Conflict and crisis in northern Ethiopia
Months of fighting have left hundreds of thousands of people facing life-threatening malnutrition.
TIGRAY, Ethiopia – Families across northern Ethiopia face emergency levels of malnutrition and food insecurity, nine months since conflict erupted in the region. More than 100,000 children in Tigray could suffer from life-threatening severe acute malnutrition in the next 12 months. This malnutrition crisis is taking place amid extensive, systematic damage to the food, health, nutrition, water and sanitation systems and services that children and their families depend on for their survival.
Humanitarian access in and out of Tigray, and neighbouring areas in Afar and Amhara, remains challenging and unpredictable. While access to communities inside the Tigray region has improved in recent weeks, limited availability of fuel, telecoms, supplies and cash is hindering humanitarian assistance.
Children in Tigray and neighbouring regions are in urgent need of protection and support. It’s still unclear how many children have been killed or injured. Thousands have been orphaned, separated from their parents and caregivers or subjected to horrific acts of sexual violence.
The threat of famine looms over the region amid the destruction of health and other services children rely on for survival. UNICEF estimates a 10-fold increase in the number of children who will suffer from life-threatening malnutrition in Tigray over the next 12 months.
The recent relative calm in much of Tigray has provided an opportunity to restore life-saving health and nutrition services in areas of greatest need, but fighting has intensified in Afar and Amhara – areas neighbouring Tigray.
Almost half of pregnant and breastfeeding women screened in Tigray since the outbreak of conflict were acutely malnourished – signalling a high risk of maternal deaths and low-birth-weight babies.
Health centres are once again starting to provide ready-to-use therapeutic food for children and high-calorie, vitamin-fortified biscuits for their mothers.
Ababa gave birth to Wegahta at home. She only received help from her mother as the health centre in Gijet was no longer operating. Wegahta still hasn’t received any of her routine vaccinations.
Ababa and her husband fled their one-room home in Gijet in February 2021, six days after Wegahta’s birth, to escape the fighting taking place nearby. “Our biggest challenge was fear,” Ababa says. “I was constantly afraid, worrying that we would be attacked. At night, I was unable to sleep, I was always ready to flee.” She says the immense strain she was under affected Wegahta, who started to refuse breastmilk.
Ababa’s family trekked two hours to her parents’ home in Waza, where they left their two older children until it was safe for them to come home. The parents returned to Gijet several times over the next few months. Ababa says being separated from her children during this time was extremely stressful.
The family received food aid twice – two months’ worth of flour in January, and three months of supplies including wheat, oil and sugar in March. They had 10 chickens, which provide eggs for them to eat and sell, although two chickens have recently died.
Mebrhatu is a tailor and used to sew women’s dresses, but work is scarce right now. He can only work one day a week doing minor repairs to clothes because people don’t have the money to spend on new clothing and there’s hardly any fabric available at the market.
The fighting in the Tigray region has extended deeper into the neighbouring regions of Afar and Amhara. UNICEF and partners are bringing desperately needed help to children and their communities, but need unfettered access and additional resources to reach more children.