Continued violence and harsh climatic conditions have made living a constant struggle for people in the crisis-affected area of Ethiopia’s Somali region this year. Caught between rebel groups based in the region and government forces intent on quelling the rebellion, the largely nomadic population has become ever more isolated from basic services and humanitarian assistance.
Due to dangers and restrictions associated with importing goods to the region, the availability of food and other essential items in local markets has drastically decreased and price spikes made basic staples largely unaffordable. At the same time, severe restrictions on movements in certain zones have seriously increased the vulnerability of nomadic people who are unable to search for water and food for their livestock. People have seen their harvests, food stocks, grazing lands, and livestock destroyed by a combination of drought and as a result of the conflict. Some have been directly exposed to the violence.
In May, MSF discovered concerning rates of malnutrition in parts of the Somali region, corresponding to the unfolding nutritional crisis in southern Ethiopia. It also found diseases such as diarrhea, urinary tract and eye infections, indicative of inadequate water and sanitation. In Wardher, a town in eastern Somali region, MSF witnessed thousands of nomadic herders and bush-dwellers drawn to the town’s outskirts, in search of food, water, and health care. Further, MSF nutritional programs in Wardher and in Degahbur have seen a significant increase in the number of children admitted for severe acute malnutrition over recent months, around 1,000 children as of December. MSF is also providing outpatient and inpatient health care as well as tuberculosis treatment.
In an area where the humanitarian needs are vast, there remains a distinct lack of adequate assistance, leaving thousands of people alone to cope with increasing levels of malnutrition and disease. Restrictions on movements mean that MSF is not always able to access certain areas in order to assess people’s humanitarian needs and respond appropriately. MSF estimates that in at least one zone in the Somali region three quarters of the population has no access to health care. The ability of MSF to provide adequate assistance has been affected by numerous administrative hurdles, in one case leading to the closure of MSF Switzerland's project in Fiiq.
MSF continues to provide essential health care in Wardher and Degahbur, while exploring opportunities to increase assistance to the people of the conflict-affected area of the Somali region. Increased and unfettered aid remains critical for those who continue to suffer the daily repercussions of this ongoing crisis.
In contrast to the difficulties in working in the Somali region, MSF was able to launch a massive response to the outbreak of malnutrition in Ethiopia’s Oromiya and Southern Nations and Nationalities People’s (SNNP) regions. From May to September, MSF treated more than 28,000 severely malnourished patients and 21,000 moderately malnourished patients across the different locations. Also in July, MSF made a targeted food distribution for 12,500 people at risk of malnutrition.
“ A drought like the current one is a disaster for us. We lost most of our animals and now we have nothing to eat because all we have is our animals to trade and their milk. ”
A woman living in the camps
on the outskirts of Wardher in eastern Somali Region