IDPs left in limbo
It is a high time for humanitarian agencies, civil society organizations, donors, and international development partners since the operating environment in Ethiopia is returning to normal, two years after their activities were curtailed due to the Tigray war. They have faced harsh criticism from the federal government, and dozens of humanitarian workers were also killed while working in the war zones in the northern Ethiopian conflict. Most of these international organizations are currently facing the dilemma of where to start their activities after disengaging for two years.
But there are disagreements about whether to spend on humanitarian aid or on development first, especially when it comes to the rising number of IDPs in Ethiopia.
Due to protracted conflicts and drought in the country, there are currently over 4.9 million IDPs in Ethiopia, according to the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC). However, the humanitarian provision is just a drop in the ocean, as organizations are yet to be on the ground. On the other hand, some also argue that humanitarian organizations are focused on Tigray, resulting in uneven aid provisions across the country.
However, Yared Berhe, executive director of the Alliance of Civil Society Organizations of Tigray (ACSOT), argues to the contrary. He says that compared to the deep and prolonged social and humanitarian crisis in Tigray, the humanitarian work is yet to begin.
“Medicines, nutrition supplements, and food supplies are the urgent needs. I do not understand how one can say Tigray is getting more humanitarian assistance. All the population of the region needs support, but the work is yet to begin,” Yared told The Reporter.
But Malcha Loja (PhD), deputy director of the disaster risk management commission of Oromia regional state, says the international community has forgotten the social crisis in Oromia, where there are currently 1.3 million IDPs in Wollega, Borena, Bale, and Guji due to conflict and drought. “Especially in west Oromia, there are no humanitarian providers. The international community has forgotten Oromia. Especially in Wollega and Borena, a critical food supply is required. IDPs are living in camps, centers, and also inside the host community.”
Schools, health services, agricultural activities, and others stopped, especially in western and southern Oromia, Malcha says. He claimed that people are living on the sides of roads and in valleys, having lost everything due to the drought and security crisis. “Most of the IDPs from southern Oromia are fleeing to Kenya. People have died, their property has been damaged, their harvest has been ruined, and schools are closed. There is a serious food shortage.”
Other regional states, such as Benishangul, are being forced to shift their budgets entirely to humanitarian spending, according to officials of the region. Tarekegn Tasisa, commissioner of disaster risk management for Benishangul Gumuz Regional State, said that “in the last four years, the regional government of Benishangul has shifted all of its budgets for humanitarian provisions.”
There are 475,000 displaced people in Benishangul. An additional 22,000 IDPs came from neighboring regions, and 75,000 refugees came from Sudan and South Sudan, creating pressure on the region. “The region is normalizing with insurgents. We have to work on reconstruction. The reconstruction requires 38 billion birr over the next five years,” Tarekegn said.
Amhara regional state, which is hosting 800,000 IDPs from neighboring regions on top of the six million people in need of humanitarian assistance, recently disclosed that over 700 billion birr is required to reconstruct the region.
While almost all regional states in the country are facing varying degrees of a humanitarian crisis, humanitarian organizations and development partners are in a dilemma about how to approach the crisis. Some organizations say that spending on development can help IDPs in the long run, while others say that humanitarian aid can.
On January 25, 2023, humanitarian agencies, development partners, regional and federal disaster management officials, and other actors gathered at the Hilton hotel for two days to assess the country’s humanitarian situation and chart a course forward.
Only representatives of the Tigray region were absent from this event, dubbed “Beyond Good Intentions: Search for Human Rights-Based Durable Solutions for IDPs in Ethiopia,” which is organized by the EHRC. Of course, CSOs in the country paid a visit to Tigray last week, where they especially promised to re-engage with CSOs in Tigray.
However, the discussion at Hilton revealed that humanitarian and development actors are at odds over how to deal with Ethiopia’s social, political, and economic crisis, which has gone largely unaddressed in recent years.
Though Ethiopia launched the National Durable Solutions Initiatives for IDPs in 2019, the implementation progress stagnated, according to presentations during the event.
In a bid to efficiently utilize available resources, the necessity of coupling humanitarian provisions with development projects has become eminent.
Jan Bade, deputy head of development cooperation at the Embassy of the Netherlands in Addis Ababa and regional coordinator for refugees and migration in the Horn of Africa, says humanitarian and development spending are two sides of the same coin. “There is a kind of competition. Lasting solutions come from development. If one wants to criticize donors, I think that is due to the fact that we are not spending development money equally in all the regions of Ethiopia, especially where there are a lot of IDPs.”
Most of the aid money and development financing was largely spent where there were no IDPs, and this needs more dialogue, Bade says. “There is also a need for humanitarian organizations to be more clear on the kind of development spending they expect. But there is improvement in the dialogue over the issue.”
However, Bade emphasized that, while expectations for IDP financing in Ethiopia are high, state finances remain low. “Everybody was expecting the donor community to come in with billions of dollars, given the crisis in Ethiopia. That did not materialize. Most donors do not think that we need a global fund. We have been expecting strong leadership from the federal government regarding humanitarian provisions. Perhaps we should expect more from the regional states that host IDPs.”
There were also setbacks on humanitarian spending due to COVID-19, according to him. He says that there is an argument that IDPs do not need to be considered a special group.
“IDPs are citizens; they have the same rights for development and solutions. Making them special groups will enable them to get special programs. But special programs lead to tensions between IDPs and the host communities. So I am not in favor of that. I am in favor of spending a lot of money in those areas where IDPs are. This, however, is not the case.”
He believes localization and a systematic approach are also required to ensure accountability for IDPs.
While many stakeholders believe that combining humanitarian and development programs is critical for avoiding redundancy, others are concerned that designing and implementing such hybrid projects will be difficult.
Sabrina Bazzanella, team leader of the EU delegation in Addis Abeba, is among those who argue that humanitarian aid should be integrated into all policies without a clear distinction between development and humanitarian aid. The boundaries between development and humanitarian work are a bit blurred, but that is not necessarily bad, Bazzanella says.
“We can work simultaneously. Humanitarians are the first to step in when there is a crisis, providing lifesaving assistance and support. But donors and development actors can immediately step in and continue what they are doing,” Bazzanella said. She believes development actors can solve the root causes of the crisis if there is no clear-cut distinction about this.
“What is important is working together. We must not forget that IDPs are Ethiopian citizens. They should be able to enjoy the same rights that any other citizen does. We should not categorize IDPs as a specific part of society. Of course, they need specific attention at a specific moment. But they must be able to access every right at any time. We should include IDPs in every policy and day-to-day activities without singling them out.”
Sabrina also argues that despite the war near the boundaries of the EU, humanitarian funding has not been reduced, neither for the African continent nor for Ethiopia. “We are supporting Ethiopia both in development and also to handle the humanitarian crisis.”
For development partners like the World Bank, the critical nature of humanitarian provision is weighing on development spending.
“More and more people are being displaced in Ethiopia, and that is a great concern for all of us. But after all, it is the government that is in the driver’s seat in all of this. Cities and towns in Ethiopia are overwhelmed by IDPs due to the prolonged displacements. IDPs could not go back due to their destroyed livelihoods,” Andrea Vermehren, an economist and social protection specialist who worked at the World Bank for over twenty years, said. “So different programs are needed to address the different situations IDPs are facing.”
Vermehren is the World Bank’s program leader for human development (AFCE3) and the lead social protection specialist based in Addis Ababa.
Though she argues the World Bank is not made for humanitarian work, Vermehren says the bank is directly transferring cash to IDPs. In the past two years, the urban PSNV in Ethiopia has supported over 380,000 IDPs in Afar, Amhara, and Benishangul through cash transfers. The IDPs can retrieve cash from any CBE branch from any location.
Some USD 100 million is provided for IDPs under this PSNV project. Of this amount, 60 million are being used for IDPs in Oromia, Harar, Afar, Benishangul, and the SNNPR. This program will soon benefit an additional 600,000 IDPs. Currently, approximately 200,000 of them have begun to gain access. Such direct cash assistance for IDPs is not a long-term solution, but it is critical to keep IDPs alive until the next long-term assistance arrives. The urban PSNV now covers 84 cities.
“The World Bank is in between the humanitarian and development nexuses, and some of our activities focus on IDPs,” Vermehren stated, adding, “We are not really made for emergency situations, and we provide tents and blankets. There are many humanitarian organizations that can do this much better than the World Bank could ever do.”
Stakeholders believe that granular analysis and approaches are crucial to coupling humanitarian and development operations.
Nonetheless, other experts argue that Ethiopia’s development and humanitarian actors are in disarray, owing to a lack of familiarity with one another. Such experts also say the focus of humanitarian and development partners is largely on mobilizing resources rather than efficient spending of the available resources on areas with significant returns.
The government is preparing a “durable solution funding guideline.” This will be a pool of funds and a tool to streamline funds into the most critical areas, according to Eshete Dessie (Amb.), advisor to the minister of peace.
“The role of international communities has not been clearly defined, and their support is limited. There has been insufficient or no funding committed,” Eshete said. The ambassador stated that with the detailed accounts of what has been done so far, the government is determined that there will be an aggressive and timely move to fully address all issues related to IDPs.
“Emergency provisions must be provided for IDPs and refugees. These emergency provisions must be followed by development provisions immediately. Otherwise, the IDPs could fall back into difficulties unless durable solutions are also provided. We cannot support people in IDP camps forever. There must be development projects to create a permanent life for them.”