Background: Population Mobility and Internal Displacement in Ethiopia
Ethiopia faces significant internal displacement. In 2018, Ethiopia recorded the third highest number of new displacements worldwide, with 3,191,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) identified. A significant portion of these displacements are conflict-induced, largely related to ethnic and border-based disputes. Old tensions such as the contestation of the Oromia-Somali regional border which first flared up in 2017 continue to persist, while new conflicts have also emerged. In April and later in June 2018, conflict which was aggravated by competition for land and resources broke out between Gedeo and Guji Oromo tribes in West Guji. It is estimated that by August 2018, 748,499 IDPs were displaced from the Gedeo-West Guji conflict alone. Simultaneously, a localized conflict in Benishangul Gumuz region and the East and West Wellega zones of Oromia region displaced an estimated 191,995 IDPs. This brought displacement in Ethiopia to a peak of 3.04 million IDPs in March 2019.
Ethiopia is also riddled with climate-induced displacement mainly caused by drought and floods. Beginning in 2015, Ethiopia faced one of the strongest onsets of El Niño, a periodic heating of the eastern tropical Pacific, which reduced the kiremt rainfall and successively resulted in drought in the Southern and Southeastern parts of the country. This prolonged drought continued to impact agricultural and pastoralist communities across Ethiopia in 2019 by driving down crop yields of the main meher harvest, reduced pastures for livestock, and dried up water resources. Floods are another major cause of climate-induced displacement. While certain areas experienced reduced rainfall, others experienced heavy rainfall and floods during the kiremt rainy season in many low laying areas. Around 202,202 IDPs were displaced in October 2019 due to several flood incidences in Afar, Oromia, SNNPR and Somali regions.
Adding to the high mobility landscape of Ethiopia is the number and rate of returns. According to the government, 1.8 million IDPs have returned to their place of origin as of June 2019. This nationwide, government-led return operation has been ongoing since April 2019.
Since June 2019, Ethiopia has been combating a desert locust invasion which is reportedly the worst the country has seen in 25 years. As of January 2020, hopper bands had covered more than 429 km² worth of crops and vegetation. Since arriving in the country, the desert locusts have bred and produced millions of hoppers, placing additional strain on food security and livelihoods. If left uncontrolled, this could lead to 500 times more locusts than at present.
In March 2020, the Ministry of Health confirmed the first COVID-19 case in Ethiopia. Since then, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has increased to 217,327 cases as of 4 April 2021. The spread of COVID-19 and regulations to curb it has caused unemployment and has exacerbated the food insecurity situation in the country. On 29 June 2020, the killing of a popular musician in Addis Ababa sparked civil unrest across Oromia region. In early November 2020, the regional party of Tigray allegedly attacked the Northern Command of Ethiopia’s National Defense Force in Mekelle, Tigray region, prompting a military offensive from the federal government of Ethiopia. Following this, conflict broke out in the North of Ethiopia and it is estimated that more than two million IDPs have been displaced due to the conflict.