EUE: Tigray Evacuees, 12/98

EUE: Tigray Evacuees, 12/98

Evacuees from border towns in Tigray setting up makeshift camps

(Mission: 9 to 18 December 1998)

By Joachim D. Ahrens, Senior Field Officer, UNDP Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia (EUE)


After the simmering border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea led to open confrontation in May 1998, significant numbers of people in the contested areas of Tigray Region became displaced. Many had to flee their homes empty handed, making them dependent on food and non-food relief support in their new residential areas. A number of locations between Badme and Shire (Inda Selassie) in West Tigray Zone and around Adigrat in Eastern Zone became reception areas for displaced people while additionally Adigrat and Adua (the latter in Central Zone) served as transit points for Ethiopians returning from Eritrea. From their transit points in Tigray the returnees - like those arriving from Assab at transit centers in Afar Region - were brought to their preferred areas of residence all over Ethiopia. The government assistance programme for returnees includes a rehabilitation package consisting of a cash grant and a nine months food ration.

For the internally displaced people the Tigray regional government has preferred a policy of temporary integration, avoiding relief camps to the extent possible. With the exception of a tented camp in Adi Hageray, some seventy kilometers north of Shire, this policy of accommodating displaced people with local host communities has been successfully implemented while the numbers of internally displaced people in the region remained relatively stable with around 166,000 up to September. By that month the region was also additionally hosting some 11,000 Ethiopian returnees from Eritrea, bringing the grand total of conflict affected people in Tigray to 177,000 by the end of September. [1]

In late October, the situation changed significantly following the Eritrean shelling of Shiraro. Subsequently, the populations of several border towns began to evacuate as a precautionary measure, moving beyond the reach of artillery fire. Encouraged by the regional government, the people of Shiraro, Humera and Rama and to a certain extent also people from rural areas north of Enticho and Adigrat, started to move south of their respective home areas. With the hosting capacity of local communities having reached its limits by September, the new movements led unavoidably to the establishment of makeshift camps at various locations along Tigray's northern belt (the official displacement figure was 315,000 by mid-December).

To assess this new situation and the humanitarian needs of recent evacuees, but also to ascertain generally the situation of earlier displaced people, were the objectives of this mission of the Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia (UNDP-EUE). The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) also joined the mission independently. The present report, based on field observations from the Humera area in the west to Adigrat in the east, tries to focus on the recent humanitarian developments. For details on earlier findings, the reader may refer to the literature cited above.

West Tigray Zone: No evacuees in Dansha and Aurora

Kafta Humera Wereda with its capital town of Humera in the three-country-corner formed by Ethiopia, Eritrea and Sudan, was initially not in the humanitarian limelight. This fertile lowland area, producing sorghum and cash crops such as sesame and cotton, is located in Tigray's far west and separated from Eritrea by the Tekeze river which presents in this section an uncontested international border. It was only in early November that the population of Humera town, numbering about 20,000 prior to the conflict, were advised to evacuate as a precautionary measure. For Kafta Humera Wereda the Tigray Regional Contingency Plan lists, as of December, 28,173 "already displaced" people, as the evacuees are generally referred to. The contigency plan also names Ba'eker and Dansha as reception centers for the wereda's evacuees.

Since there is currently no direct road link from Shire, the capital of West Tigray Zone, to the Humera area, the mission used the road out of Gondar. From Gondar, it is a good four hour's drive (153 kilometers) north-west to Dansha which is located in Tsegedi wereda of West Tigray. Contrary to the anticipation of regional authorities, Dansha did not house any evacuees by the time of the mission's visit. Likewise, in Aurora (Welkait wereda), a new town established seven years ago for demobilized ex-soldiers, located some 23 kilometers northwest of Dansha, the local authorities had no new arrivals to report - with the exception of some hospital personnel. Humera hospital was moved on 31 October and its assets, staff and equipment, relocated to three different places: Aurora, Ba'eker and May Kedra (the latter two being part of Kafta Humera wereda). The administrator of Aurora does not expect a major influx of evacuees to his town in the near future. "Other places nearer to Humera are much more popular", he told the mission. Overall, the town, with a population of a few thousand, seems to face a temporary out-migration, since a number of ex-soldiers had been re-mobilized to go to the front. In addition to the hospital, Aurora has an agricultural airstrip and four large warehouses constructed by GTZ (Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit - German Society for International Technical Cooperation), which are now being used commercially. The town also hosts a field office of Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) Holland which has two health workers focusing on a project to contain Kalazar, a parasitic disease transmitted by sand-flies which can be deadly if not treated (medication is relatively expensive at around US$ 110 per patient). MSF Holland has also one person working on water and sanitation in Bae'ker.

A new grass-hut town has emerged in Ba'eker

Driving into Ba'eker, the visitor is struck by endless rows of grass-huts left and right to the main road, giving testimony to the changes which took place here since the evacuation of Humera in November. Using locally available wooden poles, tree branches, grass and straw, people have built makeshift shelters, locally called "das" as well as many shops and restaurants. The owner of the "Badme Restaurant" moved his business from Humera to Ba'eker, complete with the restaurant signboard, generator, colourful lights, four refrigerator chests and a ceiling fan. Other hotel owners came with a number of beds which serve as seats for customers during meal times while at night they are rented out for three or four Birr.

Many trucks (and some buses) are seen on the road, since the sesame harvest in the area has been just completed and was being transported to Gondar for further marketing. Coming from Gondar, the trucks also maintain the supply mechanism by delivering commercial household goods, food stuffs, soft drinks and beer, indicative of a population possessing a certain purchasing power. To the east of the main road the Kafta Humera wereda administration, dislocated from Humera town, has constructed a temporary office. Nearby, sacks of relief food are stored under plastic - the only plastic sheeting seen in Ba'eker. Part of Humera hospital is also found in this neighbourhood, housed in a stone building and a large tent. Next to the nearby school is where MSF Holland is supporting the manufacture of pit latrines. Water is available from a deep borehole and two hand-pump stations equipped with tanks for storage, and a nearby seasonal river. To complete the infrastructure, a fuel station from Humera has been relocated to Ba'eker.

Located some 53 kilometers north of Dansha (205 km from Gondar) and 45 kilometers south of Humera town at an elevation of 640 meters above sea level, Ba'eker certainly gives the impression of a bustling town. Prior to the conflict, Ba'eker was just a small hamlet of about 500 to 600 people (350 according to the 1994 population census). Now the town hosts some 13,000 people, according to estimates of the wereda administration. In some areas of the town overcrowding has become obvious with the "das" shelters erected in very close proximity to each other. In the hot, dry lowland climate this presents a serious fire hazard, as the wereda administration rightfully points out. Indeed, during the mission's visit a fire broke out burning a cluster of six grass-shelters to the ground. Since the settlement of the evacuees began, in five weeks a total of 26 "das" have been devoured by fire (also, some bush fires were seen en route). So far, nobody has been hurt but most of the fire victims lost their belongings. The eldest son of a farmers family the mission spoke to said: "We came here from Humera beginning November. We were able to bring along the most important household items, but had to pay for the transport 450 Birr. Although that money cut our family budget, we were doing relatively well since each of our eight family members got 15 kilograms of relief grain for one month. Now we lost all in the fire - the food and the household things."

The statement of this fire victim contains information which relevantly applies to most of the evacuees from Humera: Since their departure was not conducted in a hasty manner, sufficient time had been available to plan and execute the move. The arrangements, however, had to be made by the evacuees themselves. Most people the mission spoke to in various locations of the Humera area confirmed that they had to pay for their own transport. Depending on the number of people, the number of household items taken along and the distance to the new location, any sum between 100 and 500 Birr had to be paid by a household for the evacuation. No government support was available for this purpose and also the "das" shelters had to be constructed and eventually paid for by the evacuees themselves.

The relatively high cost involved in moving household - which will eventually occur again for moving back after the conflict ends - is one of the reasons why evacuees from Humera preferred not to travel too far. Since many of the evacuees are involved in one way or the other in farming activities, the second reason for choosing nearby sites was the desire to stay in the vicinity to the farmlands. Therefore, Dansha and Aurora, at a distance of about a hundred kilometers from Humera, are unpopular as evacuation destinations. Instead, besides Ba'eker, people preferred to go to destinations like May Kedra and Bereket, located near the Sudanese border some 40 kilometers southwest of Humera.

May Kedra and Bereket

Being advised not to attempt to drive into Humera town, the mission traveled through sorghum fields (the harvest was just imminent) and sesame (already harvested) plantations from Ba'eker some 50 kilometers west to May Kedra. Unlike Ba'eker, this town, located in the midst of vast sorghum, sesame and cotton fields, was a settlement of some significance prior to the conflict. According to the 1994 population census, May Kedra had then a population of 3,221. Local estimates put the immediate pre-conflict population at around 6,000 locals plus 3,000 seasonal migrant workers coming from various parts of Ethiopia and from Sudan. Lately, after the evacuation of Humera, May Kedra saw an influx of 3,000 to 5,000 evacuees. Whereas Ba'eker is said to have received evacuees from the lower socio-economic population strata, May Kedra reportedly hosts better-off evacuees. A number of private entrepreneurs and traders involved in the cash crop business came from Humera to continue their business out of May Kedra, where at the time of the mission's visit piles of sesame bags were being loaded on numerous trucks. A number of shops, restaurants and residences are more elaborate than the facilities seen in Ba'eker. Some wealthy people in May Kedra even have their own television satellite dish. A female restaurant owner, whose husband has farmland in the vicinity, said that the family moved business and household not only with the essential items, but also with four employees of which two continue to work on the farmland, while the other two work in the household and in the restaurant business. The woman, having been able to rent the entire facilities (restaurant and residence) said the only problems the family was facing were "missing home" and "losing out on business".

The transfer of an entire society, including the "deluxe displacement" of a wealthy minority, cannot negate the fact that evacuees belonging to the lower population strata have suffered seriously from the circumstances of the evacuation, for which they also had to pay. While a number of evacuees from Humera seem to have rented existing housing, May Kedra also has, though to a lesser extent than Ba'eker, newly constructed "das" type shelters. Fire hazards and overcrowding persist, as well as the pressure on the water and sanitation sector. The town has a borehole as its water source, but no storage tank nor adequate pumps. MSF Holland has very recently obtained permission to also operate in the water and sanitation sector in May Kedra and Bereket, a village some 14 kilometers further west.

Up to the time of the mission's visit, no relief food had been distributed in May Kedra, since the authorities had not selected this town, unlike Ba'eker, as a reception center for evacuees. May Kedra's hospital, having taken over another third of the medical facilities previously located in Humera, receives small numbers of children under five suffering from moderate malnutrition (no exact figures available). According to a hospital doctor, the bulk of the patients treated suffer from malaria, Kalazar, Aids/HIV and tuberculosis. While there is no shortage of drugs, the hospital lacks radio communication. In late December, after the mission's return to Addis Ababa, reports emerged from May Kedra indicating high mortality rates among adults, possibly seasonal migrants who, once fallen ill, cannot rely on any support. An investigation by the health authorities has been initiated, which will also cover migrant workers. As cotton pickers, migrant plantation workers can earn 40 Ethiopian cents per kilo harvested and might achieve 35 kilograms (14 Birr) per day.

According to wereda estimations, Bereket, located across large cotton farms west of May Kedra very close to the Sudanese border, had a pre-conflict population of 2,000. While authorities also claimed an influx of 3,000 to 4,000 evacuees, the mission found no evidence supporting this number. However, towards the end of December reports reached Addis Ababa that indeed an influx was taking place with numerous "das" shelters being constructed. This information coincides with other reports indicating that Humera has since been completely evacuated whereas at the time of the mission's visit reportedly some 5,000 people (out of the total pre-conflict population of around 20,000) had remained in the border town. If Bereket should also become a major reception center for evacuees then the town would require significant improvement to the currently poor infrastructure (water, sanitation, health) and should be included in relief food and further non-food support considerations.

Kafta Humera Wereda - the administration's view

During a meeting with the Kafta Humera wereda administration on 12 December 1998, the mission was given by the authorities the following estimated population figures (over page):

Table I. Humera Area Population Movements

(wereda administration estimates as of 12 December)



12 December


Evacuees went to ...
Humera Town
Ba'eker 11000, May Kedra 5000, Bereket 4000

May Kedra


Ilat Koka
No Data
On-going evacuation to Ba'eker & other towns
No Data
On-going evacuation to Ba'eker & May Kedra

Note: According to recent information, Humera town was completely evacuated by the end of December.

At the time of the mission's visit the wereda authorities were expecting some 24,000 more evacuees to resettle temporarily elsewhere. Besides the remaining people of Humera town, the wereda administration mentioned also population groups in other locations the mission was unable to visit: Ilat Koka, a village near the Tekeze river inhabited by the Kunama ethnic minority, Adibay, a settlement for former Ethiopian returnees from Sudan, and Rawyan, a place some 10 kilometers south of Humera town. The mixture of planning figures, estimated numbers on actual movements of evacuees and estimated numbers of anticipated movements of evacuees - all combined with the lack of accurate pre-conflict population figures - makes it very difficult to establish the precise number of displaced evacuees in the Humera area. A figure around 20,000 at the time of the mission's visit, however, seems to be quite probable.

The administration of Kafta Humera wereda confirmed that no specific reception centers were allocated to the evacuees. Ultimately, evacuees were therefore free to choose a destination according to personal preference. This explains why, for instance, Dansha, initially anticipated by government authorities as a reception center, so far did not see an influx of evacuees, who understandably include travel distance and cost involved in their considerations.

With only Ba'eker coinciding with government intentions and preparations on one hand, and the reality of evacuees' preferences on the other, the wereda administration was concentrating its relief activities for the time being on Ba'eker only. According to wereda information, the Relief Society of Tigray (REST) had dispatched between 28 October and 3 November 318 tons of wheat to Ba'eker; while on 9 December 10 tons of famix/faffa and 1,050 blankets arrived. With the exception of a Rubbhall tent for the hospital and some plastic sheeting to cover the relief food, no shelter material had arrived. By the time of the mission's visit, the administration had distributed, in Ba'eker only, a 15 kg ration for a month to 10,451 people and famix to 2,220 children. While the distribution of blankets was still pending, relief food stocks for another month were available for the same number of people.

Pending a wereda assessment of the situation in May Kedra and Bereket and an eventual relief operation in those places, the wereda would need more resources. Pointing at the sorghum surplus and the local purchase potential of the area, a wereda official told the mission: "Yes, if the needs arise, it would be better to use local sorghum rather than bringing relief food all the way from Mekele, Addis, Djibouti and America..."

Asked for priority needs based on the current situation, the administration produced, according to the different locations, the following lists:


1) Expansion of the water supply system (especially in view of an expected increased influx);

2) Shelter material for evacuees (existing "das" shelters represent fire hazard) and a Rubbhall tent for grain storage;

3) Drug storage room for the hospital;

4) Transport (pick-up vehicle) for field work of wereda authorities.

May Kedra:

1) Expansion of the water supply system;

2) Improvement of sanitation;

3) Radio communication for the May Kedra hospital (telephone non-existent).


1) Expansion of the water supply system;

2) Establishment of a health center (none existing);

3) Shelter materials;

4) Relief food supplies;

5) Establishment of a sanitation system (no public latrines existing).

While overall, for the time being, food did not appear to be a top priority in the three locations, the authorities pointed at an additional need in the health sector: The entire Humera area had, in December, only one ambulance operating.

Shiraro town almost deserted

The capital town of Tahtay Adiabo wereda in the West Tigray Zone, Shiraro had, according to wereda information, a pre-conflict population of 15,000 (according to the 1994 census 8,415). By the end of September, the town's population had reached about 22,000 due to the influx of displaced people from the surrounding area. After Shiraro was directly affected by shelling on 21 October, the population began to evacuate the town. Most of the evacuees, and also many people from rural areas near the frontline, went subsequently to Zeban Gedena, a settlement which is located about 15 kilometers south-east of Shiraro town.

Some two kilometers away from the old Zeban Gedena settlement, a camp consisting of "das" type grass-shelters has been established. The site itself houses an estimated 5,000 evacuees, while, according to local authorities, some 30,000 more are living in the general locality of Zeban Gedena. The circumstances of the evacuation and living conditions in this new settlement are similar to those encountered in Ba'eker. People had to organize and pay for the move themselves. To various degrees people were able to bring along personal belongings, household goods and other assets, but still had to construct their own shelters using locally available wooden poles, grass and straw. Speaking to a number of evacuees, the mission learned that people in this location had also tried to continue their normal business activities. Petty trade, like the sale of spices and "tsoa" (local beer), is going on while locally grown (through irrigation) lettuce and tomatoes were available in the camp's market. A few shops and makeshift bars have also been set up. The general complaint, however, is that a significant loss of income has had to be borne.

Distributions of relief food appear to be well organized although a significant number of beneficiaries sell up to half of their 15 kilogram grain ration in order to make up income losses and to buy household necessities. This leads to a situation where many beneficiaries still view food as one of the relief priorities. Another need expressed by a number of people is shelter material. While some people had collected their own "das" material in the bush, others, not being physically able, had to pay 50 Birr for the construction of a shelter. The mission saw only small quantities of donated shelter material here and there consisting of some tents and and a little plastic sheeting. While blankets were mentioned as a requirement, the water situation was described as "satisfactory" by people spoken to. More water points were being planned by the authorities, while for the sanitation sector the construction of latrines was envisaged.

Driving from Zeban Gedena on a bush track to Shiraro, the mission encountered a number of people who were obviously visiting their hometown to look after their houses and belongings left behind. Others were seen transporting beds and other furniture items on camels and donkeys from Shiraro to Zeban Gedena. In Shiraro town itself, the vast majority of houses were locked up with doors and windows barricaded. Very few civilians were seen in the streets - most of them day-time visitors. Four shops were seen open, catering mainly to the needs of the soldiers in the area.

On the way back to Shire (Inda Selassie), the mission noted that the tented camp in Adi Hageray, previously the only exception to the regional "no-camp-policy", had been moved away from the main road to a point some three kilometers into the bush. While the camp comprised, as in September, around 30 tents, the new location has a well and hand pump where previously water tankering had been necessary. The people in the camp, who number around 600, were displaced from the Badme area soon after the border conflict broke out in May, 1998. Although living conditions have improved over the past months, women spoken to - many men went reportedly away to join the militia - pointed to the problem of overcrowding in the tents (sometimes shared by up to twenty people) and expressed a wish for more shelter materials, adding that they also suffered from a shortage of blankets and clothes.

The zonal view in Shire (Inda Selassie)

The zonal authorities in Shire (Inda Selassie), capital of West Tigray Zone, gave the mission the following figures (Table II), which made no differentiation between early displaced and recently evacuated population groups:

Table II: Western Tigray Zone Affected Population


Close Monitoring
Kafta Humera
Tahtay Adiabo
Laelay Adiabo
Medebay Zana

Source: Zonal Administration Western Tigray; figures as of 14 December 1998

In addition, the zonal administration provided a breakdown on the number of people displaced and evacuated in the two affected weredas. For Kafta Humera, the distinction between "needy displaced" and "not needy displaced" is interesting to note.

Table III: Displaced and Evacuated People in Western Tigray Zone

Displaced from

Now located at


Not needy



Humera area



May Kedra


Badme, Shiraro, Adi Awala and surroundings (Tahtay Adiabo)
Zeban Gedena
36,570 (site: 5000)

Adi Hageray
23,632 (camp: 600)

Adi Daero

Inda Selassie

Grand Total

Source: Zonal Administration Western Tigray; figures as of 14 December 1998

Overall, it is difficult to obtain consistent figures at wereda, zonal and regional level. This is mainly due to the fact that the situation is not static but a dynamic process. Furthermore, different views on assessment methodologies (e.g. inclusion or exclusion of anticipated developments) may add to the difficulty. The table above, however, shows a significant difference between zonal and regional views on numbers for Western Zone. While the regional contingency plan assumes for December a number of "already displaced" of 116,416 without differentiating between "needy" and "non-needy displaced", the zonal view suggests for the same period of time only 75,786 needy displaced.

The Western Tigray zonal administration also gave the mission a list of priority relief needs, without quantifying the items required:

Kafta Humera Wereda:

1) Blankets;

2) Vegetable oil;

3) Health service personnel;

4) Shelter material (big tents - not only plastic sheeting).

Tahtay Adiabo Wereda:

1) Shelter material (big tents as well as plastic sheeting);

2) Expansion of the water supply system;

3) Increment of food reserve (data on current stocks not available; increased food reserves would enable authorities to raise food rations from 15 kg/person/month to 20 kgs alleviating the negative nutritional effects of beneficiaries selling up to half of their rations).

Zone overall: Vehicles to address the transportation problem in West Tigray.

In conclusion it is perhaps interesting to note that the zonal authorities told the mission that the need for precautionary evacuation was only given to the populations at risk (within a corridor of about 40 kilometers from the respective frontlines) as a recommendation. Whoever wanted to stay, was (at least initially up to December) permitted to do so at his or her own risk. This explains why by the time of the mission's visit towns like Humera and Shiraro were not totally evacuated. Furthermore, the zonal authorities told the mission that in West Tigray, but also in areas of Central and East Tigray considered to be exposed to the potential danger of air raids, civil defense measures were being implemented. More and more people have constructed bomb shelters by digging cavities into the ground which are then covered with heavy wooden poles and topped with soil. The mission visited such facilities in Shire and Adigrat and was told the same measures were being undertaken in Axum, Adua and Mekele.

Central Tigray: Confusion about numbers of actual evacuees

Two northern weredas in Central Tigray Zone are bordering Eritrea: Mereb Lehe and Enticho (also called Ahferom). According to zonal and regional findings, by December Mereb Lehe (total population around 85,000) had 50,000 displaced (evacuated) people while Enticho (total population around 145,000) had 38,978 displaced. Due to time constraints, the mission was not able to undertake any field work in the Enticho area. However, the mission traveled from Adua 35 kilometers north to Rama town, the capital of Mereb Lehe wereda.

Rama is only 7 kilometers from the Mereb river which forms the international boundary with Eritrea. The population of about 5,300 began the process of evacuation in late October and early November. By the time of the mission's visit (15 December) considerable numbers of people, including small children, could still be seen in the streets of the town giving the impression of being less deserted than Shiraro. More shops and restaurants were seen to be open while a bus service and some private vehicles were catering to the transportation needs of day-time visitors. The health clinic, however, and schools were closed. Reportedly, parts of the wereda administration have also been moved out of town, but the mission was still able to meet the administrator in his usual office in Rama.

Information obtained was somewhat confusing. The mission was told that (as of mid-December) only 5,291 people from Rama town, some 300 students from various areas and some 200 people from a village called Mereb at the bridge further north had been evacuated. The total number of 5,791 displaced had all received food relief in two rounds of distribution which had taken place in Rama town, while the next round was scheduled to be handed out in a village called Abakh, 10 kilometers south of Rama on the road to Adua. According to the administration, some 685 people (including 285 students) had left Rama for Adua, where they were registered to receive relief support. Additionally, some 140 "wealthy" people not requiring any support had left. Seeking clarification whether all these figures referred to the Rama area only or to the entire wereda of Mereb Lehe, the mission was told the numbers reflected actual numbers in the entire wereda. The administration indicated that in a total of 9 border tabias (kebeles), out of a total of 20 tabias in the wereda, some 44,000 people in rural areas had been advised to evacuate their homes. But so far, according to the administration, many of those considered as being at risk had not complied with the advise to leave, preferring to stay in their home areas looking after crops and livestock. These people had the means, the mission was told, to evacuate rather quickly making their way through the bush if danger should arise.

On the way back to Adua and Axum, the mission stopped in Abakh (mentioned above) and found numbers of "das" grass shelters of the type seen in Ba'eker and Zeban Gedena. People here also had to pay for their own relocation and to organize the construction of their shelters. People spoken to said there were 50 to 60 "das" shelters in Abakh each housing three or four families. Contrary to what the wereda administrator had said, the majority of the people were from Rama itself with just a few from Mereb and Mikquan-Sifrachew. None reported having received any food or other relief support, most having relied on private food support through the extended family system. The only exception to this pattern were students, who had received from the government, food support, blankets and school material.

Abakh is also the location to which the medical facilities of Rama town have been moved. Housed in tents and a larger "das" shelter reinforced by plastic sheets reportedly provided by REST and UNICEF, the clinic attends to the needs of the evacuees in Abakh and to the population of the local Wedihazo tabia. How many people can actually afford to seek medical attendance remains unclear since everybody, including evacuees, has to pay for medical services and drugs. A male nurse at the clinic confirmed that the evacuees here had not received any food relief so far and that therefore the prevalence of moderate and even severe malnutrition among children under five was relatively high (no statistical data available). The mission was shown some children in a highly critical condition. Evacuees and medical personnel stated that the priority humanitarian needs for the makeshift camp of Abakh and its people were shelter material, food, an improved water service (two hand pumps are available but reportedly located far away and providing polluted water) and medicines to fight water born diseases such as diarrhea and dysentery.

89,000 official displacement figure for Central Zone

Regardless of the inconsistency found locally in Rama, the zonal Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Bureau (DPPB) in Axum maintained, as of December, figures of 50,000 displaced and evacuated people for Mereb Lehe wereda and of 38,978 for Enticho (Ahferom) wereda, bringing the total number of displaced in Central Tigray to 88,978. This figure includes some 18,000 people who were displaced virtually empty handed shortly after the conflict broke out in May, 1998. Based on a zonal committee assessment from mid-November (in which reportedly the administrator of Mereb Lehe/Rama had not taken part) an additional 115,934 people were identified as being at risk and requiring close monitoring. The DPPB pointed out that currently (mid-December) major evacuation movements were expected to take place north of Enticho town, in the vicinity of Gerhusernay.

Although recent evacuees were "not in such a bad position as the first 18,000 people displaced empty handed in May", as the DPPB representative said, the zone was "not in the position to address all the needs of all the needy". Therefore, more resources were required in Central Zone to enhance the assistance given in the sectors of food, health and water. While reportedly at the time of the mission's visit no more food stocks were available in Central Zone, a request to the regional authorities in Mekele for a three months supply (4,000 tons for 88,978 people) was pending.

Cave shelters near Adigrat in Eastern Zone

According to information from the zonal DPPB, Eastern Tigray had - by mid-December - a total of 116,650 displaced and assisted people, most of whom were from the two border weredas of Erob and Gulomeheda. Included in this figure are 6,108 Ethiopian returnees from Eritrea. Of the total, 71,347 have received USAID food assistance channeled through REST since late September. The balance of beneficiaries have received food aid provided by WFP channeled through the DPPB.

The current figure of 116,650 displaced and evacuated people represents an increase over the September-figure of 91,000. Reportedly, recent shelling had led to new population movements. The wereda administration of Gulomeheda, which was moved after the initial clashes in May from Zala Ambasa to Fazi, was again moved in early October from Fazi further south to Kerseber, only 8 kilometers north of Adigrat. Apparently, a number of people only come during the day to the town, returning to villages further south for the night. Unknown numbers of townspeople have moved to Idaga Hamus, Freweni (also known as Senkata), Hawzen, Wukro, Mekele and Addis Ababa - where the availability of funds and/or relatives determines to a significant degree the selection of more distant locations.

At the time of the mission's visit Adigrat, the capital of Eastern Zone, still presented the picture of a busy town: shops and restaurants were open; at the REST warehouse the regular food distribution to displaced people was going on; at a fuel station many people were seen queuing for kerosene; public transport was available. While primary schools in the rural areas around the town reportedly continued to operate in caves and other shelters, the higher level schools in Adigrat itself were still closed as a precautionary measure. High-school students are now attending school in towns further south, like Idaga Hamus and Freweni. According to the DPPB, those students not able to live together with their families, are now getting a monthly food ration of 30 kilograms (instead of the usual 15 kilograms). This measure takes into account the informal monetisation of food aid (sale of part of the rations) and allows students more funds to pay for additional costs (mainly the rent of living quarters) incurred. While the authorities have currently "only resources to address minimum needs", an increased availability of relief food would allow them to also increase the rations for other beneficiaries to 20 kilograms, as the DPPB suggests. To normalize the calorific intake of beneficiaries forced to sell up to half of the relief grain (at about 1.30 or 1.40 Birr per kg), another possibility would be the provision of beans, salt, pepper and the like.

Regarding the non-food sectors, the DPPB pointed to pressure on existing water resources being a problem in some areas where major groups of people, civilians and non-civilians alike, congregate. The health sector seems to be under control with close monitoring going on in rural areas and free health care being provided to displaced people. Supported by UNICEF, problems of sanitation are also being tackled.

Unable to visit to Fazi (20 kilometers North of Adigrat), the mission visited a location 4 kilometers north-east of Adigrat, locally known as "the caves" (Ba'eti). A massive rocky hill provides here numerous places - either in caves or underneath overhanging rock flanks - which people are using as very basic shelters. Local authorities estimate that about 2,000 people have been living here following an Eritrean attempt to shell Adigrat in mid-November. While personal safety was one reason why people chose this location, another reason is based on financial considerations. Most of these "cave-people" were displaced in May from Zala Ambasa to Adigrat town, where they had to spend money to rent whatever housing facilities were available. Forced to sell parts of their relief food rations in order to be able to buy other essential food and non-food articles for the household, the financial burden of paying rent eventually became too much.

Many dwellers in Ba'eti simply snuggle up against the overhanging rocks, having to suffer from the cold which, at an elevation of 2,400 meters, can be severe, especially at night. Makeshift fences from tree branches are put up as windshields. But with the exception of some commercially acquired material, not a single sheet of donated plastic was seen by the mission. This is somehow astonishing since considerable quantities of shelter material donated by humanitarian agencies and bilateral donors have been handed over some time ago to the DPPC in Addis Ababa. Cave dwellers spoken to complained about the lack of appropriate shelter material and a shortage of blankets. While the people of Ba'eti benefit from regular food distributions, another concern expressed was the scarcity of potable water - a spring nearby is of insufficient capacity for the number of people - and the sanitation situation is precarious. The DPPB representatives accompanying the mission to the caves indicated that they would be looking to address these problems.

While seeking shelter in safe locations outside but close to the town appears to be an option sought by many people, for the time being the DPPB does not anticipate an all-out evacuation of Adigrat. Rather, the authorities emphasize general civil defense preparedness by promoting the digging of bomb shelters of the type the mission saw in West Tigray. The DPPB itself, which was bombed on 11 June, has meanwhile dug a solid shelter in its compound.

Regional authorities try to improve food and shelter support

Meeting with Tigray regional government authorities in Mekele, the mission learned that a regional assessment delegation had also just concluded its field work covering the region from Adigrat to Humera. Focusing on Central Zone, representatives of the administration reiterated the zonal findings of 50,000 displaced people in Mereb Lehe wereda. Pointing at the situation in Abakh south of Rama, the authorities underlined that the problems persisting there (and depicted above) would be addressed very soon.

Turning to the food sector, the mission was told that the 30 kilogramme ration for unaccompanied students was a recognised policy throughout the region. Beyond that, the region was in process of requesting the federal DPPC to include in the near future for all displaced - around 315,000 in the region - half a kilogram of salt and one bar of soap per person per month. Equally, the possibility of including legumes like lentils in the regular rations should be considered.

Addressing the issue of shelter, Dr. Solomon Inquay, Head of Social Affairs in the Regional President's Office and member of the regional intersectoral emergency committee, said: "We always tried to avoid setting up camps. But now we have them because local host communities have reached the limits. We clearly see the need to improve the situation in these camps." In this context, requests to the federal DPPC for the dispatch of additional plastic sheeting were pending as of mid-December, while some 100 rolls (a UNICEF donation) had already arrived in Mekele. The onward dispatch from Mekele to the zones and weredas, however, was facing transportation constraints. In this regard, it is unfortunate that shelter materials destined for the Humera area were reportedly sent to Mekele first, instead of being trucked directly from Addis Ababa through Gondar to Humera.

Asked to what extent the Ethiopian national contribution effort, resulting in considerable cash and in-kind donations (98 million Birr by mid-December), had been utilized, the regional authorities indicated that about 50 per cent of the resources, mainly the contributions in-kind, had been allocated to the defense forces. The other 50 per cent were earmarked for conflict affected civilians in Afar and Tigray regions. In Tigray, the available national contribution resources, while not having been spent entirely, are being used for (in this order) returnees from Eritrea, the school system and water development. Other priority sectors like health (e.g. mattresses, bedding, clothing for hospitals) were also being supported using these public contributions in order to complement international relief aid.


The regional "no-camp-policy" had to be relaxed following the most recent influx of evacuees, since the absorption capacity of local communities, hosting previously displaced people, had reached its limits.

The first wave of displaced people and the more recently evacuated people do not share to the same extent the same needs. While generally most of the recent evacuees were able to take along some of their essential household goods and assets, a number, especially those from the cash crop surplus area of Humera (where the majority is seen as not-needy by zonal authorities; see Table III), can be considered self-sufficient for the time being both in terms of food and non-food requirements.

The mission acknowledges the difficulty in establishing accurate figures for a contingency plan, given the fluctuation of numbers with almost weekly new developments on the ground. But even a working figure should attempt to reflect consistently the needs of affected people. After having made the observations in the field depicted above, it seems to be too far from reality to state that all displaced and evacuated people have the same support requirements, especially in the non-food sectors. Furthermore, it appears somewhat inconsistent to present, at a given time, a number of people as "already displaced" whose displacement is only anticipated. Also, such anticipation might be misleading in establishing the location where intervention is needed. For example, contrary to official planning considerations, no evacuees had moved to Dansha by December while other locations had become makeshift reception centers. These examples are cited not criticize the very detailed and excellent planning work undertaken by the authorities, but to show some of the difficulties encountered in formulating such a plan. In this regard, it is worth noting that the authorities met by the mission emphasised the importance of responding flexibly to what is clearly a fluid humanitarian situation.

Overall, for the first wave of displaced people and recent evacuees alike, the food situation seems to be under control for the moment, though the authorities are correctly considering the possibility of increasing rations from 15 to 20 kilograms which would provide a larger margin for the necessary individual monetisation of food aid. Based on the same considerations, students separated from their families are already getting 30 kgs per head/month. However, given that it is unlikely that the existing caseload of displaced will be able to return home any time soon, there is a growing concern that current commitments of relief food assistance from USAID and WFP, intended as a short-term measure only, will be exhausted in the near future unless urgent steps are taken to maintain the pipeline.

While health, water and sanitation problems are being addressed using various international and national resources, the issue of shelter, mentioned repeatedly as a problem, raises certain questions. In this regard, the mission noted with some concern that many of the more recent evacuees had resorted to the construction of highly flammable "das" shelters even though international donors had delivered substantial quantities of plastic sheeting to the federal DPPC five months earlier, little of which was evident in the field. By the same token, it was noted with some consternation that people in the immediate vicinity of Adigrat were living in caves in appalling conditions without sufficient blankets and other shelter materials when the required materials should have been readily available. If existing stocks of relief materials are not quickly used to address such needs it is feared there will be little possibility of mobilising additional resources from the international community.


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.

8 January, 1999

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

PO Box 5580, Fax: (251) (1) 51-12-92

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia e-mail:

[1] A number of mission reports, UN and Government documents, reflecting the situation at various times, have been issued before and after September containing detailed facts and figures. Selected references:

- "Humanitarian needs of war-displaced people in Northern and Northeastern Ethiopia" - United Nations Inter-Agency Assessment Mission to Tigray and Afar Regions. 19 - 24 June 1998

- ""War Displaced in Tigray and Afar Regions - UN Response Summary" - UN Country Team in Ethiopia / Office of the Resident Coordinator, 13 August 1998

- "Relief Requirement for the Internally Displaced" - DPPC, Addis Ababa, 25 September 1998

- "Report on a Rapid Assessment Mission to Tigray Region' - UNDP-EUE, 21 - 29 September 1998

- "UN Inter-Agency Fact-Finding Mission to Afar and South Welo on Ethiopian nationals Returning from Eritrea"- UNDP-EUE 16 - 19 October 1998

- "UN Country Team Contingency Plan" - 23 October 1998

- "Regional State of Tigray: Contingency Plan to meet the Humanitarian Needs of Displaced People" - Mekele, December 1998

- "Assistance Requirements for 1999" - Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission (DPPC), Addis Ababa, December 10, 1998

- "Food Supply Prospect 1999" - Early Warning System Report, DPPC, December 1998

- "Official Speech of H. E. The Commissioner for 1999 Appeal" - DPPC, December 10, 1998