Report on Mission to Tigray Region, 09/98

Report on Mission to Tigray Region, 09/98

Report on a Rapid Assessment Mission to Tigray Region

21 - 29 September 1998

By Joachim D. Ahrens, Senior Field Officer, and Yves Guinand, Field Officer, UNDP-EUE


The border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea led to open confrontation in May and June 1998, resulting in the displacement of significant numbers of civilians. Displaced people were subsequently accommodated with local host communities mainly south of the three major areas of friction along the 1,000 kilometres long border. These areas are: Badme and Shiraro in the western border section, known as the "Yirga Triangle" between the Tekezze and Mereb rivers (Western Tigray Zone), Zala Ambasa and Alitena in the central border section (Eastern Tigray Zone) along the main road leading from Ethiopia to the Eritrean capital Asmara, and Bure in the eastern border section (Zone 1 of Afar Region) on the main road to the Eritrean Red Sea port of Assab. Although various international mediation efforts continue tensions remain high with a military build-up continuing.

On 15 June 1998 the Ethiopian Government, through the Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission (DPPC), launched an international appeal. While that appeal identified a total "displaced population needing assistance" of 143,000 (in Tigray Region 126,000; in Afar Region 17,000) a possible further displacement was anticipated resulting in a projected number of 300,000 people requiring relief assistance of food, shelter materials, household utensils, clothing, medicines and medical equipment.

Subsequently, the United Nations in Ethiopia fielded, with the co-operation of DPPC, two inter-agency-assessment missions to Tigray and Afar regions (19 to 24 June). The report, "Humanitarian Needs of War-Displaced People in Northern and North-Eastern Ethiopia", was made available by 1 July 1998. After contributions originating from various sources started being mobilised, the Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia (EUE) launched an informal follow-up mission to Tigray Region to assess the current situation. This mission, which took place in Tigray from 21 to 30 September 1998, was in parts independently joined by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). Meanwhile, the DPPC provided an update on "Relief Requirement for the Internally Displaced" (Addis Ababa, 25 September 1998) which lists for Tigray Region a total number of 166,308 internally displaced (87,699 in Eastern Zone; 18,000 in Central Zone; 60,609 in Western Zone). Additionally, the region hosts 10,983 Ethiopians returned from Eritrea which brings the grand total of conflict-affected people in Tigray (returnees/expellees and displaced combined) to 177,291 (figures as at 24 September).

(For background information on Tigray refer to the UN report of 1 July 1998 mentioned above.)

Meetings with regional authorities

Prior to going further into the field, the mission met with the regional authorities in the capital Mekele. The Regional President, Gebru Asrat, expressed his support and said that the UN interagency mission of June had also been most welcome. However, the president expressed a certain disappointment over the "slow response of the UN system". It became clear during the course of the mission that this unhappiness prevails both at regional and zonal level over the UN Eritrea appeal issued by UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in early September. The regional president said this appeal reflected an "unbalanced approach", comparing its dimensions to the reports and summaries published by the UN Ethiopia country team so far. Regional leaders of the Relief Society of Tigray (REST) as well as representatives from zonal authorities were particularly upset by the fact that the Eritrea appeal was made immediately available electronically on the "Relief Web" Internet site, reaching presumably more readers in the international humanitarian community than the publications on Ethiopia's needs. "The UN has not been fair and just to our cause" was a statement heard several times in this regard.

Reiterating that relief and rehabilitation assistance continue to be needed for the border areas, the regional president emphasised that beyond the sectors of food, shelter and clothing the education sector was currently high on the agenda since the school year had just started with many children of displaced families not having school materials such as pens and exercise books. The president concluded his remarks by pointing at the needs for "more development activities" in the interior areas of Tigray.

The numbers of displaced people in Tigray have been by and large stable since June. What has changed meanwhile are the increasing numbers of Ethiopians coming from Eritrea. Dr. Solomon Ingira, Head of Social Affairs in the President's Office and member of the regional intersectoral emergency committee, confirmed the numbers of displaced and returnees published at federal level on 25 September (see "Introduction" above).

It might be useful to remember at this point that, based on structures existing prior to the conflict, special emergency committees have been formed in Tigray. Headed by a regional committee, also at wereda (district), tabia (Amharic: kebele, community) and kushet (Amharic: got, smallest entity) levels special committees have been formed. These intersectoral committees, at regional level chaired by the president of the regional council, comprise representatives from all line departments including the Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Bureaux. Furthermore, the Relief Society of Tigray (REST), the Tigray Development Association (TDA), the Ethiopian Red Cross and farmer's, women's and youth's associations are represented. The functions of the committees at all levels comprise resource mobilisation and channelling, assessing and targeting displaced people in need of support, co-ordination of relief activities including distribution, facilitating the provision of transport and supervising warehouses and relief stocks.

Indicating that for the time being no further displacement from the border areas took place and that recent increments in numbers of affected people were mainly due to increasing numbers of returnees, Dr. Solomon expressed the view that the scenario might change dramatically with the possible resumption of open hostilities. He said: "If we go to war - it will not be the choice of Ethiopia but because our peace efforts met with a negative response from the other side. While still continuing to hope for peace, we have to prepare for the worst. The future does not look good at this point." Having said that, Dr. Solomon considered the possibility that in a worst case scenario the current number of displaced people in the region might double or triple: "If fighting affects villages further south, also current host-communities would themselves become displaced and the total number might reach 350,000 to 500,000 people." Envisaging this possible scenario, the regional government appealed to the UN system and the international donor community to help design preparedness measures, also bearing in mind that in addition to the problem of increased displacement civilian casualties, deaths and wounded, might occur, requiring additional medical back-up measures such as rubbhalls, mattresses, drugs, medical instruments to establish and equip makeshift field-hospitals. "If things turn bad", Dr. Solomon pointed out, "we might also be forced to give up our current policy of hosting displaced people with local communities. We might have to change the shelter policy and set up temporary camps."

Tigray authorities in Mekele confirmed that at the regional level a contingency plan was under preparation and would be shared with the UN system and the international donor community, probably by mid-October. The UN country team in Ethiopia, meanwhile, is drafting a contingency plan based on an assumed number of 500,000 conflict-affected people, Tigray and Afar Regions combined.

The mission was unable to get specific information on eventual evacuation plans. While at zonal and wereda level neither the authorities nor members of the population spoken to seemed to be aware of formalised evacuation procedures, information at regional level indicated rather generally that settlements in a range between 35 or 40 kilometres from the border or the frontline respectively might have to be evacuated in case of war. This would include towns like Rama (north of Adua in Central Tigray) and possibly Adigrat (the capital of the Eastern Zone). However, the Executive Director of REST, Teklewoini Assefa, told the mission during a debriefing meeting in Mekele on 28 September that people in some areas had just been given advice to relocate to other areas.

Difficult to obtain comprehensive data

Certain discrepancies between regional and local level information were also noted. In all the locations visited food needs appeared to be well addressed by the respective authorities who managed to distribute relief food channelled through DPPC and REST on a regular basis with rations of 15 kg per head per month (up from 12.5 kg previously). In all the three zones visited (Eastern, Central and Western Tigray) authorities named "pens, exercise books and other school material" as being currently the number one "priority emergency items" needed for the just begun school year. Medicines, shelter materials, household utensils, blankets and clothing, water and sanitation, transportation and communication were other items and sectors mentioned as suffering from "gaps" - although no comprehensive quantifiable data were provided. REST, however, told the mission prior to the southbound departure from Mekele, that disregarding zonal information, "food continues to be priority number one" - this perhaps in view of possible future scenarios.

The difficulties in obtaining comprehensive data are reflected by the fact that the mission was unable to obtain a breakdown of relief goods distributed and remaining gaps. Another problem in information gathering is that at the local level, authorities seem to have difficulties in distinguishing clearly between the current situation and possible future scenarios leading to additional needs. Although quantification was difficult, gaps in shelter materials, utensils and water and sanitation still exist.

Observations in Adigrat and surroundings

Orderly food distribution Reaching Adigrat, the capital of Eastern Zone, the mission witnessed a food distribution taking place at three Rubbhalls located near the DPPB office and the warehouse bombed on 11 June. Local aid workers in charge of logistics said that they had currently (23 September) about 1,080 tons of wheat, "sufficient supplies for the moment" and that the day's distribution plan was designed to hand out 134 tons (15 kg per month per head). A young widow displaced from Zala Ambasa, where she used to work as a housemaid, told the mission that she and her two daughters had lived for three months in Adigrat with a host household of four people. She confirmed that this was the fourth time she went to collect her monthly food ration amounting to 45 kilograms for her and the two children. In an earlier distribution round she had received also two blankets and biscuits. Sharing household utensils with the host family, she usually sells about half the relief grain to buy household necessities and food ingredients. Asked if she knew the whereabouts of her former employers in Zala Ambasa she said that they were also displaced but managed, being better-off, to resettle in Mekele.

Other beneficiaries spoken to at the same location confirmed that they also were currently receiving their fourth round and that food was "not so much of a problem". But having fled to Adigrat empty handed, the lack of clothing and household items was mentioned by a number of people. Selling up to half of the received relief grain to have cash to cover urgent expenses appears to be a coping strategy generally used. Some people said they used to sell relief grain at 1.50 Birr per kg during the last three months but that now, with harvest time approaching, prices were dropping to 1.30 or 1.20 Birr per kilogram. While local commercial market prices in Adigrat are in the range of around 2 Birr per kilogram, some traders reportedly take the rations to neighbouring Afar Region where grain might fetch four to five times the Adigrat buying price.

One bath a month As noted during the interagency mission in June, it is the policy of the Tigray Region to host displaced people with relatives and friends trying to avoid as far as possible the setting up of camps. This "no-camp-policy", taking into account existing social structures based on kinship and solidarity, is further strengthened by the approach adopted by those without access to an extended family support system, who mostly rent accommodation on a share basis. In Adigrat the mission visited two rented facilities. In one, three female-headed households, a total of eleven individuals, were cramped together in a seven or eight square meter room, for which they pay a rent of 30 Birr per month (10 Birr per family). The room, constructed of mud-bricks and used formerly as the guard's quarter, is adjacent to the compound of the host family (who were not at home during the mission's visit). The women and their children, having received four relief rations of 15 kg per person per month, live on 7.5 kg per month each since they also sell half of the received wheat. With the cash they obtain they pay the rent, buy chilli-pepper, salt, firewood, water (the latter at 15 cents per litre), coffee, some clothing and even one exercise book per school going child.

Besides the regular food rations, they had once received one blanket and one soap ration per family. The people take two meals a day, which they are allowed to prepare in the host's kitchen, whose utensils and plates they also use. The rented room - so small that some of the elder boys have to sleep outside - has no sanitary facilities. The inhabitants have no choice but to defecate in the open grass square between their shelter and the nearby school. Once a month only they allow themselves a "bath" for which they use a bucket inside their room infested with hundreds of flies and insects. The children all suffer from skin diseases while two adult women suffer from eye diseases transmitted by flies. Asked, what they would purchase if they had sufficient money, one of the women, eight months pregnant, said: "First we would rent our own separate room for each family. Then we would buy some furniture like mattresses to sleep on because now we only have a blanket and some old jute sacks. Thirdly we could hopefully afford to take a bath once a week."

Near the frontline: Fazi

Driving 20 kilometres north out of Adigrat, the mission reached the village of Fazi, located some 10 kilometres south of the frontline and about 15 kilometres from Zala Ambasa (the latter being currently under Eritrean control) on the main road. A checkpoint at the village's northern exit marks the beginning of the military's operational areas. Some farmers walk through, coming from a village five kilometres away. They are displaced from their original homes located in the contested areas, having no possibility to access their plots for farm-works. One man lost his house, eight cattle, four donkeys and ten sheep through artillery shelling. Another one fears that by now his previous settlement area is mined. Some are living in hamlets around Fazi with relatives, others in caves. These displaced met at the Fazi checkpoint confirmed the reception of relief food. But unlike other people interviewed, they sell much less than half their rations because their non-food needs are rather limited.

Fazi itself houses hardly any displaced. The village presents a rather normal picture except for the presence of soldiers who sustain, to a certain extent, the petty trade and talla/tsoa (local beer) business going on. Trying to find out to what extent the population is prepared for the worst, the mission spoke to a few residents. Two ladies, a shopkeeper and a tsoa seller, said that they did not at all plan or consider evacuating the town. "I stay here whatever happens," says a resident, living here already twenty years. Apparently, the tabia (community) administration did not discuss with the residents any preparedness measures. An elderly man, enjoying his tsoa, says simply: "When the time comes we will be told to leave; then we will leave individually in any direction where we can expect accommodation with relatives or friends."

Enough grain for the next six months in Adigrat

Authorities spoken to in Adigrat (and later in Axum and Shire respectively) also did not mention any preparedness measures in case fighting resumed. On 24 September, however, a major meeting was held for several hours in the stadium of Adigrat during which reportedly the population was addressed on various issues relating to the conflict situation. While no further information was available, the mission noted driving west to Adua and Axum that similar meetings took place simultaneously the same day in towns and villages along the route.

What representatives of both the Eastern Zone administration and the DPPB confirmed in Adigrat was that by and large the needs of the displaced people were being adequately addressed by the authorities. The number of displaced in Eastern Zone given by authorities in Adigrat was 91,000 - slightly more than the number provided at federal level on 25 September (87,699). The zonal figure, however, includes about 2,300 Ethiopians returning from Eritrea and accommodated in Eastern Tigray. Surprising was the information given by the DPPB that of the 91,000 displaced - who are mainly coming from the weredas of Erob in Gulomeheda along the contested areas - only 51,000 were receiving regular relief food assistance. Asked about the "balance", DPPB explained that most of the unassisted people were scattered in remote areas were they managed to support themselves with the assistance of families and friends, while some others had "moved further south to Mekele or even Addis Ababa". With well over 1,000 tons of relief grain on stock and another 6,000 tons expected to arrive soon from REST, the DPPB in Adigrat has "enough food grain for the next six months". Through three distribution centers (Adigrat, Fazi-Kerseber and Ara Aro) the DPPB had distributed over the last months besides grain for 51,000 people, 19,121 blankets, 47,657 litres vegetable oil, 15,423 different types of clothes, 3,000 cooking pots, 3,000 plastic cups and plates, 4,000 pieces of soap, 28.7 tons of famix, 1.5 tons of biscuits and 3.1 tons of milk powder.

Addressing the issue of gaps to be covered, the DPPB as well as the Zonal Administration named as first priority exercise books and other school materials (including school uniforms) for 7,600 displaced schoolchildren. (UNICEF is currently looking into addressing this issue at the regional level.) Additionally, more blankets, clothes, household utensils and shelter materials were needed. The authorities anticipate that the current "balance" of 40,000 unassisted displaced would eventually, when fighting resumes, come to Adigrat town or its closer surroundings. The setting up of big family tents would then become inevitable since the capacity of the city has already been stretched to its limits: While the population of Adigrat before May this year was about 40,000, it has since doubled its population to 81,000 people, the DPPB estimates. Obviously, water and sanitation will become an even more pressing issue - currently Adigrat has only "six or seven" public latrines. Equally, the town's hospital and health centre, already overcrowded, will suffer even more from lack of space and medical resources.

New arrivals of returnees in Central Zone

According to federal level information, Central Tigray Zone had (as of 24 September) 18,000 displaced people. This is clearly the smallest number among the three affected zones and is apparently due to the fact that the Mereb River provides an uncontested international border along the northern boundaries of the zone. The zonal DPPB in Axum, however, puts the number of displaced slightly higher, at 18,700 which includes 79 returnees from Eritrea who arrived in August, and 191 returnees arriving in Adua on 23 September.

The mission visited the newly arrived people, who had travelled to the Mereb River north of Rama town and crossed into Ethiopia by wading through the river. On both sides of the border the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) accompanied their journey. While initially the arrival of 500 people was announced, only 191 arrived on 23 September. (According to the Ethiopian Herald and Ethiopian Television of 6 October, another batch of 319 returnees reached Adua through Rama on 4 October.) The returnees seen by the mission were accommodated in the compound and meeting hall of the Adua municipality, where they are given three meals a day and medical attention. Registration was through the Ethiopian Red Cross. Focussing on prospects for the near future, the mission was told that virtually all returnees were expecting to be reunited sooner or later with relatives - the majority within Tigray Region, some also in Amhara, Oromyia and Southern Regions. Nobody was in the position yet to contact their relatives who seem in many cases to live in rural areas without communication links. The socio-economic background of most returnees situates them within the lower socio-economic strata of unskilled labourers. Most of the children do not have any school education. Of the 191 returnees, 105 were females and 86 males (19 females and 26 males under the age of 16 were registered).

Situation "manageable" with two distributions rounds only

As reported by the zonal DPPB, only two rounds of food distributions to displaced people have taken place in Central Tigray Zone: The first round for the month of June to 15,000 people (12.5 kg per person), the second for July to 18,000 people (increased to 15 kg per person). Besides grain, unspecified quantities of non-food relief items were also distributed. A request for a third distribution round covering the needs for August and September was still pending at the time of the mission's visit. Reportedly, no significant impact on displaced people has occurred due to the lack of coverage for the last two months. The DPPB gave two reasons: In July, a number of people returned to their home areas in and around Rama no longer fearing the possibility of further fighting and shelling for the time being. The second explanation provided was "traditional culture", referring to the solidarity and private support granted through the extended family system.

The Central Zone has (as of June) 336,380 "regular" relief beneficiaries (drought victims). While most of the displaced are coming from drought prone areas, their numbers are not included in the lists of regular beneficiaries, according to the DPPB. The last distribution round to all 336,380 drought victims took place in July (12.5 kg per head) while by the end of September deliveries for the next distribution round (the last before the harvest) were being awaited. Current stocks comprise 2,100 MT of sorghum (earmarked to repay loans from REST) and 6 to 7 MT of famix.

As the DPPB summarised the current situation, "it is manageable if the expected resources arrive". However, concern was expressed for the possibility of a resumption and escalation of hostilities: "Then we could expect in our zone 100,000 displaced people or more and then we would suffer from a lack of resources. In such a case we would need more food, shelters and medicines."

Water tankering in Western Zone

Meeting the administrator of Western Tigray Zone in the zonal capital Shire (also known as Inda Selassie), the mission was told that the total number of displaced people in the zone was (as of end of August) 64,109, including 3,520 returnees from Eritrea. The figures are consistent with the number of 60,609 "internally displaced" provided at federal level as at 24 September. The zone has established five distribution areas in Shire, Adi Hageray, Adi Daero, Adi Awala and Shiraro town - around which the majority of the displaced are currently located. Of the total number of 64,109 displaced people, only 36,000 were currently receiving relief assistance. Explaining the balance of unassisted people, the administration pointed out that many of the unassisted were living in remote rural areas where access had been difficult particularly during the rainy season. A second explanation is resource saving by giving priority assistance to those displaced that have insufficient coping possibilities. "Better-off displaced and those living with wealthy families don't get support", the mission was told.

Food assistance provided has so far consisted of sorghum and edible oil - resources for pulses, salt etc. were not available. To date, four distributions rounds have taken place to 36,000 displaced people. While in May, June and July 12.5 kg per person were given, rations were increased to 15 kg in August after DPPC and REST stocks were augmented by further deliveries. The September delivery was under way by the time of the mission's visit while for October no stocks were yet scheduled for delivery. The zone has a total number of 110,000 regular relief beneficiaries who got their last distribution in June.

The health system in the zone is currently being strengthened with additional health personnel and medicines allocated to existing health centres. Displaced people are entitled to free health care. In general, the health situation is reported to be "under control", despite some shortages on certain medicines. As in the other zones visited, malaria is currently not a serious issue in western Tigray, but fears prevail that in the near future the problem might become more widespread.

A more serious issue is currently the scarcity of potable water. The zone is addressing the problem by preparing additional water points, while certain areas - for example Adi Hageray - get regular water deliveries by tanker.

Asking for current priority needs, the mission was given in the order of importance the following, non-quantified list: Cooking pots, blankets, exercise books, supplementary food (famix), medicines and shelter materials.

Envisaging possibilities for the near future, the administration estimates that in a worst case scenario the current number of displaced people might double. Shiraro town, for instance, might have to be evacuated entirely.

Also in Shiraro exercise books as first priority

Driving on the recently completed, excellent gravel road 92 kilometres north-west of Shire, the mission reached the town of Shiraro, the capital of Tahtay Adiabo wereda, in one and a half hours. While the town is at an altitude of 1,000 meters above sea level, the searing heat slows down the daily activities particularly around midday. Coping with the heat, residents go calmly about their regular life. Shops are open and trade continues, with incense, collected from wild trees in numerous areas of western Tigray, being an export commodity internationally appreciated (now channelled through Djibouti). The only exception to the sleepy lowland image is the presence of members of the Ethiopian defence forces: Six or seven kilometres west from the town is the frontline.

According to the wereda chairman, before the conflict Shiraro town had a population of 15,000 and now has 22,000 people. However, while 7,000 displaced live in private accommodation in the town, another 13,000 have settled in the surrounding areas outside Shiraro town, bringing the total number of displaced people to 20,000. Of these, 15,000 (a third of them living in town) have received food assistance, blankets and household utensils over the past few months. While no stocks were available at the time of the visit, the delivery for the September distribution was just on the way, as the mission noted when later driving back to Shire.

Around Shiraro, in the areas under Ethiopian control, some 14,000 hectares of arable land are currently not being cultivated due to the vicinity of the frontline, said the wereda chairman. He indicated, however, that in the area immediately behind the Ethiopian positions, between the front and the town, some 2,000 people belonging to the ethnic minority group of the Kunama had chosen to stay in their traditional home settlements. "They feel that the area just behind our lines is the safest place", the chairman pointed out.

As in all other parts of Tigray visited and travelled through, the lowland areas around Shiraro also looked very green and promising. The wereda administration confirmed that provided a little more rain would fall, the area could expect quite a good harvest of sorghum and finger millet in January. To a lesser extent teff and maize is also being cultivated. Displaced people - most of them farmers - did not get land allocated on an official basis. But according to the wereda chairman, unofficial sharing arrangements between host communities and displaced might exist, allowing the latter a certain income share.

Summarising the situation regarding the needs of displaced people in Tahtay Adiabo wereda, the administrator said, "all sectors are manageable overall". While he mentioned some unspecified gaps on medicines, blankets and household-items, he highlighted as the most urgent need education materials (exercise books etc.) for 4,500 displaced school going children. Asked about the possibility of renewed fighting affecting Shiraro town, the administrator felt that it was unlikely that the population would be displaced as far South as to Shire, the zonal capital. "They would rather go to some areas in between", he said.

The mission also visited the Shiraro Health Centre. Reportedly, daily patients' attendance has slightly increased due to the presence of displaced people, but no displacement related specific diseases had to be treated. Cases of moderate malnutrition among children under five were indicated. However, due to the lack of aggregated data, the health worker was not in the position to provide a thorough analysis. Malaria cases were currently not alarming in number; though an increment is anticipated for the coming months.

A tented camp in Adi Hageray

As seen so far, by and large, displaced people are accommodated privately with host communities. People living in caves, some having tents or using plastic sheeting as shelters were indicated by local authorities in the East in various places out of reach to the mission. As in June, when the inter-agency mission was conducted, the only exception to the "no camp policy" actually seen by the mission was Adi Hageray, a village located on the road to Shiraro, about 68 kilometres North of Shire. While the camp by the village had 11 tents in June, the number had increased to 34 tents by the end of September, housing now about 1,000 persons, as the camp co-ordinator explained. Just on the day of the visit (25 September) the latest food delivery arrived. According to the co-ordinator, relief food deliveries were coming in regularly, providing 15 kg of sorghum and half a litre of vegetable oil per person for one month. Additionally, the reliability of the tankering system providing potable water was confirmed. While the village's hosting capacity and the camp seemed to have reached the limits, the co-ordinator told the mission of "weekly new arrivals" mainly from areas north of Adi Hageray. It remained unclear to what extent these new arrivals were genuinely displaced people in need or otherwise destitute people attracted by the prospects of free food.

The camp now presents, as opposed to June, a relatively well-organised settlement with rainwater drains and outdoor clay-kitchens. Children mentioned that they were taking a bath every three to four days - the water tanker with a capacity of 11,000 litres comes daily. Some 25 children living in the camp are not accompanied by their parents who stayed behind in Badme, now under Eritrean occupation. Also in the tented camp, as elsewhere along the places visited by the mission, significant numbers of beneficiaries appear to sell up to half of the received relief grain. The sorghum is sold mainly in Adi Hageray village at one Birr per kilogram.

General remarks on regional agriculture prospects

In all the areas visited, crops looked very promising. Even locations, which usually present over most of the year a rather arid image, were, in late September, covered by lush green vegetation. In Mekele, the Tigray Bureau of Agriculture and Natural Resources confirmed that the general agricultural situation looks favourable indeed. The Bureau Head, Berhane Hailu, was overall optimistic: "The coming harvest could be the best of the last ten years." Even though rains started late, causing in some southern areas substitution of long cycle crops such as maize and sorghum by short cycle crops like teff, wheat, barley and pulses, the amount and distribution later in the year were above normal. As the Regional Head of Agriculture put it: "That is absolutely unique - in the end, not even one village suffered from rain shortages."

In the Western Tigray commercial farming areas, less cotton and sesame was planted this year due to the late onset of the rains. But as a substitution, significantly more sorghum was cultivated, hence increasing the traditional western potential for local purchases. The combination of favourable rains, the absence of pest-infestations so far and a further expansion of the regional agriculture extension programmes might lead to surplus production even in the eastern areas, increasing further the possibility of local purchases by aid agencies. These local purchase programmes could eventually have a positive impact on the local economy.

Moreover, the promising harvest outlook permits optimism regarding next year's "regular" relief beneficiaries. The current regional number of 1.2 million drought victims could eventually be significantly reduced.

In the first half of October, the region is planning to conduct its main meher season crop assessment at zonal and wereda level. A federal level assessment, also covering Tigray, is scheduled to begin on 26 October.


As pointed out above, the mission encountered certain difficulties in retrieving data concerning humanitarian relief activities in Tigray Region. Especially data for food, medical and non-food items is not always consistent throughout the various administrative levels, e.g. regional, zonal and wereda levels. The situation may be related to the fact that, with the exception of UNICEF, which has a national officer based in Mekele, currently none of the UN agencies have permanent personnel operating in the region. For better accountability, especially of the food deliveries in Tigray Region, closer co-operation between UN agencies and the regional authorities would be desired.

Adding to the difficulties is the uncertainty in determining what contributions from the considerable and very laudable national collection effort have been allocated and distributed where. Moreover, it seems that the Tigray regional government has had to reallocate resources from its regular budget to address some of the needs of the displaced people. "Now we have budget shortages for our regular activities", a senior administration official told the mission during a debriefing meeting.

Relief priorities

Based on the findings in the field, overall the mission came to the conclusion that currently there is no emergency in Tigray and that the authorities seem to be well in control of the situation - a situation which has been repeatedly characterised by local administration members as being "manageable". The mission left Tigray with a feeling that the local authorities had, regarding the current situation, difficulty in determining clear relief priorities for the immediate future and at zonal administration level it was a laborious task to retrieve a priority list of items needed in the near future.

Equally at the regional, zonal and wereda governmental levels it was difficult to get a detailed break-down of what items had been provided, what were the stocks, what were the gaps in of humanitarian assistance. More information on these issues would greatly facilitate the quantification additional humanitarian assistance requirements for the present caseload.

There may be a variety of reasons for the rather vague indications of relief priorities: either there are no immediate needs to be satisfied, or authorities are preoccupied by other issues and therefore may be devoting more attention to other priorities and contingencies than to additional immediate relief needs.

In all three Tigray zones school materials were mentioned as one of the priority needs. Although not traditionally viewed as a vital necessity for war-affected populations, schooling has important social and physiological implications.

Situation of the affected population and returnees from Eritrea

The number of people displaced by the conflict has not changed significantly since the last assessment in June 1998. Concentration, location, living and health conditions remain similarly precarious as stated in the June mission report, but not yet alarming, e.g. no outbreaks of epidemics. Malaria cases are currently within normal ranges although the problem might increase in the near future.

As the local population hosts most of the displaced, pressure on these host communities remains high. This pressure seems greatest in the Eastern Tigray Zone, where the highest number of displaced so far has been registered.

With one localised exception in Adua, no clear information was obtained regarding the number of returnees and deportees from Eritrea, their whereabouts, or the assistance provided after their arrival in Ethiopia. The bulk of the returnees were living in Eritrean urban centres such as Asmara, Massawa and Assab and are now awaiting travel arrangements to reach their respective home destinations in different areas of Ethiopia.

As stated in the previous June mission report, the number and condition of Ethiopians returning from Eritrea needs further, in-depth assessment. Information should be gathered on the following issues: number of people returned from Eritrea, number moved on to their respective home areas, and number of people awaiting their repatriation from the border areas. Demographic information such as intended destination, future plans and rehabilitation needs would also be useful.

Food and non-food items

Currently food needs seem adequately addressed in the affected areas and food and non-food distributions seem to be regularly organised by local authorities. Monthly food rations have been raised from 12.5 kg to 15 kg per person since July in all the three Tigray zones. Part of the wheat (Eastern Zone) and sorghum (Western Zone) donations are sold or exchanged by the beneficiaries in order to buy other household necessities such as oil, salt and sugar as well as to meet rent and other cash needs. The only problem remaining is the already mentioned issue of clarity on items already distributed and remaining gaps.

Regional contingency planning

At regional level, authorities are working on a contingency plan that should be available around mid-October. Perhaps it is in this future needs regard that regional authorities tried to challenge the mission's findings on the current situation by saying that food continued to be a priority. Estimations on additionally displaced populations in case of a renewed outbreak of hostilities are similar to those elaborated by the UN with the feeling that the number of displaced could eventually double or triple.

Concern and disappointment about slow response of UN system

The concern and disappointment about the UN system and its response to the crisis expressed by the Tigray regional and zonal level administration is, as shown above, partly due to OCHA's Eritrea Inter-Agency Emergency Appeal, the needs outlined in this appeal and the international publicity which it gained by launching it through OCHA's "ReliefWeb" page. This has resulted in the UN being criticised for having an unbalanced view and approach to the two countries in the conflict.

Problem of perception concerning UN relief activities

Concerning UN humanitarian relief activities in Ethiopia, at regional, zonal and wereda level in Tigray, problems of perception seem to prevail. Apparently a number of officials, even more so beneficiaries, are not aware that most of the UN donations and relief efforts are channelled through the government/NGO structures, e.g. DPPC and REST.

Active awareness-building by the UN is necessary at various levels, informing and publicly announcing UN humanitarian relief donations not only in the capital Addis Ababa, but also in those regions, zones and weredas, where the donations are destined. This would eventually correct the harsh perception that "the UN is doing nothing" as expressed by some officials. (A status report on UN assistance for the war displaced is attached to this report.)


The designations employed and the presentation of material in this document do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever of the UN concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.

12 October, 1998

UNDP-EUE Tel: 251-1-51 10 28/29

P.O. Box 5580 Fax: 251-1- 51 12 92

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia E-mail: