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    In DepthThe onset of a larger humanitarian crisis in Tigray

    The onset of a larger humanitarian crisis in Tigray

    Date:

    As the conflict between the federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in Tigray moves forward, the humanitarian crisis has reached a catastrophic stage. Millions are now on the verge of facing famine and thousands have become destitute refugees in neighboring Sudan. Hence, numerous international humanitarian organizations continue to exert maximum pressure on the government of Ethiopia to have a safe humanitarian corridor and give civilians affected by the fighting access to urgent humanitarian assistance.

    With fighting lingering in some pockets of the region, the conversation has turned into finding a safe humanitarian corridor and save as many lives as possible. Despite the fact that the ‘mission accomplished’ mantra came into play more than a month ago, there are still reports of fighting in some pockets of the region.  

    There are increasingly alarming signals of the after-effects of the fighting, as both local and international actors are calling for swift action to attend to those in need. With sporadic fighting continuing in some places, the suffering civilians cannot receive the attention they need.

    Reports by different groups at the initial stages of the fighting indicated that this influx of Ethiopian refugees to Sudan has not been witnessed since the Ethiopian famine in the 1980s. The fact that the incessant calls by humanitarian organizations to pay attention to the plight of civilians and open humanitarian corridors to provide assistance are still there, indicates that not enough has been achieved in that aspect. Recent reports corroborate the same, indicating the situation has worsened now and the number of people that are in acute humanitarian need has risen sharply.

    Fighting induced realities in Tigray regional state, such as frequent power outages, suspension of telecommunication services, and lack of access to fuel and cash, continue to severely hamper the humanitarian response. After nearly three months of conflict, reports of a larger number of internally displaced people grow daily, while the absence of a humanitarian corridor still remains to be a major impediment to humanitarian endeavors.

    Following the capture of Mekelle, the capital of Tigray region, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) announced that the federal government’s next task in the region was to immediately commence the process of rebuilding the infrastructure in the region.

    Although the Prime Minister’s plans were made three months ago, reports by many international humanitarian organizations have pointed out that affected populations are without shelter, access to water and sanitation facilities, while government structures are partially or fully non-functional in some areas. Roads, health centers, schools, electricity, hospitals and telecoms are damaged and have been disrupted.

    Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) fleeing armed violence need emergency humanitarian assistance, such as first aid services and psychological first aid, basic healthcare as well as water, food and protection. During displacement, people are confronted with numerous risks. There are continuous reports of violence, looting, abduction and forced recruitment. According to the Ethiopian Red Cross Society (ERCS), with the areas in and around Tigray continuing to face insecurity and violence, the region is being impacted by a significant internal displacement, with an estimated 1 million people displaced within Tigray.

    In addition, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said the ongoing crisis in Tigray has aggravated an already dire situation in Ethiopia, with acute food insecurity escalating. It is estimated that over one million farmers in Ethiopia have suffered crop losses, heavily affected by locust infestations which have devastated an estimated 200,000 hectares of cropland.

    As a result, a food shortage is looming with food prices reported to have doubled. Before the crisis, 600,000 people in the Tigray region were already dependent on humanitarian assistance.

    Furthermore, access to basic resources such as food, water, fuel, cash, and medical supplies is extremely limited and has impacted essential services such as banking and hospitals. Areas bordering Tigray have noticed food price increases of a 100 to 200 percent.

    Humanitarian organizations are calling on the Ethiopian government to provide access. The disruption in telecommunications in and around Tigray has limited both aid services and access to reliable information. The assessment report completed by the ERCS highlights food, water, and shelter as the major critical needs, as most of the people live on an open space due to inadequate support reaching affected areas. Health services have collapsed and food and medicine are also in short supply. 

    The Tigray Emergency Coordination Center (ECC) meeting that convened on January 1 2021, discussed humanitarian needs based on assessment findings. The ECC highlighted that more than 4.5 million people in the region need emergency food assistance, including 2.2 million IDPs. Subsequently, international organizations are sounding the alarm and are demanding unhindered access to the entire Tigray region.

    Despite the ear deafening calls and demands by international humanitarian organizations to get access to the entire region, the response from the government has not been fazed that much. Sadly, the suffering of the population in the region continues to date.

    According to different humanitarian organizations, the situation is made more complex due to sporadic ambushes in the region. To this effect, UNOCHA described the security situation in the Tigray region as “unstable and unpredictable.”

    “The situation is particularly volatile in rural areas where a large number of people are believed to have fled to. Fighting continues to be reported mainly in Central, Eastern, North Western, South and South Eastern parts of the region. According to field reports, movements outside main roads are highly insecure. Incidents of ambushes and hit-and-run attacks also abound, including on humanitarian partners’ vehicles. Humanitarian assets have also been forcefully misappropriated, including the vandalizing of two refugee camps in North Western Tigray,” the UN agency highlighted.

    Lack of access continues to challenge the urgent need to scale-up humanitarian assistance and prevent the population from accessing life-saving support. Although movements of cargo carrying humanitarian commodities have been allowed into the region, most of the critical staff that is needed to scale-up the response and distribute and monitor its distribution has not been able to access the region, UNOCHA indicated.

    The agency furthermore stated that despite the progress in granting clearance for cargo movements, critical humanitarian staff deployment submitted to the federal government, have not been granted and are pending clearance for several weeks.

    To this effect “At least 74 technical staff are awaiting government clearance to be deployed to Tigray. In addition to hampered physical access into many parts of Tigray, mobile network communications remain cut-off in most parts of the region, affecting response operations and access to vital information, including on COVID-19. Electricity, banking, telephone and public transportation services are slowly being restored but are highly limited and remain accessible only in major towns.”

    Overall, the humanitarian situation in the region remains extremely concerning with each passing day, with or without limited access to food, nutrition supplements, healthcare and other basic services and commodities. Furthermore, the report of desert locusts indicates an emerging threat in the form of hunger. Furthermore, due to the ongoing war, farmers in the region have already missed the harvest season and with no trade in and out of the region, the markets have collapsed or are near collapse. Accordingly, malnutrition is likely to have increased significantly.

    Deputy PM and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Demeke Mekonnen, reiterated that the government is doing its best to provide humanitarian assistance in the region. Demeke, in a roundtable discussion with EU ambassadors and representatives of European countries on the current situation in Tigray regional state, briefed the gathering on the humanitarian assistance efforts undertaken by the government and pertinent bodies in the region. He said food and non-food items, including pharmaceuticals, are being delivered to people in Tigray identifying their needs, while facilitating the delivery through the 92 distribution centers.

    The Minister further noted that various governmental agencies, international humanitarian organizations, and aid agencies are collaborating well in rendering humanitarian relief services in the area. Regarding the allegations of human rights abuses, he further confirmed the government’s commitment to look into the issue.

    Though the Minister said humanitarian assistance is being delivered to the population in the region, Abreha Desta, who is appointed by the interim administration to serve as head of Labor and Social Affairs bureau of the region, indicated that people are dying of hunger.

    In an interview with VOA Tigregna, he said that 13 individuals have died due to starvation. “According to the report we have received so far, 13 individuals, 10 from Gulomekeda and 3 from Adwa have died of starvation,” the bureau head said.

    Though the government has expressed its commitments to provide humanitarian assistance to the affected population, the plea by the international community to get access still continues. In this regard, many organizations are expressing their concern and have urged for the respect of International Humanitarian Laws and the Ethiopian constitution, including protection of civilians and the protection of humanitarian aid workers.

    Moreover, these organizations are also asking the government to continue to restore basic services and amenities, as well as give unrestricted and continuous access and security for humanitarian services.  

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