With millions of Ethiopians forced out of their homes, Catholic Relief Services is working with the local Catholic Church to offer immediate relief and to address the root causes of their displacement.
Some 2.7 million people have fled their homes in Ethiopia in the last year, uprooted by devastating floods and violent land disputes between the Gedeo and Guji comminutes in the Oromia region of the country.
In the first half of 2018, Ethiopia had the highest number of internally displaced persons of any country in the world, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre.
The response from Catholic Relief Services has been two-fold.
The international aid group is working to meet the immediate needs of those who have been displaced from their homes. Working with the local Church and government, the agency has helped provide shelter, water, and hygiene assistance to families in need.
It has also distributed food assistance to 600,000 displaced people, through the USAID Food for Peace program.
However, the ultimate goal of Catholic Relief Services in the region is to promote peace, in order to address the underlying problems causing people to evacuate.
“We know from experience that providing shelter, food and other assistance is not enough when people flee their homes because of ethnic violence,” said CRS Ethiopia Country Representative John Shumlansky in a Feb. 1 statement.
“We have to try to get at the root of the problem. We have to help people resolve their conflicts.”
Catholic Relief Services has a history of working to promote peace-building efforts in countries facing violence and unrest, such as community reconciliation efforts in Rwanda following the 1994 genocide, and the implementation of anti-trafficking programs in secondary schools in Bosnia Herzegovina.
In November, the Ethiopian Catholic Church held a one-day peace forum for religious, government, and social leaders to discuss the Gedeo-Guji tensions. Catholic Relief Services, which collaborated with the local Church on the forum, said the event “created an opportunity for people to come together to identify ways to collaborate to ensure peace between the two communities.”
After the forum, officials from Catholic Relief Services and the Catholic Church worked to support meetings between police forces from the Gedeo and Guji communities to identify points of conflict and encourage peace.
Several peace-building meetings between the two groups have been held in recent weeks, with the Ministry of Peace leading the efforts.
The Ethiopian government is also working to help the Gedeo and Guji people return to their homes, where possible.