UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA - AFRICAN STUDIES CENTER
Traditionally the lowland areas suffer from chronic food insecurity. To a certain extent, some locations at mid-altitudes also have a history of vulnerability, since by and large the agriculture system remains rain-fed, exposing mainly long cycle crops such as sorghum and maize to the mercy of rainfall patterns. While all the 15 weredas of East Hararghe Zone have at least some pocket areas with needy populations, those regularly requiring major relief food intervention in the recent past are Fedis, Babile, Girawa, Gursum, Gola Odana and Goro Gutu. Among these, the weredas located in the eastern and southern part of the zone have significant lowland areas.
East Hararghe Zone as a whole has suffered - as indicated by the central Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission (DPPC) - an "unsatisfactory" meher main season 1997/98, a "completely failed" belg short season 1998 and anticipates rather poor results from the current 1998/99 meher season. The main reason for the current season's bleak prospects was the late onset of the kiremt rains. Moreover, the rains were erratic, uneven and insufficient. Recent publications of CARE, focusing on the weredas of Bedeno, Girawa and Kurfachelle, and of the DPPC confirm the generally unfavourable weather patterns. Consecutive poor production seasons led to overall food security problems which the DPPC described in August as being "very serious" in Fedis and Babile. The seriousness of the situation was underlined by an alarming phenomenon - significant numbers of people, entire families, leaving their home areas migrating as far as Jigjiga and beyond.
Early indications of out-migration and influx into Somali Region
According to anecdotal reports from staff of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the World Food Programme (WFP) based in Jigjiga, from July through September significant numbers of destitute Oromos originating from East Hararghe Zone were to be seen in Jigjiga itself, the capital of Ethiopian Somali Region, as well as around the refugee camps of Teferi Ber, Darwanaji and Hartisheikh. Wherever they were seen these exceptional migrants tried to make a living through begging in the streets or going from house to house asking for food. NGOs like Menschen für Menschen (MfM) and Comitato Internazionale per lo Sviluppo dei Popoli (CISP) indicated the migrants appeared to be originating mainly from the weredas of Fedis, Babile and Gursum in East Hararghe.
Subsequently, the Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia (EUE) fielded an assessment mission to both East Hararghe and Jigjiga and its surroundings in the north-western part of Somali Region. Overall, the areas of origin as well as the eastbound direction of migration as mentioned above were confirmed by the findings of the mission. While information obtained and observations did not indicate the presence of significant numbers of destitute Oromos in Dire Dawa - an important town situated on the Djibouti-Addis Ababa railway, the picture changed drastically further east. In the town of Harar, a group of migrants from Fedis met in the main street gave a first impression on the nature of the problem. The people came to the town on foot because there was "no food at all" in their home areas of Fedis wereda, which is located south of the urban administrative region of Harari. If help was not forthcoming in Harar, the people indicated they would walk east on the main highway connecting Harar through Babile and Gursum to Jigjiga.
Situation in Fedis "very serious"
The East Hararghe zonal Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Bureau (DPPB), located in Harar town, confirmed to the mission that the migration of destitute Oromos had become a matter of serious concern both to the zonal as well as to the regional authorities. Referring to the "cumulative effect" of three (including the current meher) bad seasons, the DPPB acknowledges an extremely precarious food situation in the zone in general and in the central and south-eastern weredas in particular. Based on preliminary estimates provided by the zonal Bureau of Agriculture, the DPPB assumes currently for East Hararghe Zone overall a total of 402,621 people requiring food relief support. 65 per cent of these drought affected people are thought to be living in Fedis (135,126 needy people), Gursum (40,000), Babile (29,337), Girawa (34,968) and Gola Odana (21,500). Earlier in the year, the situation was not judged as being this dramatic. The August DPPC report mentioned above listed for the entire zone a total of 123,600 people in need of assistance, whereas, for instance, for Fedis wereda only 14,500 beneficiaries were identified.
While the numbers of needy people appeared to increase, starting around mid-year, almost week by week, insufficient relief resources were available, as the DPPB pointed out. Recently, three rounds of distribution took place in the zone, each round handing out 12.5 kilogrammes of relief food per person for one month only. The first round took place in July (delivering 967.5 tons to serve the needs of some 77,400 people); the second round in August (1,282.95 tons for 102,636 people) and the third round in September (3,311.4 tons for 264,912 people). A breakdown regarding what quantities were delivered when to which areas within the zone was not available at the time of the mission. Qualitative information indicates, however, that lately the most affected areas were given priority and that relief food distributions had resumed in Fedis, Gursum and Babile. By the time of the mission's visit to Harar (21 October) an urgent zonal request to the region for more relief resources was pending. By the end of the month, the relief operations department of the federal DPPC indicated that another 5,200 tons of relief food was being dispatched to the zone and that more resources were being mobilised to address the needs of about half a million people. The federal DPPC shares regional and zonal concerns that the situation in East Hararghe in general and in Fedis in particular is "very serious" and anticipates that relief intervention might be needed up to June/July next year - i.e. until the next belg harvest.
NGOs equally concerned
In addition to government efforts, NGOs are addressing the problem to a limited extent. MfM will make available in their project areas (integrated rural development mainly in the Erer valley) of Fedis wereda an additional 2,100 tons of wheat to support 48,000 people for three months (December through January).
CISP is making available 2,500 tons that will be used, starting in November, in the framework of EGS (employment generation schemes) projects in Babile, Gursum and Fedis. Another food provision of again 2,500 tons (bringing the total to 5,000 tons) will be used for EGS projects starting in early 1999 in the three weredas.
The Hararghe Catholic Secretariat (HCS) has food-for-work projects (soil and water conservation, pond construction etc.) in six farmer associations (FA's) of Fedis wereda. Reportedly, HCS's Vulnerability Early Warning System sent as early as 4 December 1997 a letter to the zonal authorities alerting them that in 1998 the food situation in major areas of the zone was likely to become rather precarious. Pointing out to the EUE mission that in the Fedis FA's covered by HCS no out-migration took place; the Secretariat emphasises that its resources are strictly earmarked for development activities in a clearly defined area and that no diversion of funds into emergency activities was possible at this point. Pending a proposal to a funding agency, HCS might in the near future be in the position to provide additional resources for relief purposes.
CARE used to operate in Babile, Gursum and Gola Oda, but since October 1996 the agency has concentrated its activities on Bedeno, Grawa and Kurfachelle. However, as an agency representative in Dire Dawa said, CARE is responding to a support request by the zonal DPPB to alleviate transportation problems by offering the use of one shorthaul truck and one light vehicle.
Save the Children Fund (SCF-UK), another NGO represented both in Harar and in Jigjiga, shares the general concern about the situation in East Hararghe and is currently preparing a food aid proposal to support relief interventions in the zone.
It is somehow difficult to establish the exact reasons why the official response came late and, initially, in inadequate amounts. For various reasons, it was apparently not possible this year to pre-position the right amounts of relief food at the right time in the crucial areas. Once the late rains started in September, most rural roads, including the main Fedis wereda road from the Harar junction south to Boku, the wereda capital, and further south to Fetchatu and Midega in the lowlands became very difficult to negotiate. In attempting to travel south of Boku, the mission's light vehicle, for instance, became seriously stuck in the mud. Besides difficult road conditions in general, the zonal DPPB is also facing a shortage of adequate transportation.
Driving nearly two hours from the main highway junction at the western outskirts of Harar some 23 kilometres south to Boku, the administrative centre of Fedis wereda, the mission noted that, due to late rains, the vegetation was generally very green. However, because of the late onset of rains the crops, mainly long cycle sorghum, were rather stunted leaving little room for optimism regarding the coming meher harvest. In Boku, the wereda administration pointed out that indeed the green scenery at mid-highland altitudes might at first sight be deceiving. Besides the general retardation of crop development, farmers also faced pest infestation ("American bullworm") and the spreading of striga (a parasitic weed) in their sorghum fields. The administration also claimed that in the more livestock oriented lowlands, which make up around 75 per cent of the wereda, critical conditions prevailed due to the scarcity of surface water and pasture. Livestock seen by the mission in upper altitudes (en route between Harar and Boku) appeared to be in good condition, however, verification of conditions south of Boku were impossible due to the access problems mentioned above.
Of the 24 farmer associations in the wereda "all" in the mid- and in the lowlands, would need relief intervention because of the poor yields of the previous seasons, the administration emphasised. Cash income possibilities were virtually non-existent with chat being mainly locally consumed due to market access problems and with livestock fetching very low sales prices. Reportedly, the price for an average goat had dropped from a normal rate of 50 Birr to 18 Birr, while the price for an ox dropped from 700 Birr to 400 Birr - "and even at this low price hardly anybody can sell an ox", the wereda representative said, adding that anyway among the most affected migrating people virtually nobody owned livestock.
Fedis wereda has a total population of 169,000 people (based on 1994 census, projection based on annual growth rate of 3 per cent) of which 145,800 were identified as people in need of relief support, according to the wereda's own assessment. Zonal estimates, as mentioned above, assume for Fedis 135,126 needy people. By the time of the mission's visit to Boku (22 October), a team from the early warning department of the Oromyia Regional DPPB was assessing the details of the situation while, as indicated by the wereda, a health assessment was also underway. Preliminary findings point at increased cases of moderate and acute malnutrition, resulting in rising needs for supplementary food and medicines. Due to concentrations of migrating groups, reportedly water and sanitation had become problematic raising the possibility of outbreaks of epidemic diseases.
Hundreds of "internal" migrants in Boku town
Around the market area and in front of the wereda administration building in Boku town the mission saw congregations of hundreds of destitute people, mainly - but not exclusively - women and children who had migrated internally, within their wereda. The mission spoke to an elderly man who explained that he and his group arrived in Boku one week ago, coming from a place called Riski near Midega, south of Boku some three hours walk away. Chewing local chat (a bundle goes in Boku for 25 Ethiopian cents, whereas the price for the same quantity in Harar might be 2 or 3 Birr) to keep the hunger at bay, the man said that the group had not received any relief food while waiting in front of the administration in order to be registered to become eligible for food support. The man confirmed that food supply in their home areas "was always a problem". However, as opposed to past years, "this year no relief food arrived in time". The informant also stated that while a few people stayed behind in their respective home areas, "many others went further away - to Harar, Jigjiga, Borama and Hargeisa" (the latter two located in "Somaliland"). Asked why, he said: "We heard rumours that there food is available." - What this man said, turned out to represent, in the later course of the mission's journey and encounters, rather typical information given by various groups of destitute migrating Oromos.
The Fedis wereda administration also confirmed, that the lack of relief food in the wereda and "false rumours of free food distributions" in the Somali Region, mainly around the refugee camps north and east of Jigjiga, had "misguided the destitute people into migration". Admitting that sometimes in the past delays in relief food arrivals had also occurred, the administration noted that never in recent history had such a large-scale out-migration taken place. That the phenomenon had taken place this year, was explained by the failure of an important coping mechanism: "We usually don't have rich people around here but in the past, at least some people had some assets and according to local tradition they used to share with the poor. Now, after two bad seasons, everybody is equally poor. The resources are depleted and there is no longer a system of helping each other."
Regarding the chronic vulnerability of Fedis, an observation made by one of the NGOs operational in the area might be interesting to note. Basically, the farming system should be revised in the cropping areas, since seven-month-cycle sorghum, being rain-fed, is simply too vulnerable and dependent on rainfall patterns. A re-orientation towards shorter cycle crops like wheat, haricot beans, pulses and vegetables would help farmers cope better with the climatic hazards of the wereda. However, the reason why farmers have stayed with the traditional cultivation of long-cycle sorghum was the fact that people use the plant not only as a food source but use the stems as animal feed, construction material for house roofs and as cooking fuel. Therefore, before changing crop patterns, meaningful substitutes need to be developed to compensate for the multi-purpose use of sorghum.
The Fedis wereda administration was not in a position to provide estimates on the numbers of migrants, either the internal, "in-wereda" migrants, nor those who left the wereda for other areas of the zone or for the Somali Region. Initially, Kebele (FA) officials were issuing "letters of recommendation" to those people wishing to migrate. Reportedly, according to these records 2,560 individuals had left the wereda officially in September. Later, however, this practice was ordered stopped and the tracking of migrants became difficult. Even while the practice was maintained, unknown numbers of people left the wereda "unofficially". Moreover, lately, certain numbers of migrants have started to move back, after the word had spread that relief food was again available in the wereda. Informal reports also indicated that some people were rounded up in the streets of Harar, put on trucks and moved back to their home areas. This development as a whole made it impossible for both wereda and zonal authorities to accurately estimate the numbers of the migrants.
In Babile wereda "everything under control"?
Originally, the mission had planned also to visit Bisidimo, another area in Fedis wereda affected by out-migration, and Funyan Bira, the capital town of Gursum wereda. However, a serious security incident, which took place in the early morning of 22 October at the western outskirts of Babile town, made a change of plan necessary. Moreover, arriving in Babile on the very day the incident had taken place, the mission met only very briefly with representatives of the wereda administration who were still shocked by the incident in which more than a dozen people travelling by bus were killed by unknown attackers.
Babile wereda also suffered this year from late, insufficient and erratic rains and wereda officials expect massive crop losses. Estimates point at 95 per cent losses (over projected yields) on maize, 50 to 60 per cent losses on sorghum and 20 to 30 per cent losses on groundnuts. Despite the fact that short rains in October were used to plant sweet potatoes, the harvest prospects remain bleak. This, combined with the food shortages created by previous poor seasons, has led to a situation where out of a total wereda population of 56,000 people some 43,000 people or 77 per cent of the total population would be in need of relief support. Starting in late August, the wereda was able to distribute 837 tons of food, which can serve about 33,480 needy people for two months.
The wereda confirmed that due to the dire food situation, quite early in the year people began to migrate out of their home areas heading for the neighbouring Somali Region. As in Fedis, in Babile it was also difficult to obtain reliable numbers on movements. However, by the time of the mission's visit (22 October) "the majority of the migrants had returned and now everything is under control", wereda representatives pointed out. News of the start of relief food distribution and a pending request for additional relief resources has reportedly reached migrants and enhanced motivation to return.
Jigjiga Zone of Somali Region as a favourite destination
For destitute Oromo migrants from East Hararghe, the prime destination in the Somali Region appears to be Jigjiga Zone. Within this zone, the regional capital Jigjiga itself and locations like Darwanaji, Teferi Ber, Hartsheikh, Kebrebeyah and Lafa Isa have seen the arrival of a substantial number of Oromos in recent months. Except Jigjiga and Lafa Isa, all the places mentioned also host camps for Somali refugees awaiting repatriation. The humanitarian services, especially food supplies, offered through these camps to eligible refugees, seem to have attracted Oromo migrants to a considerable extent. While informal estimates in September indicated the presence of a couple of thousand migrants in these places, anecdotal reports hint at the possibility of Oromos having crossed the international border into "Somaliland" (Borama, Hargeisa) and migrating even to Djibouti in search of daily labour opportunities. To a certain extent this pattern might explain observations made by the mission that the groups of destitute migrants seen were predominantly of women and children. Unconfirmed reports from the Somali coast indicate that some Oromos were among the unfortunate "boat people" trying to cross the Gulf of Aden to reach Yemen. While the latter indication has not been confirmed so far, the Somali regional DPPB in Jigjiga did confirm information that Oromos had crossed the border to "Somaliland" and Djibouti.
Somali Region DPPB supporting destitute Oromos?
The regional Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Bureau in Jigjiga is currently concerned about increasing needs of local people requiring relief interventions in all the zones of the region. While at the time of the mission's visit no detailed data were available on numbers and locations of drought victims, the DPPB mentioned that since September some 2,200 tons of relief food were being distributed in various zones of the region to 88,000 of the most needy people. In Jigjiga Zone alone, some 880 tons were distributed at the end of October after which no more stocks were at hand. (As reported by local media on 12 November, a recent assessment mission led by the federal DPPC concluded that the number of drought affected people in the entire Somali Region was 221,000 whereas the regional DPPB claims that about half a million people are exposed to famine.)
While trying to address emergency needs of the region's own indigenous population, the authorities also noted in different places in Jigjiga Zone the presence of "substantial numbers" (no estimates available) of destitute Oromo migrants from East Hararghe. A representative from the DPPB also stated that some Oromos had benefited from food distributions in the zone. The acting bureau head pointed out that based on humanitarian principles, the most needy people were supported regardless of their ethnicity. While no numbers were available, he estimated that about 12 per cent of the beneficiaries in Jigjiga and surroundings were Oromos - "at least initially". Some confusion prevails due to the fact that the East Hararghe weredas of Gursum and Babile, although officially administered by Oromyia Region, are entirely or in part also claimed by the Somali Region. The DPPB in Jigjiga told the mission for instance, that the Somali Region relief system had also allocated some 25 tons of relief food to Gursum wereda.
Making a living through begging
The (totally five) groups of destitute Oromos the mission spoke to in Jigjiga, Teferi Ber and Lafa Isa did not confirm having received any official relief support in any of these locations. The first group the mission met in front of a mosque in Jigjiga town, mainly women and children, were waiting for Friday midday prayers to end, hoping to get alms from people leaving the mosque. A woman stated that she and her companions had been in Jigjiga for two months and that they had walked five days from Boku (Fedis) to reach Jigjiga. The woman confirmed what other destitute people had told the mission back in Fedis: Since no food was available and no relief food had reached them in time, this group, led by rumours about "free food distribution", migrated to the Somali Region. But after finding that the rumours were baseless - " we did not get any official help here either" - they started to make a living through begging. The migrants in Jigjiga make their rounds begging from house to house, in the streets and around the mosques. Whatever they get, a little food here, ten cents there, they bring together and share which allows them to have a meal a day or at least every second day. Asked where their husbands were, the women said that some of them were "somewhere around town waiting under trees" while "a lot of the others" had continued their migration to cross the border into "Somaliland".
The mission indeed met some men "under some trees", a location which serves also as night quarters. These men confirmed by and large what the women by the mosque had said and added that since "even in the refugee camps no free food was available" numbers of their Oromo compatriots had started to move back home. A third group met at yet another location in Jigjiga said that since neither labour opportunities nor official relief rations were available they were willing to return to their home areas. "But we need transport, we are too weak to walk all the way back to Fedis".
No official refugee food for Oromos
In order to verify reports of destitute Oromos migrating further afield, the mission drove to Teferi Ber, some 75 kilometres north-east of Jigjiga, near the border with Somaliland. Teferi Ber consists of a small local town and a major camp run by the Ethiopian Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) and assisted by UNHCR. While the town has an estimated permanent population of 4,000 people, the camp houses some 36,300 Somali refugees; a regular voluntary repatriation programme is being implemented. According to the ARRA protection officer, the first Oromos arrived at Teferi Ber as early as July. While the influx continued up to mid-September, estimates indicated that at the peak of the movement some 1,500 individuals, mostly women and children, were present around the camp and in the town. Men had reportedly moved "somewhere else across the border" to seek daily labour opportunities. Since late September and early October increasing numbers of Oromos had started to move back to Jigjiga and eventually further to their home areas in East Hararghe, bringing down the numbers of Oromos to an estimated 800 individuals by the time of the mission's visit. While no organised transport arrangements are in place, ARRA and UNHCR personnel are unofficially facilitating transportation by occasionally asking drivers going back with empty trucks to grant lifts to people willing travelling south-west. As reported later on, similar informal practices facilitating transport further to Harar are in place in Jigjiga.
According to ARRA, the only official assistance given to destitute Oromos is medical services from the camp's clinic. Strict regulations forbid handing out food to people not holding regular ration cards. This arrangement left the Oromos with no other choice but to seek food through begging from the camp and the town population. Local daily labour possibilities are rarely available.
A group of destitute Oromo women and children met near the camp's office confirmed by and large the information reflected above. The people had arrived at Teferi Ber from Babile in July, after having travelled on foot for about eight days. Having had no food available at home, "rumours" had attracted them to the camp, while most of the men went across the border to Borama and further on. Through begging in Teferi Ber - receiving either some injera leftovers or some uncooked grain from refugees - they manage to get one meal a day. Since no shelter is available, they sleep mostly in the open, which is detrimental to the health, especially of children of whom many suffer from cough and other respiratory diseases. The women confirmed free access to the clinic's medical services, although they claimed that in the last week there seemed to be some constraints due to shortages of medical supplies. The members of the group, all belonging to farmer families, expressed their readiness to travel back to their home areas. Asked why, the reply was: "Our hopes of getting free food from the camp authorities turned out to be wrong. But now we heard news that in Babile food will be available. Since we cannot walk so far anymore, we wait here for a lift on a truck."
Empty warehouses providing shelter in Lafa Isa
On the way back to Jigjiga the mission stopped about halfway in the small town of Lafa Isa which has an estimated population of around 3,000 people. There is no refugee camp here; the local population lives on livestock, agriculture and small-scale trade. An international NGO previously active in the area has left behind two empty warehouses and this facility now provides shelter to the migrant Oromos. When the mission visited the location a group of about 50 individuals was present, again mainly women and children but also three young men. The latter estimated that the entire Oromo community, coming four months ago from Fedis and Babile to Lafa Isa, comprised 300 to 400 people. Having no official support from the town's authorities, the migrants relied on the generosity of the locals and made their living through begging. They said that the majority of the men had migrated further through Teferi Ber to Hargeisa and Djibouti to look for labour opportunities. Asked if they came to Lafa Isa because they were Muslim Oromos expecting support from Somalis because of sharing the same religion, the men answered that this aspect had not been the reason of their coming here. It was rather the general expectation of free food being available. Also this group in Lafa Isa was, by the end of October, ready to travel back to their places of origin: "Here, we did not get what we expected and meanwhile we heard there is going to be food back home."
Significant food shortages in the weredas of Fedis, Babile and Gursum of East Hararghe and the absence of sufficient relief food at a crucial time led to very critical conditions by mid year. While the populations of traditionally food insecure areas managed to cope with the situation in previous years, mainly through timely and adequate relief support, the lack of resources this year induced an unusual emergency situation. The magnitude of the problem forced the most severely affected people to resort to out-migration hoping to get support elsewhere. Although official numbers are not available, the mission estimates that at the peak of the movement between 5,000 and 10,000 people might have migrated. In recent history, no similarly serious development was recorded in the north-eastern part of Oromyia Region. While food shortages at home and erroneous hopes for free food at far away destinations appear to be the root cause of this unusual movement, informally concerns were expressed that certain opposition groups might try to exploit the situation to their own ends. However, that food shortages were the primary reason for the migration seems to be confirmed by the fact that on receiving news of relief food becoming available in home areas, numbers of destitute Oromos started to migrate back, while others declared their intention to do so. It is also encouraging to note that relief distributions in these vulnerable areas have been substantially increased.
In order to provide timely and adequate humanitarian assistance as well as maintain social stability it is strongly recommended that the early warning systems at zonal and wereda level be strengthened. Likewise, the logistical capacities also need to be strengthened in order that relief supplies can be pre-positioned before the roads are cut by rain. While rightfully much humanitarian attention at the present time is dedicated to the situation in the north of the country, it is important to avoid the risk that other vulnerable areas do not get the attention they need. As a mid- and long-term strategy to reduce the vulnerability of certain areas, such as Fedis wereda, it might be useful to look into the possibility of helping farmers to diversify their choice of cropping patterns. To avoid a future occurrence of the present migration, it also might be useful to conduct a more detailed analysis of this migration. Recent missions of the Oromyia Regional early warning system and of a federal DPPC-led crop assessment team could provide substantial support to this research.
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 November, 1998
UNDP-EUE Tel.: (251) (1) 51-10-28/29
PO Box 5580, Fax: (251) (1) 51-12-92
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia e-mail: email@example.com
 For further details on the socio-economic background refer to: "Hararghe Farmers on the Cross-Roads Between Subsistence & Cash Economy." Prepared by Ralph Klingele, UNDP-EUE Field Officer, 21 September 1998.
 - CARE Ethiopia Food Information Systems (CEFIS): "1998 Agricultural Activity, Livestock & Market Performance (East Shewa, East and West Hararghe)", By Fikre Nigussie, September 1998.
- DPPC Early Warning System Report: "1998 Belg Production and Food Prospects", August 1998.