UNDP-EUE: Field Trip Report, 13 - 18 February 2001

UNDP-EUE: Field Trip Report, 13 - 18 February 2001

Field Trip Report

Jijiga, Hartesheik, Kebri Dehar, Fafen and Shinile

Somali Region 1

13 - 18 February 2001


The Somali National Regional State and its people are often objects of prejudgment by those who from outside its vast and rugged terrain are prone to associate it more with history and difficulties of the past than with opportunities and demands of the present and future.

The SNRS is without argument devoid of many of the conveniences that lure long-term commitment and vision to other regions. And yet, there are international organizations that have worked in the Region for more than a decade and those more recently arrived that have demonstrated a commitment to long-term intervention. Some of these same organisations have suffered great loss and frustration and yet they remain entrenched in their belief that something can be done to turn a downward spiral initiated in the late 1970's into a gradually ascending staircase to prosperity.

That vision cannot be realised without commitment of time and effort. Nor can it be achieved without attention to the intricacies of Somali culture, clan structures and the influences and impact of history on the Region. As one zonal authority explained to us in one of a series of meetings with authorities, elders and the general population, the problem started back at the time of the Ethio-Somali (Ogaden) War in the late 1970's. Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Somalis fled Ethiopia to Somalia and lived there in refugee camps for more than a decade and a half. Those who remained behind in Somali Region confronted significant and mounting difficulties in gaining access to services and basic economic facilities. The state of the infrastructure in much of present-day Somali Region is testimony to decades of neglect: Roads, water systems, schools, hospitals, health centres and public buildings are in a serious state of decay.

When people returned to Somali Region in the early nineties --- fleeing both the war in Somalia and the most devastating drought of the decade --- they came back with very little and sometimes nothing. They also came back no longer the pastoralists that they were prior to their exodus in the 1970's but as virtual (camp) urbanites. They settled in the peripheries of Gode and Dolo and other towns mainly because that was where the relief effort was concentrated at the time. They found, however, contrary to the multi-sectoral assistance (education, health, skills training) they received in the camps, only food assistance, some emergency health and nutritional services, short-term provision of water and limited agricultural inputs. As the immediate crisis abated, levels of assistance faded. Some organisations continued to deliver assistance through longer-term programmes. Most, however, withdrew or reduced their presence, only to return when the next crisis (the one from which the population is currently trying to recover) would hit the Region.

The Prevailing Humanitarian Crisis in the Region

If one were to superimpose a photograph of Gode in January 1993 onto one taken in January 2000, it would likely be difficult to discern any difference. Some of the faces, in fact, would be the same. Likewise, the humanitarian and development communities in February 2001 are facing a situation much the same as the one they faced in February 1994 (invoking the spirit of Hamlet): "To engage or not to engage. That is the question...." The advantage we have this time is knowing that we failed rather miserably the first time in terms of preparing for the next drought. We also now know from this experience that simply going away is not a solution.

And what is the answer? As the director of one international aid agency put it, the United Nations needs to act "with innovation and effectiveness" and with lasting and sustainable solutions. That challenge, perhaps unwittingly issued, also applies to Government, to NGOs and to donors alike.

While it is likely that one would need a man with four hands and twenty fingers to count the problems facing Somali Region, one problem in particular speaks volumes of the state of affairs in the Region: the plight of an estimated 125,330 persons currently abiding in locations other than their traditional home areas. They are living in camps dotted throughout the Region. They are displaced within the internal boundaries of their region. And they want to return home. They are not officially referred to as internally displaced persons (IDPs), a terminology more frequently used in Ethiopia to identify war-affected displaced persons, and more specifically, those in the Tigray and Afar Regions displaced by dangers of the war with Eritrea and its remnant landmines and unexploded ordnance. But if one goes back far enough and acknowledges the effects of the Ogaden War, one might be able to call some of these people internally displaced formerly externally displaced returned home persons (IDFEDRHPs or IDPs for short).

Perhaps reluctance to call these persons "IDPs" stems from the consequence of Region residents being sweepingly categorised as nomadic or semi-nomadic peoples. Little or no attention is drawn to the fact that many of those dislocated have been in their current camp settings for more than one year or that many of them are in locations significantly outside their traditional seasonal migrating patterns. In places like Fafen, some of the Ogadeni people occupying the camps have travelled more than 150 kms and have been in the valley since late 1999. In places like Gode and Denan, many of the displaced are persons who returned from refugee camps in Somalia in the early nineties.

Many of the current displaced (coming from purely pastoralist and agro-pastoralist livelihoods) have lost most or all of their livestock during the course of the past two to three years. They have "settled" temporarily where they last found water and where they now benefit from food distributions from the DPPB (with in-kind assistance from the Ethiopian Government, Saudi Government, WFP and others). Some of these camps benefit from health and nutrition facilities established by NGOs. Some take advantage of the same services provided at the eight refugee camps in Somali Region, on the peripheries of which IDP camps have been erected.

What are the choices? The first, of course, is self-evidently unsatisfactory: Pretending the problem does not exist will eventually lead to greater problems. The only solution is to assist these people to return to their home areas. But simply moving them home is just a start. They are presently dependent to a large degree --- if not totally --- on assistance from Government and aid organisations. The same assistance will be required when they get back to their homes. As far as assisting them in the logistics of the return move, there are those who argue that the displaced walked from their homes to their current locations and that they can walk back. Admittedly, in normal times this would be a rational argument. These are not, unfortunately, normal times. The animals on which they relied for sustenance and transport in the move to their current locations are now gone, perished during the height of the drought or sold as means of survival along the way.

The provision of logistic support and humanitarian assistance in their home areas in reality changes very little for the long run. They will be returning to their home areas virtually empty-handed. They will require food assistance and basic health and water services until they are able to provide for themselves again. To be able to do this, they will also require assistance to revitalise their livelihoods, whether through the provision of a pair of small animals (elders in Shinile zone suggested that if they were to have two sheep or goats they could restart their lives and gradually build their herds up to larger animals or greater numbers over time) or agricultural inputs for farmers, of which there are significant numbers. (With a livestock import ban still in effect, prices of livestock are modestly deflated (supply and demand are both less than prosperous times). A local purchase scheme could both help the beneficiaries of restocking assistance and the suppliers currently without adequate markets.) Support to restocking and agricultural revitalisation would naturally require the infusion of expertise, both from local capacities (Regional Bureau of Agriculture and SERP) and from the FAO and other experienced parties.

Alternative livelihoods also need to be examined. For many reasons only hinted at here, livelihoods have changed in Somali Region and in many places, nomadic tradition is giving way to sedentary existence. Once a region rich with productive farms and great herds, the dramatic decline in production needs to be halted and turned around, not simply through a two-pronged approach but through a diversified economy. This, of course, will require an infusion of capital. And this means that inhibitions need to be overcome.

It is important also that baseline information be gathered and analysed. To this end, the Mother And Child Development Organisation (a local NGO) has been commissioned to provide information on family profiles, histories and livelihoods for a DPPB pilot scheme seeking to return IDPs to their home areas.

From this point on, a systematic and transparent approach is encouraged. In discussions with Regional Authorities, it is also clear that the ideas and proposals need to come from the Somali Region itself. The international and national aid communities can engage in constructive dialogue with the Regional Government and commit where they believe policies are sound and debate where they believe they are not.

While promoting the road to recovery, it is also important to continue to place emphasis on disaster prevention, preparedness and mitigation, an ace in the hole, so to speak, while recovery cards are dealt around the table.


Imperative to any intervention, economic or otherwise, is overland access. While secondary and tertiary road networks in the Region would truly challenge any rally team, there are a number of active primary road rehabilitation and construction projects ongoing within the Region and on main arteries leading to SNRS. The Ethiopian Roads Authority (with assistance from the World Bank) is rehabilitating and in some places completely reconstructing the road between Harar and Shilabo, including the provision of improved drainage and sub-surface canalisation of run-off. A Chinese road company is working on the road between Dire Dawa and Harar, resurfacing and where necessary reconstructing major portions with bridges and drainage also being completely overhauled. Between Dengogo (the junction above Dire Dawa) and west of Kalubi, a Korean firm has cut significant portions of cliff sides, widened the road and resurfaced significant sections of the trajectory to Dengogo. Another Chinese crew has resurfaced and in some places reconstructed most of the road between Awash and Hirna up to the beginning of the road works by the Korean company.

The steady improvement of road access and the opportunities it brings to the potential development of the SNRS cannot be overestimated. The promise of development until recently may have been couched more in futuristic terms than evidenced in reality. That there is such investment leading to the SNRS is a clear indication that more investment by Government is on the way.


Of all problems cited by elders, government officials and individuals in the SNRS, water was the most pronounced shortcoming. A few towns had their systems modestly rehabilitated in the 1980's and Somali people (of nomadic persuasion) have traditionally moved when necessary to areas where water was available, both for themselves and for their animals.

The lack of potable water is a key impediment to human development in the Region. However, a number of UN agencies and international and national organisations have been involved across the Region in water activities. The Regional Water Resources Bureau is seen by most of them as a well-led, competent and committed Government partner in these activities, although, as with many bureaus and departments country-wide, the numbers of experienced and empowered technicians are limited and their outreach is handicapped by the great distances, poor communications and lack of resources. Partners of particular note (the following list is by no means complete) are the DPPB delivering water to communities in a number of locations in the Region, Action Contre la Faim in Kebri Dehar, MSF Belgium in Denan (and previously in the Gashamo and Warder areas), Oxfam GB in various locations in the Region, SCF UK in Fik, Hope for the Horn (a local NGO), Atlas Logistique in the water delivery operation to refugee camps in Kebri Beyeh and Hartesheik, Harargue Catholic Secretariat (HCS) in Shinile, LWF and until recently SCF USA in Gode (with delivery to Denan). Additionally, UNHCR has been dealing with water delivery and supply for the refugee camps and extending services to nearby communities through dam construction and pipeline and tanker delivery and UNICEF is an implementing partner in the Jerrer Valley Pipeline Project and has been providing various means of support to NGOs and the Regional Water Resources Bureau.

The fairly large number of organisations working in the water sector in the Region is significant for a number of reasons: First, the magnitude of the problem is such that many need to be involved. Second, it raises the question, given the numbers and the distances of operations from the regional capital, as to the effectiveness of coordination at regional level and the conformity of programmes with regional policies and strategies. Third, given that all of these projects utilise local capacity to some degree, does the training provided also conform to Regional objectives and priorities. Fourth, the fact that there are so many organisations working in one particular sector discredits the perception that the Region is too inaccessible and difficult for organisations to become engaged. Fifth, "lack of capacity" --- often used as an excuse for non-engagement in the region --- is also torn asunder by the fact that there is actually plenty of capacity. The fact that much of it is foreign, offers hope of capacity building among Ethiopian nationals. Sixth, to make it all work --- and this is the argument of UNICEF and other UN agencies based in the Region --- the Regional Bureau needs to be empowered to bring all the pieces of a rather diversified puzzle together.

With all these activities ongoing, a question needs to be asked: Where for art thou the peripheral towns water project? Kebri Dehar was identified as one of the beneficiary communities. An international NGO had earlier secured funding for revamping the town's water system but gave way to the more elaborate project two years ago. To date, two warehouses, standing empty, have been built for the Regional Water Resources Bureau on the outskirts of Kebri Dehar town. No materials have yet been delivered and no work has yet begun.


The most pressing health problems evident during this mission were respiratory in nature (TB cases were reported in every community visited) and often in combination with compromised immune systems. HIV/AIDS is most certainly a problem in the Region, just as it is everywhere else in the country. Jijiga lies on a main trucking route and is a naturally high-risk environment. Water- and air-borne diseases such as malaria and meningitis were also reported by local officials to be prevalent concerns.

Morbidity is one problem but dealing with illnesses is another. The leadership of the Regional Health Bureau is given high marks by its international partners, but outreach capacity and the support the bureau receives for delivery of services at zonal and wereda levels is handicapped by difficult road networks, inadequate logistic capabilities and limited numbers of staff. (Sound familiar?) Expanded training of health workers by UNICEF is proposed for this year, but hospitals and health centres, extremely limited in number, also need rehabilitated and refurbished where they have not already been by NGOs or the ICRC. The delivery of supplies and medicines is of course an obstacle that needs to be overcome.

Coordination and Humanitarian Programme Participation

The Regional Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Bureau (DPPB) is undermanned and under-equipped like all other SNRS Regional Bureaus. However, the Head of the Regional Bureau in Jijiga demonstrates tireless energy, a full grasp of the situation in all parts of the Region, familiarity with all NGO and UN humanitarian programmes and an initiative to find long-term solutions to chronic and recurrent problems. The UN agencies working in the Region display a natural tendency to cooperate with one another and to share ideas and approaches with their sister agencies, to support the regional bureaus and to strengthen links with the NGOs, both international and national. The NGOs and international organisations (ICRC) working in the SNRS have very good reputations and are keen to work in a manner that minimises duplication and identifies gaps in assistance from a geographical and sectoral point of view.


Unofficial figures placed school age attendance at 8% of those eligible. Zone leaders who had recently conducted a survey of facilities in Kebri Dehar stated that classrooms built for 30 - 40 students housed 130. Such numbers sit on the floor or bring their own stools to class where there are no blackboards, tables, latrines or running water. While the numbers seem to dispute the percentages, given the conditions in which children are expected to attend classes, would low percentages not be expected?

Early Warning and Food and Livelihood Security Initiatives

Save the Children Fund UK (SCF UK) is pressing forward with a region-wide initiative in support of the DPPB and early warning in the Somali Region pastoral setting. Similarly, Action Contre la Faim (ACF) has embarked on a programme in Kebri Dehar with similar objectives and intent. In discussions with Regional authorities, it was clear that both initiatives are deemed important and, according to both organisations, the two programmes will be developed and implemented to ensure complementarity, collaboration and coordination in all facets of their implementation. To be successful, it is important that donors back both programmes and the efforts of the Regional Government to ensure their mutually beneficial success.


There are both immediate and long-term needs in the SNRS. Solutions in the immediate term are readily provided through the delivery of humanitarian assistance. Solutions for the longer-term, however, must come from the people of the Region and the Government. The Regional President has demonstrated willingness and ability to turn the fortunes of the Region around, to work closely with international organisations (UN, ICRC and NGOs) and to provide an administration that is responsive to the needs of the people. He is constrained, however, by the vastness of the Region and the distances one must cross when travelling from the capital Jijiga south to Degeh Bur, Warder, Kebri Dehar, Gode and Mustahil and south and west to Dolo and Moyale or directly west through Dire Dawa to Casbule in Shinile over roads that are mostly dirt and rock tracks (with the exception for the main road Jijiga - Dire Dawa). The telecommunications network is also extremely poor, and pales in comparison with nearly all other regions. With these conditions as a background, the administration is tasked with the daunting challenge of bringing into balance a complex clan structure with expectations at all levels for an appropriate share of rather limited resources.

On the positive side, the SNRS is a region with unexploited resources and underdeveloped capacity (critically different from lacking). The people are straightforward and determined. The Region has survived a serious war fought on its soil and persevered through decades of limited development support and periods of humanitarian crisis.

Ahmed Ali Egeh/Gregory Gromo Alex

Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia

26 February 2001