Conflict and violence triggered over 5.1 million displacements within Ethiopia in 2021 — triple the number reported there in 2020 and the highest figure recorded for any country in a given year, according to a new report from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre.
An internal “displacement” is defined as being forced to leave a place of residence but not crossing internationally recognized borders.
The cause of the staggering Ethiopian numbers: attacks against civilians, health facilities, and schools in Afar, Amhara, and Tigray which “triggered an unprecedented number of new and repeated displacements,” according to the report. So the number 5.1 million includes people who may have been displaced more than once.
The previous record was 3.5 million for Syria in 2013.
The report also indicates there are around 4.2 million internally displaced people (IDP) in Ethiopia.
The ongoing civil war in Ethiopia began in November 2020 as a power struggle in the country’s northern Tigray Region. The government and its allies, Eritrea and the Amharas, are fighting Tigray’s dominant political party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. All sides have committed atrocities in the conflict, which has involved mass killings and the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war.
A deep humanitarian crisis has resulted, and the U.N. has said the government has put in place a “de facto humanitarian blockade” preventing life-saving medicine and food from reaching rebel-held Tigray. Officials in Ethiopia have repeatedly denied blocking access to aid, but over the past eight months only a small amount of the needed-aid has made it into Tigray. Currently, 5.2 million people in Tigray need food aid. Approximately 400,000 are experiencing famine conditions.
Although the government declared a truce in March, a small fraction of much-needed aid — less than 10% by some estimates — has reached Tigray and the U.N. is still reporting that access constraints are delaying food distributions.
“It is not for a lack of resources or goodwill on the part of the international community. It is due to the Ethiopian government’s deliberate policy of starving TPLF and the people of Tigray,” says Awet Weldemichael, a professor at Queen’s University. “We have an entire region completely disconnected from the rest of the world — no basic services, financial, telecommunication, education, and otherwise.”
According to Weldemichael, “all the elements of the crisis are worsening.” He says the ongoing conflict along with a drought the likes of which hasn’t been seen in 40 years and worsening socio-economic challenges, may lead to even more conflict as people fight over limited natural resources.
To learn more about how the conflict has displaced people in Ethiopia, we spoke with Ivana Hajzmanova, the regional coordinator for the Middle East and Africa for the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. Her comments have been edited for length and clarity.
The war in northern Ethiopia has displaced millions of people at an unprecedented rapid scale. According to your data, 5.1 million displacements in a single year is a global record. Who’s most vulnerable and what are they facing?
This figure is very alarming and it shows how difficult the current situation is. Children are very much at risk. It was estimated that 1.7 million children lost access to education because they were in displacement. There were also widespread reports of human rights violations and abuses against different women, children and also members of different ethnic groups.
We are looking into the impact of displacement on disabled populations and disabled IDPs. We have observed that many settlements, evacuation centers, or IDP camps are not prepared to welcome disabled IDPs.
Ethiopia’s 5.1 million internal displacements in 2021 is a new world record : Goats and Soda : NPREthiopia’s 5.1 million internal displacements in 2021 is a new world record : Goats and Soda : NPR