More people were internally displaced in Ethiopia in the first half of 2018 than in any other country, outpacing the world's worst conflict zones including Syria, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
More than 1.4 million Ethiopians fled their homes between January and June, according to data published Wednesday by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, a Geneva-based authority on forced migration.
Syria had the second highest level of newly internally displaced civilians, with 1.2 million fleeing violence inside the country this year. That made 2018 the worst year to date for internal displacement in Syria’s seven-year civil war, according to a separate report published on Wednesday by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria.
But a new conflict in southern Ethiopia is driving even higher levels of internal displacement. Since April, ethnic conflict in the border areas of Gedeo and West Guji has killed hundreds and driven 1.2 million people from their homes, sparking a humanitarian crisis, the IDMC report said.
A separate inter-communal dispute between the Somali and Oromia regions in the east has driven 200,000 people from their homes since flaring up at the end of 2017.
More than 80 ethnic groups live in Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous nation.
This year conflict between the Oromo and Gedeo ethnic groups has arisen over land and resources. In Ethiopia’s vulnerable rural populations there is a heavy dependence on agriculture and demand for grazing, leading to conflict over access to food, water and pasture. These conditions are easily exacerbated by flooding and drought and tend to play out along ethnic lines.
"It beggars belief that 1.4 million people fleeing violence isn’t making global headlines. The world is turning a blind eye to Ethiopia,” said Nigel Tricks, regional director of the Norwegian Refugee Council.
"Families we've met who have fled fighting are living in dire conditions, and dismal international funding is being channelled to help them."
In the Gedeo and West Guji region of Ethiopia, displaced people are living in overcrowded host communities, where food, water and health services demand is beyond capacity.
In some areas, displaced civilians have doubled the local population, in what was already once of the most densely populated parts of the country.
Globally, the Horn of Africa is the worst hit region for displacement this year. Up to 341,000 Somalis have also been internally displaced, while nearly a million have fled drought and flooding in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya.
In the 10 worst affected countries, 5.2 million people were internally displaced as a result of conflict in the first half of the year. A further 3.3 million people were displaced by natural disasters.