Cablegate: Ogaden: Mixed Humanitarian Access, Looming Drought

DE RUEHDS #1284/01 1341442
O 131442Z MAY 08



E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A. ADDIS 1259
B. ADDIS 1223
C. ADDIS 1204


1. (SBU) In a May 9 roundtable discussion with donors, NGOs
expressed concern over the overwhelming inadequacy of the
Ethiopian Government (GoE)'s humanitarian appeal to respond
to current drought conditions in Ethiopia and detailed
persistent bureaucratic impediments to their ability to
provide humanitarian assistance to drought and
conflict-affected areas of the Ogaden. After two years of
persistent vulnerability, the people of the Ogaden face
depleted resiliency to cope with the current shock. While
GoE access restrictions have effectively blocked donors' and
NGOs' ability to assess the severity of the drought in the
Ogaden, the GoE's appeal for humanitarian assistance
fundamentally underestimates the magnitude of humanitarian
needs in some regions and excludes other affected regions
altogether. Despite receiving greater GoE authorization to
access, and deliver relief food and medical supplies
throughout the Ogaden, NGOs reported extensive and lengthy
bureaucratic requirements that severely constrain their
ability to fulfill their obligations to donor partners.
Without a more accurate drought response appeal by the GoE
and significantly facilitated NGO access procedures, huge
numbers of Ethiopia's most vulnerable could face still
greater malnutrition, morbidity, and mortality. Although
Ambassador raised these concerns to Prime Minister Meles on
May 9 (Ref A) along with the UK and French Ambassadors, it
remains evident that without a significant and sustained push
the GoE will maintain its current hostile approach to NGOs at
the expense of its own citizens. Post encourages Washington
bureaus and agencies to raise USG concerns about NGO access
impediments and the inadequacy of the GoE's humanitarian
appeal with the Ethiopian Ambassador when he is called in to
discuss the draft Civil Society law (Ref B). End Summary.


2. (SBU) Although Post has reported (Ref C) on the general
drought conditions facing Ethiopia, NGOs noted that without
greater operational access they cannot assess whether the
drought caused by the already largely-failed Belg rains
combined with the poor Meher forecast will be worse than the
major drought of 2002. The International Rescue Committee
(IRC), which does currently enjoy relatively good access in
the Ogaden, argued that conditions in the Somali region are
looking worse than 2002. The UN Office of the Coordinator
for Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA), however, argued that it
is not yet clear that the drought in Somali region would be
as bad as 2002. OCHA did, however, stress that two years of
failed rains and poor harvests have so depleted the
resiliency of the local population of the Somali region that
the onset of drought has brought on almost instantaneous
physical impacts in child morbidity/mortality and
malnutrition, and we should only expect to see greater
humanitarian impacts as the drought progresses. While
Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF)-Greece reported severe acute
malnutrition (SAM) rates of 10 percent in some locales,
MSF-Holland noted that it cannot adequately assess, or
respond to, humanitarian needs in the Ogaden due to GoE
restrictions on their access and operations. USAID's Office
of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) representative
emphasized the critical need for an unbiased nutritional
assessment in the Ogaden. MSF-Switzerland reported that a
significant portion of humanitarian food delivered to rural
areas of the Ogaden has been confiscated by the military and
local authorities and sold to traders from Somaliland, thus
further restricting the portion of relief food actually
reaching intended beneficiaries. MSF-Holland argued that
without improved access, the MSFs in Ethiopia may be forced
to withdraw.

3. (SBU) Several NGOs emphasized that the rhetoric and scope
of humanitarian needs captured in the GoE's appeal do not
match the ground truth in many parts of Ethiopia. While IRC
stressed that the drought has had a major toll on the
Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People's Region (SNNPR),

ADDIS ABAB 00001284 002 OF 004

which is highlighted in the GoE's appeal, Catholic Relief
Services (CRS) flagged that the Amhara region is completely
excluded from the appeal despite the emergence of
drought-induced stress migration and kids dropping out of
school. The UN's OCHA representative noted that drought
conditions and humanitarian needs in Oromiya and SNNPR are
not even close to being adequately reflected in the GoE's
appeal. Despite the circumstantial evidence of the impacts
from the drought, there is still no formal comprehensive
assessment. The Disaster Preparedness and Prevention Agency
(DPPA) told the Japanese Ambassador that it will do drought
impact assessment at the end of June upon the completion of
the Belg harvest to determine the actual extent of drought


4. (SBU) While the overt preclusion on NGO (and donor) access
to conflicted-affected areas of the Ogaden has been eased
notably since the Fall, many NGOs reported a sustained lack
of de facto access to much of the Ogaden due to bureaucratic
impediments. The IRC noted that it currently enjoys much
better access to the region, but must first acquire written
permission from the Somali regional president for each trip.
Such permission can take weeks. A representative from the
European Commission Directorate General for Humanitarian Aid
(ECHO) reported being denied access outside of Kebri Dehar
while accompanying an EC-funded relief NGO. While MSF-Greece
noted that UN agencies enjoy better access than NGOs, a
representative from OCHA clarified that the UN is operating
in the Ogaden without written authority from the GoE to
implement activities, only a verbal assurance of
authorization from the Deputy Prime Minister, which could be
stripped at will.

5. (SBU) MSF-Greece argued that it enjoys full support from
regional authorities in Oromiya and Somali regions to
operate, but is stymied by impediments at the federal level.
While the GoE has long maintained loose operating procedures
for expatriate staff of humanitarian NGOs, it has now chosen
to exploit this inconsistency with the law to block
expatriate workers from operating in the Ogaden. Instead,
now, expatriates must be registered with DPPA and hold valid
work permits, otherwise they are considered "illegal." For
instance, DPPA sent a letter to Medecins du Monde (MDM) on
April 24 naming seven expatriate employees working without
work permits. DPPA ordered MDM to withdraw these employees,
"pay back the benefits illegally effected to them," and
terminate their employment by April 30. MDM was also ordered
to "assure in writing that (it) will never repeat such
illegal action and will work in line with the General
Guideline for NGO Operation in Ethiopia here after." While
the French Ambassador and some NGOs reported that obtaining a
work permit for expatriate staffmembers is now taking
four-to-six months, MSF-Greece noted that DPPA is not even
accepting work permit requests any more. One NGO stressed
that the persistent pattern of GoE allegations against local
staff in the Ogaden means that NGOs cannot leave local staff
on the ground without expatriates without exposing the local
staff to significant risk from the GoE. The Japanese
Ambassador cited a conversation with DPPA head Ato Simon in
which DPPA argued that is only has a problem with
four-to-five NGOs, and is willing to authorize the rest of
the 47 NGOs interested in working in the Ogaden. DPPA noted,
however, that it would only issue two-to-three permits per
NGO, after they submit a CV for the staff and a scope of
work, which no NGO has yet provided.


6. (SBU) Following the roundtable, Ambassador Yamamoto
facilitated a discussion among the donors (U.S., UK, France,
Canada, Netherlands, Sweden, Japan, the EC, and the UN) on
raising these concerns with the GoE. The U.S., UK, and
French Ambassadors agreed to raise these concerns with Prime
Minister Meles (Ref A). The donors also agreed to encourage
their capitals to stress concerns about these persistent
restrictions on humanitarian access with the Ethiopian
Ambassadors accredited to their countries when they call the
Ambassadors in to express concern about the draft civil

ADDIS ABAB 00001284 003 OF 004

society organization law (Ref B) introduced on May 2.

7. (SBU) Ambassador Yamamoto distributed the following
talking points to the assembled donors as a foundation for
discussing NGO access concerns. Post encourages Washington
bureaus and agencies to draw from these points to raise USG
concerns to the Ethiopian Ambassador:

--Delayed rains and the onset of drought-like conditions in
areas of the Somali region are exacerbating the already
depleted humanitarian conditions stemming from poor rains and
harvests over the past two years,

--While there has been a significant increase in access for
humanitarian partners throughout the region over the past few
months, continued restrictions on movement of humanitarian
relief supplies and assistance in response to security
conditions and counter-insurgency operations are impeding the
provision of food, medical supplies, and water to civilians
located in small villages and off of the main roads,

--We, Ethiopia's partners in development, are committed to
help address the humanitarian toll of these conditions, but
slow logistics and impediments to access are preventing our
ability to adequately assess needs and reach beneficiaries,

--Poor coordination among national and local authorities
and between relief and security sectors significantly impede
a large portion of relief from reaching intended

--Bureaucratic delays or requirements (from registration
of particular staff members to oft-postponed meetings to
obtain access permission letters) further delay the delivery
of needed food and supplies to Ethiopian civilians,

--The delays in deploying mandatory escort convoys and
poor logistics leave already scarce food, medical supplies,
and technical personnel idle for days or weeks while
civilians continue to go without,

--While the government confirms its commitment to address
these humanitarian concerns, photos of emaciated children and
animals are beginning to emerge and it is only a matter of
time before our governments begin to question the motives
behind these delays,

--It is growing increasingly difficult to justify to our
capitals the demand for additional assistance for Ethiopia
when existing obstacles severely limit the delivery of
currently available assistance to beneficiaries,

--It is now evident that the Ethiopian government must
establish clear and specific requirements and procedures to
ensure that humanitarian implementing partners have
expeditious and unimpeded access to the civilians in need of

--It is also critical for medical and nutritional assessment
teams to have thorough access to the region to determine the
scope and gravity of potential needs,

--Implementing partners' collaboration with anti-peace
elements would be unacceptable. At the same time,
humanitarian partners' travels in remote areas to respond to
humanitarian needs may lead them to encounter anti-peace
elements. Reporting details of such encounters to government
and security officials only risks exposing them to hostility
when they encounter such groups in the future. As such, we
encourage the government to acknowledge that such contacts
may occur and not use such unwillful contacts as grounds for
restricting NGO movements or operations.


8. (SBU) One year into its counter-insurgency efforts in the
Ogaden, it is clear that the GoE continues to severely
restrict NGOs, particularly the vocal ones, to impede them
from fully observing conditions on the ground or fully
responding to the humanitarian needs of local populations
suspected of favoring insurgents over the government. The

ADDIS ABAB 00001284 004 OF 004

successful deployment of the Humanitarian Assistance Team and
openings in commercial and humanitarian access in Fall 2007
are evidence of the effect of sustained and concerted
pressure on the GoE to mitigate the humanitarian needs of its
population. While there has been notable progress, the task
is not done, concerns are not abated, and the expansion of
the drought only exacerbates the vulnerability of the people
of the Ogaden. Similarly, nationalism and pride provide an
incentive within the GoE to minimize humanitarian needs as
evidenced by the GoE's initially inadequate humanitarian
appeal in response to the drought and as could be factored
into the DPPA's late-June post-Belg drought impact
assessment. Post encourages Washington bureaus and agencies
to raise USG concerns about NGO access impediments and the
adequacy of the GoE's humanitarian appeal with the Ethiopian
Ambassador when he is called in to raise the points in Ref C.
End Comment

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