Ethiopia has begun "voluntarily resettling" drought-affected families in the northern Tigray region to the disputed border area near Badme, local sources told IRIN on Tuesday.
They said some 210 people were moved from central Tigray in May under a pilot project to the Badme sub-region, as part of the government’s new drive to tackle food insecurity in Ethiopia.
The two-year border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea broke out in Badme in May 1998 and both countries claim they were awarded the village after a crucial border ruling in The Hague on 13 April. Badme – which is currently administered by Ethiopia – saw some of the heaviest fighting of the war.
The resettlement programme is part of a new five-year plan launched by the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) in 2000/2001.
Tigray is one of the harshest areas in Ethiopia with massive food insecurity. However, the western part is known as the breadbasket of the region - a surplus producing area and the destination of many seasonal casual labourers.
Central Tigray is the region's most populated area with about 60 percent of inhabitants living there. Some 40 percent of the households are headed by women, who have lost their husbands through war and famine. The sources said they were being resettled from the villages of Abergele, Naider, Adet and Woreilehe.
The resettled families are given seeds, three hectares of land and oxen on credit to help them start farming. They also have an option to return to their original homes after the harvest in September.
A study – which is expected to end later this month – will look at the total number of people to be resettled and whether the land can sustain them. “People have underestimated the impact that this last war has had on Tigray,” said the sources from the regional capital Mekele. “Tigray is such a harsh terrain.
“We need a monumental transformation of the economy and the productive base so it is good that they are doing this, but they need to do more. The west is the only logical place in Tigray but they have to also develop the social services."
The voluntary resettlement programme – organised by the regional government - has been the centre of heated debate in Ethiopia and especially in Tigray.
“It is also politically sensitive because lowlanders and pastoralists are concerned that they may lose their land,” the sources added.