Buffoni and Tadesse 2001 ) conducted a study focusing on the needs and specific hardships faced especially by women and children, who comprise 80 per cent of the total deportees/returnees. Based on the study, shelter, lack of employment opportunities, lack of access to credit and land, and lack of livestock, food, and education were highlighted as the major problems faced by the group. The study also pointed out the challenges in providing assistance to deportees. These included the large number of deportees/returnees, the fact that they are mostly unskilled and are scattered all over the region, and constraints of land distribution. Taking these into consideration, the study recommended a comprehensive intervention, including food aid as a short-term strategy. A number of long-term interventions are also highlighted to ensure self-sufficiency among the deportees. These included making training opportunities available, creating rural and semi-rural employment alternatives, and continuing to clear landmines ( Women’s Association of Tigray 2002 ).

There is a great need for the training of deportees for increased urban employment opportunities as well as access to affordable housing and other basic services. These needs were also recognized in a Review Workshop held in Mekelle on 3–4 April 2002, focusing on the status of the ERP and the Emergency Demobilization and Re-integration Program. The workshop highlighted various needs of deportees, and was attended by senior government officials and representatives of UN country teams from bodies including:


Ethiopian Mine Action Office (EMAO)


United Nations Development Program (UNDP)

World Health Organization (WHO)


United Nations Emergency Unit for Ethiopia (UN-EUE)

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

World Bank

Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO)

United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE)

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

ERP’s targets include the rehabilitation and reconstruction of 80 schools, 26 health facilities, 5 veterinary clinics, 26 animal health posts, 127 medium and deep wells, 15 springs, and 1 warehouse; and to supply furniture and equipment for these facilities and replace a 130-km water pipeline and a water tanker destroyed as a result of the border conflict ( The Performance of Rehabilitation Activities and Challenges April 2002 ).

The infrastructure-building part of the program mainly focused on the reconstruction and rehabilitation of these destroyed and damaged socio-economic infrastructures to ensure the resumption of basic services. During the first year, most of the activities conducted were related to preliminary works such as preconstruction and procurement of equipment and services. Implementation of some of the programs has now begun. However, challenges in fund reallocation, absence of coordination with other organizations and delayed de-mining activities continue to delay overall implementation of the program. The Ethiopian Road Authority (ERA) and the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCO) also played an important role in implementing part of the program.

The main objective of the HIV/AIDS part of the ERP is to reduce HIV/AIDS infection and its spread in the seven affected woredas along the border. The program targets IDPs, deportees, demobilized soldiers, commercial sex-workers, and other vulnerable groups of the society. Sector bureaus including health, education, trade industry, transport, culture, and information, along with the army, kebele (Amharic word for a small district) AIDS committees, NGOs, and private sectors are all involved in the implementation of the program.

Ethiopia has a major problem with landmine/UXO contamination resulting from the number of conflicts dating back to the Italian occupation. Estimations of the total number of landmines laid in the country vary greatly. According to US government estimates, about twenty-one different types of landmines have been found in the country, and the number of UXO pieces is said to be between half a million to 1 million, most of which are found in the northern part of the country ( Deisser 1999 ). Ethiopia is also known as the first country to have borrowed money to undertake de-mining activities.

In February 2001, GFDRE established a civilian de-mining office, EMAO, to deactivate explosives, educate the public and prevent injuries and deaths resulting from mines. The Emergency Recovery Program Management Unit, in close collaboration with EMAO, implements the World Bank-supported de-mining project. The project mainly focuses on building national capacity through technical training and provision of required equipment. Among the major interventions in this sector is the training of de-miners by the US Department of State, which granted a total of US$1.6 million towards the training program. Close to 200 combatant engineers were selected and trained in humanitarian de-mining, upon their release from the Ministry of National Defense. The training was conducted in two phases by an American organization called RONCO. Advanced training as well as facilitation of deployment was later provided by EMAO. EMAO was also engaged in mapping out mine-infested areas based on the National Landmine Impact Survey, analyzing the type of mines and the general socio-economic conditions of the areas. The Rehabilitation and Development Organization (RaDO), in close collaboration with UNICEF and UNDP, has also been engaged in sensitization and mine-awareness through Mine Risk Education activities. UNDP’s ‘Support to the Ethiopian Mine Action Program’ also compliments the effort by following up on international technical assistance for quality assurance and management training.

As was the case for the infrastructure-rebuilding part of ERP, the road-construction program also experienced some difficulties. The program is implemented in close collaboration with ERA and EEPCO. Most of the activities undertaken under this component were mainly preparatory works on roads and electric power sub-components that were implemented during the first years of the program, conducted through the ERA and EEPCO at the federal level.

USAID-funded Border Development Program (BDP)

The BDP focused on two of the highly affected woredas in eastern Tigray—Irob and Gulomekeda—and complemented the ERP. It was implemented by three international NGOs, namely Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Cooperazione Internazionale (COOPI), and Agricultural Cooperative Development International and Volunteers in Overseas Cooperative Assistance (ACDI/VOCA), along with REST.

The first phase of the program, valued at US$4.6 million, focused on house construction, distribution of household utensils, construction of destroyed/damaged socio-economic infrastructures, and awareness-raising on landmines and HIV/AIDS. Implementation of the second phase of the program, which focuses on confidence-building to facilitate the commencement of cross-border trade, is awaiting the final border demarcation.

Other post-war rehabilitation programs

In September 2000, the United Nations Security Council authorized the deployment of 4,200 troops for UNMEE. The troops are responsible for ensuring adherence of both parties to their security commitments, monitoring the redeployment of troops from each side, providing technical assistance on mine action, and monitoring the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ). UNMEE also coordinates with the humanitarian and human rights work of other organizations in the TSZ and adjacent areas.

According to UN–EUE (in August 2003), an estimated 3,000 IDP families/15,000 persons that are categorized as being displaced as a result of the conflict reside in temporary shelters in Addis Ababa. The group fled from the Eritrean seaport of Assab during the war.

Challenges in post-war development programs

Although the signing of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (June 2000) and the Algiers Agreement (December 2000) has permitted the commencement of rehabilitation and recovery programs in conflict-affected areas, there is still much that needs to be done. Uncertainty with regards to the border demarcation process has suspended the implementation of many programs.

Challenges of post-war rehabilitation programs include:

Coordination and integration of rehabilitation programs

Program standards

Geographic spread

Working with established local frameworks and with local institutions.

Other challenges include the need to design appropriate interventions for the various groups affected by the war (the displaced, returnees, FDs, and demobilized soldiers), the need to include programs that address issues of psychological trauma among the most directly affected people in the border areas, and resumption of cross-border trade with Eritrea, which had served as a major source of income. The slow progress on mine-clearing as well as the delay in the border demarcation process has created a sense of insecurity, preventing people from resettling and investing in the border areas.

Other conflict-induced displacements

In addition to the Ethio-Eritrean war, ethnic-based conflicts in other parts of the country have also resulted in the displacement of people. In the Yeki district of SNNPR, ethnic clashes over the inclusion of the Shekicho zone into the Gambella region had resulted in the death of about 800 people, the displacement of 5,800, and destruction of over 2,000 homes in 2002. Another ethnic conflict in the Bench and Maji zones of the same region had resulted in the displacement of over 1,000 Dizzi people ( Global IDP Project 2003 ).

Ethnic clashes between the Anuak and Nuer tribes in the Gambella region are common. However, the level has escalated recently, and in 2003 resulted in massive displacement of over 10,000 Anuak. With the decentralization of power to regional administrations in 1991, Gambella became an autonomous region, and tension between the two tribes rose as the struggle for power intensified. The Nuer, who represent 40 per cent of the population (according to the 1994 census) argue that education should be conducted in the Nuer language. The Anuak (believed to account for 27 per cent of the population), on the other hand, contest the 1994 census, arguing that the number of Nuers in the area was overestimated due the inflow of Sudanese Nuer over the border. They also contend that the number of Anuaks was underestimated, as most of their villages were inaccessible during the census.

With increasing population growth and recurrent drought (especially since the drought of 2002), conflict over natural resources has also increased in the region. Easy access to guns, mainly from Sudan, has made the conflicts more violent, resulting in the death as well as the displacement of many people. The conflict has also affected refugee camps in the region.

US Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003: Ethiopia -
Global IDP Project Profile of Internal Displacement: Ethiopia -$file/Ethiopia+-August+2003.pdf
UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia (UN OCHA-EUE) -$file/UN+EUE+IDP+figures+Ethiopia+1Aug03.pdf

Disaster-induced displacement

Looking at statistics on disasters in Ethiopia, drought and famine account for the majority of the incidents. Ethiopia’s disaster-induced displacement occurs in the form of unassisted migration, which is in most cases temporary. In times of stress, people affected by drought tend to migrate to places that offer employment opportunities or places where they have relatives. Much of this trend can be generalized as a movement from the highlands (highly populated and environmentally degraded) to the lowlands, which offer more diverse livelihoods. As the level of stress increases, people (usually women, children, and the elderly) migrate to urban areas while the able-bodied men migrate farther to the surplus-growing areas of western and southern Ethiopia such as Humera, Arsi, Gojam, and Wellega ( Hammond 2000 ). However, in some cases, especially during times of extreme deprivation, people also tend to migrate to neighbouring countries and to seek assistance there. In the case of pastoral communities, particularly in the Afar and Somali regions, pastoralists during times of stress tend to move in search of grazing land and water for their herds. In some cases, such movements result in conflict.

Table 2 has been extracted from a USAID Contingency Response Plan for the 2000 drought emergency in Ethiopia, as it gives a very good sample of migration trends in the country.

Table 2: Partial sample of target destinations of stress migration
Target destination(s) Area(s) of origin
Gode Rural parts of Gode zone and other parts of southern and southwestern Somali region; also from southern Somalia
Yabello, Negelle Rural pastoralists from Borena zone
Jinka Rural pastoralists and agro-pastoralists from South Omo
Sodo, Konso Rural agro-pastoralists from North Omo
Jijiga, Dire Dawa Rural pastoralists from eastern parts of Somalia region, East Haraghe
Kombolcha, Dessie, Weldiya Rural farmers from North and South Wello
Mekelle, Maichew Rural farmers from Tigray
Gondar Rural farmers from isolated areas of West and Central Tigray, North and South Gondar
Addis Ababa Rural dwellers from all over the country

USAID Contingency Response Plan 2000

Drought in Ethiopia is a recurrent event and is one of the major contributing factors to the country’s state of food insecurity. As part of its overall food security strategy, the GFDRE in 2003 launched a voluntary resettlement program, to resettle a total of 2.2 million food-insecure people over a three-year period. Approximately 150,000 people were resettled by the second half of 2003, and an additional 170,000 people are said to have been resettled in 2004, bringing the total number to 320,000 people ( UNOCHA 2004 ). The resettlement program as it currently stands is conducted on a voluntary basis. However, in the mid-1980s, the Derg carried out a similar campaign, which quickly became forced. Between 1984 and 1986, an estimated 600,000 people were relocated. Conditions in resettlement areas were appalling, and thousands of deaths were reported. It is important to bear in mind that the current program has a great potential to become involuntary. As it currently stands, maximum planning figures released by the federal government have a tendency to be interpreted by regional, zonal, and woreda administrators as quotas to be met. Initiation propaganda thus tends to be overly ambitious, painting rosier pictures than actually exist at the resettlement sites and making false promises to lure people to volunteer ( Hammond and Dessalegn 2003 ). The disparity between expectations and actual situations at the sites has resulted in increased numbers of returnees.

At present, settlers have the right to return to their place of origin and receive the benefits that they were previously entitled to including their land and other assets.

The increase in the number of returnees has in turn contributed to a reduced number of volunteers, requiring more work to promote the program, in order to convince people to resettle. This tendency, if unchecked, could easily result in involuntary resettlement and as such should be looked at carefully.

Development-induced displacement

Development-induced displacement occurs mainly due to construction of large development projects such as dams, buildings, or major roads. Development programs of such magnitude are not common in Ethiopia. The few major development programs in the country are undertaken by the government, and as such, accessing information on their negative implications is very difficult. For instance, it is common knowledge that the nearly finished 47-km ‘ring road’ that follows the outskirts of Addis Ababa has resulted in the displacement of many families. However, information on the number of people displaced, compensation packages offered, etc., is very difficult to access. It is generally believed that the construction has destroyed social networks by removing people from their means of livelihood. This is especially true for those in the low-income strata whose livelihood depended on petty trading and other small income-generation schemes. Relocation in their case has meant losing their developed demand for their products.

Last updated Aug 17, 2011