An outbreak of clan violence forced 100,000 flee Ethiopia

By Holly Fletcher, Globe Correspondent
An outbreak of clan violence this summer in southern Ethiopia has forced nearly 100,000 people to flee their villages, according to representatives from the humanitarian group Oxfam America and a Harvard cooperative who traveled to the region.
Oxfam and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, a multidiscipline emergency-response team, said in a report that those displaced by the fighting are living in makeshift camps and are in dire need of water, food, blankets, and plastic sheeting for shelter, as well as long-term village protection. They urged aid groups to send assistance quickly.
News reports have said dozens have been killed in the fighting, caused by land disputes among herders.
The violence presents another crisis for a country and a region already rife with troubles. Floods earlier this month killed at least 900 people and left tens of thousands homeless in Ethiopia. Violence in Somalia and Sudan has spilled over into southern Ethiopia, bringing with it an influx of arms.
``Multiple hits from multiple angles are what makes this region fragile," said Coco McCabe of Oxfam.
The team of researchers assessed conditions in the camps, looking for trends among the villagers' temporary way of life.
``It's the first step in a long process" to help the villagers, said Dr. Jennifer Chan, a resident physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital and part of the Harvard initiative.
The conflict in the Oromiya region worsened the situation for thousands in a country where nearly 81 percent of the population live on less than $2 a day, according to a 2005 World Bank report.
In the camps, the displaced quickly depleted their supplies and ran out of grazing areas for their herds. In particular, the food shortage and lack of access to water -- most walk at least an hour, each way, to a water source -- make hard lives even more difficult.
``The Borena people are used to hard lives and not getting enough to eat," McCabe said. ``They feed the children first."
Terrence Lyons, a professor at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University , said low-level violence has persisted in the Horn of Africa region. In Somalia, radical Islamic forces control vast swaths of the country and consider themselves the legitimate authority.
But the dramatic increase in violence in early summer results from the ``fragile economic-ecological zone," he said.
``The community disputes, even a few years ago might have been settled by [clan] elders, are now being settled by automatic weapons," Lyons said. ``Rather than staying local, they quickly escalate into widespread warfare. [Southern Ethiopia] is a crisscross region of bandits, rebels, gunslingers, and cattle bandits."
The conflict, spurred by land demarcations that redistribute grazing lands from one group to another, is as much the upshot of a volatile region with destabilized governments, neighboring wars, and environmental disasters stacked against it.
``People don't have time to recover between one crisis to another," Chan said.

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