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This edition: Issue 1 - March 2013 | All editions

Postcard from Ethiopia

The East Africa food crisis hit the headlines in mid-2011, and many people responded with generous donations that enabled our partners on the ground to respond. While the situation has stabilised, there are still many challenges in the region. Late last year, TEAR’s Marshall Currie visited the Dollo Ado refugee camp in Ethiopia to see the work of our partner ZOA. 

Picture north-western Australia and you might get some sense of the landscape and the vastness of the Dollo Ado region of Ethiopia, which lies in the remote south-east corner of the country, a stone’s throw from the Somalia border. The only way in, if you don’t want to spend days on the road, is by a small plane that runs once a day from the capital, Addis Ababa.

Ethiopia is a generous host to 177,000 Somali refugees at Dollo Ado, which is not just one camp but a series of five, strung out over a distance of about 85 km and linked by dusty bush tracks and rough roads.

Postcard from Ethiopia

Dollo Ado is home to around 177,000 Somalian refugees, who have fled famine and conflict.

Ethiopia is a generous host to 177,000 Somali refugees at Dollo Ado, which is not just one camp but a series of five, strung out over a distance of about 85 km and linked by dusty bush tracks and rough roads. Each camp is more like a small village, home to roughly 30,000 people. Far from being chaotic, there is an unexpected level of order, with tents and semi-permanent houses arranged in long rows laid out in a grid.

Mid-2011 was the peak of the humanitarian crisis at Dollo Ado, when thousands of Somalis were seeking refuge in Ethiopia every week, literally fleeing for their lives to escape famine and conflict. Over 30,000 people arrived at Dollo Ado in July 2011 and children were dying from malnutrition at the reception centre at alarming rates. It took time to mobilise resources, but a year and a half on, the situation has improved. All those who come to the camp are being provided with shelter, food, access to water and basic health care. Infant mortality has dropped dramatically and children are going to school. The number of new arrivals has also slowed down to 3,612 in July 2012, with a monthly average of under 3,000.

Postcard from Ethiopia

TEAR partner ZOA is helping to provide emergency schooling for refugee children at Dollo Ado.

Despite the slowing numbers, this is still a serious humanitarian situation. People continue to arrive in significant numbers with over 90% of them women and children. Living conditions are tough, with extremes of sun, wind and rain. Women and girls are still walking long distances to collect firewood, often in an unsafe environment.

It’s here, in this difficult situation, that TEAR’s partner ZOA, a Christian international organisation with local field offices, is working to improve the lives of refugees. ZOA has received AusAID funding through TEAR to provide emergency schooling for around 1,600 refugee children – building semi-permanent classrooms and providing teaching and learning materials to boost school attendance. They’ve also distributed fuel-saving stoves (which burn 40% less firewood) to 3,350 refugee families and 500 host community families. It is hoped that the stoves, plus a trial of solar cookers, will help reduce the environmental damage being caused to the area by the huge demand for firewood.

Postcard from Ethiopia

A woman using a fuel-saving stove provided by TEAR's partner ZOA.

While conditions are improving, the huge question of what the future holds for these people still remains. I realised this when I talked with people in the camps about their plans for the future. No one I spoke to could envisage a time when they would feel safe enough to return home. Their lives are simply on hold. This is reality for the 42,000 families in limbo at Dollo Ado. In the meantime, the work of ZOA and other agencies in the camps is providing these temporary communities with valuable support. As well as the basic daily needs of shelter, food and health care, being able to access education for their children is helping to build skills for their future, even though they are unsure of what it might hold.

Marshall Currie is TEAR Australia’s International Program Officer for Kenya, Ethiopia, Zambia and Sudan.

Give: Our East Africa Appeal has closed, but you can still give to projects that support our partners’ work in the region. Visit www.tear.org.au/give or call us on 1800 244 986 (Free call).


Please pray for the ongoing situation of refugees living in East Africa who are unable to return to their homes. Pray that conflict and food security will improve in the region and provide people with more certainty about their future.


  • Dolo, Ethiopia


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