AUGUST 23, 2018—More than 900,000 people have fled a recent surge in violence between communities in southern Ethiopia, with many displaced people living in rough conditions and in urgent need of humanitarian aid, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today.
MSF is responding to urgent medical and humanitarian needs among displaced people along the border of the Gedeo and West Guji zones in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Region (SNNPR) and Oromia Region. These were densely populated areas even before the recent influx of displaced people, which has further stretched the available resources and public services. Despite a government-led effort to provide health care, food and essential relief items, many displaced people do not have adequate shelter, water, sanitation, and hygiene services.
"Most people left their homes in a hurry and arrived with nothing," said Alessandra Saibene, MSF's emergency response coordinator. "Families are sleeping on the floor in vacant buildings, like schools or churches, and sometimes even on the bare ground outside, with only banana leaves or a plastic sheet for cover."
MSF, in coordination with other humanitarian actors, is building latrines and installing water and sanitation infrastructure in Kochere and Gedeb districts. The organization is also trucking in clean drinking water and improving hygiene and water access in local health facilities.
In addition, MSF is supporting health centers and hospitals with primary and secondary medical services and is planning to distribute essential relief items including blankets and cooking utensils.
"When so many people live together in crowded and cramped conditions, with limited access to clean water and insufficient latrines, the risk of outbreaks of communicable diseases is very high," Saibene said. "We need to act quickly to improve the conditions in the sites where displaced people are staying. Otherwise, the situation will only get worse. We are working with the Ethiopian Regional Health Bureau to ensure that people have access to basic, lifesaving health care."
MSF medical teams have conducted more than 19,000 outpatient consultations, including with about 6,700 children under five years old, and have supported the government with a measles vaccination campaign.
Many of MSF's patients suffer from diarrhea, intestinal parasites, respiratory tract infections or skin infections caused by poor, overcrowded living conditions and a lack of clean water. With the colder weather approaching and the upcoming rainy season, conditions may dramatically deteriorate, with dire health consequences.
"During the rainy season, household food resources are almost completely depleted, so general food distributions need to be ensured throughout the duration of the crisis to avoid malnutrition," Saibene said. "A rapid and sustained response is needed from aid organizations and the local authorities, with the continued commitment of donors."