Dessie, 4 Oct 2021 – “We left everything behind and packed nothing. I remember rushing to leave for our safety,” Hanan*, a 30-year-old mother of five recounts.

She is among the thousands of displaced people sheltering in schools in Dessie town, South Wollo Zone, after the conflict in Tigray region spilled over to its neighbouring Amhara Region.

Hanan with two of her children in a school-turned-displacement site in Dessie Town, Ethiopia. Photo: IOM/Sasha Lipton

While some of the displaced families can rent accommodation or stay with family or friends, many are camping at one of the 13 schools made available by the local authorities. The conditions are difficult with 35 to 55 people staying in a classroom, including the elderly, those with underlying medical conditions, and children, some as young as two months old.

When the fighting broke out in her hometown of Habru (a woreda, or district, in North Wollo), Hanan immediately fled with her husband, their five children aged between 2 and 17 years, and her aging mother.

CARE Ethiopia is working closely with local authorities and committees at each displacement site to ensure that everyone is informed about the assistance, and to ensure distributions are organized and safe. Photo: IOM/Sasha Lipton

“I saw houses being burned and businesses being looted. That is why we decided to make the difficult journey south for our safety,” she shares.

Hanan and her family travelled for four days on foot for over 30 kilometers, sleeping in the forest, before arriving in Wichale where they took a bus to Dessie town. Upon arrival, they were sent to the “Sunday Market School” where over 700 displaced people from Habru woreda are currently sheltering. She has been at the school for three weeks,  relying on food donations from the local community while waiting to hear when it is safe to return home.

IOM’s Rapid Response Fund

In Dessie town, IOM’s Rapid Response Fund is working with CARE Ethiopia to provide urgently needed household items to the most vulnerable among the recently displaced people. Through close coordination with the Government of Ethiopia’s Regional and Zonal Disaster Risk Management Offices (DRMO), 2,500 households were identified to receive household item kits including blankets, sleeping mats, kitchen sets, and jerry cans.

This is the only privately owned school hosting displaced people in Dessie town. The owner and director decided to open it to receive IDPs as soon as she heard about the displacement and expressed that  it is an Ethiopian duty to help.  Photo: IOM/Sasha Lipton

Hanan and her family were among the first to receive this support. “Everything in this kit is useful to us,” Hanan recalls. “Even the handwashing bucket is needed,” she points out.

While this distribution of household items is among the first efforts to support recently displaced people in Dessie, much more assistance is required to address urgent food, shelter, medical, and hygiene and sanitation needs and to support the many displaced households staying within the host community.

Hanan and her children have been staying in this classroom for three weeks, sharing the space with 54 other women and children displaced from Habru woreda. Men stay in a separate block of classrooms in the school. Photo: IOM/Sasha Lipton

“As Shelter/Non-Food Items (NFI) Cluster lead, IOM works closely with Cluster partners to meet the urgent needs of the over 2 million people displaced by conflict and disasters in Ethiopia. By having a pipeline of shelter and NFI supplies managed by IOM, these urgent needs can be met quickly. With additional support from donors, IOM and partners will meet the urgent emergency shelter and NFI needs of 50,000 vulnerable people,” says Christina Burwell, Programme Manager for IOM Ethiopia.

CARE Ethiopia coordinates with local authorities and other NGOs operating in Dessie. Photo: IOM/Sasha Lipton

Funded by USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA), IOM’s Rapid Response Fund aims to meet acute, emergency humanitarian needs of the most vulnerable populations, namely those affected by new aspects of ongoing crises and natural or man-made disasters, by providing a flexible, effective and need-based funds disbursement mechanism to humanitarian actors operating in the emergency response.

* Names have been changed to protect their identity

This story is written by Sasha Lipton, Programme Officer, IOM Ethiopia.