United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
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Ethiopia is facing multiple emergencies amid critical levels of underfunding. With new and ongoing displacements and suffering caused by ravaging droughts, the East African country is struggling to keep up with the ever-growing needs of displaced people across the country.

Two months since the launch of an interagency refugee response appeal to help Somali refugees fleeing to Ethiopia since February, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and humanitarian partners have received only 2 per cent of dedicated funds for requirements totaling $116 million. While UNHCR and partners have reprioritized existing funds away from other pressing needs to launch the response, with more people arriving in the country every day, the lack of new funds is seriously hindering the response on the ground.

An estimated 100,000 people have fled ongoing conflict and violence in their homes in Laascaanood, a once bustling city in the Somaliland area of Somalia. Families, women, children, older people and people with disabilities have fled with only what they could carry after shelling and explosions destroyed their homes and forced them to seek safety in Ethiopia’s Doolo Zone.

Since the onset of the emergency, UNHCR and partners in support of the Ethiopian government have rushed to provide life-saving assistance. Medicine, water and other basic items have been delivered to local clinics around the area to ensure they can assist host communities and refugees alike. 

Despite scarce local resources, host communities across the area have opened their doors to around 80 per cent of the entire displaced population. While those who can are staying with Ethiopian families, others are sheltering under trees, facing risks of animal attacks, robberies and gender-based violence. Many require shelter, food and medical attention.

Over 20,000 Somali refugees have been relocated by the Ethiopian government and UNHCR with the support of partners to a new site in Mirqaan, where services including water distribution, emergency shelter and sanitation are being provided. The Ethiopian government’s Refugees and Returnees Service (RRS) is conducting individual biometric registration with support from UNHCR.

But with limited resources, gaps are already visible and UNHCR fears that without urgent support the consequences for refugees and their hosts will be catastrophic. “We are on the brink of a crisis of further human suffering if we fail to bring much needed support to this area,” said Mamadou Dian Balde, UNHCR Representative in Ethiopia. “Resources are simply insufficient to provide humanitarian aid and ensure solutions for the population.”

In the new settlement, water supply is seriously limited by fuel costs of trucking, with estimates that current resources will last for only four months. Even now, refugees are only able to receive 10 litres of water per person per day, below the standard of 15. Only 30 per cent of the required shelters are available, leaving some families in overcrowded facilities or sleeping in the open in local communities.

Support to refugees staying in local communities has also been curtailed. In Docmo, Hegalle, Mirqaan and Goob, where Ethiopians are already struggling due to severe drought and lack of basic services, UNHCR and partners have not been able to consistently support medical centres to address all needs – especially for those needing care for chronic diseases and other illnesses, expectant mothers, as well as survivors of rape and other forms of gender-based violence. Support for housing and other critical needs is severely limited and, pending needs assessments, may only be available for very few.

Food distribution will be limited to certain locations because of shortages of fuel, and education will be unavailable to many children due to limited capacity in classrooms where teachers are already overstretched.

UNHCR is particularly concerned about how the lack of funding is also affecting the generous host communities who have welcomed refugees and shared their resources. Increased scarcity of essential items and services could have catastrophic consequences for peaceful coexistence and the stability of the region.

The recent influx means Ethiopia is now hosting nearly 1 million refugees, but its generosity has not been matched by sufficient funding. “UNHCR continues to appeal to the international community for support for the thousands of Somali refugees who have already suffered from conflict and violence. We can’t forget them and the generous communities who have opened their doors,” added Dian Balde.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

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