Nutrition crisis grips families in Tigray
Ongoing conflict in northern Ethiopia has left tens of thousands of children facing famine-like conditions.
It is more than seven months since conflict erupted in northern Ethiopia, yet there is still no end in sight for children and families suffering devastating impacts on their health and well-being.
At least 33,000 children in inaccessible parts of Tigray are severely malnourished and face imminent death without immediate assistance. These children are among more than 2.2 million in northern Ethiopia who are acutely food insecure. The malnutrition catastrophe is expected to deteriorate further in the coming months, especially if crops cannot be planted and assistance provided to children in areas of Tigray that are currently inaccessible.
UNICEF is on the ground, working with partners to support communities with safe water for drinking, cooking and personal hygiene, and providing nutrition supplies and early childhood development kits to help keep children healthy and learning.
But it is imperative that parties to the conflict ensure that humanitarian actors, including UNICEF, have unimpeded and safe access to help stave off widespread famine and reach those in need.
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A growing malnutrition crisis
Fighting in November 2020 broke out just as people should have been harvesting, leaving families without an income for the year. Many families also had cattle stolen and have lost access to fertilisers and vaccines for their livestock. By mid-June, more than 60 per cent of the population in Tigray and the neighbouring zones of Amhara and Afar were grappling with high levels of acute food insecurity.
The rates of malnutrition among pregnant and breastfeeding women, meanwhile, are consistently over 40 per cent, threatening the lives of newborn babies and their mothers.
UNICEF has been supporting nutrition screening services and therapeutic feeding programmes that have been providing life-saving treatment. Between February and June, around 300,000 children under five years of age had been screened for wasting. UNICEF has also provided thousands of cartons of ready-to-use therapeutic food and therapeutic milk to ensure young children get the treatment they need.
The malnutrition emergency in the region has coincided with extensive damage to essential systems and services on which children depend for their survival. Health facilities have been looted or damaged and essential vaccination capacity has ground to a halt. Many health workers have not returned to work.
In addition, destruction of water infrastructure has caused an extreme scarcity of safe drinking water. The damage could lead to outbreaks of disease, putting malnourished children at even greater risk of death.
UNICEF is therefore working with partners to supply water through rehabilitated boreholes and water trucking, including to internally displaced persons hosted at displacement sites.
But conditions in many of the displacement sites remain poor. They are often overcrowded, unsanitary and unsafe, exacerbating the risks of exploitation to children and making it impossible for people to practice COVID-19 prevention measures. UNICEF has also been providing vital hygiene supplies to help keep families safe, including soap and water purification tablets.
In addition to the nutrition emergency, the ongoing violence and upheaval leaves the region confronting a protection crisis, with severe and ongoing child rights violations and reports of indiscriminate and targeted attacks against civilians, including rape and other horrific forms of sexual violence.
UNICEF’s priority is to support school re-opening where security allows, while setting up temporary learning spaces for internally displaced children and host communities in areas where schools are damaged or occupied. UNICEF has also been working with partners to provide psycho-social support and safe spaces for children. In the medium term, UNICEF will focus on rehabilitating damaged classrooms and school facilities.
UNICEF’s aim is to reach every child across the region with critical health, nutrition, water, sanitation, education and protection services. But more than anything, the region’s children and their families need an immediate cessation of hostilities so that they can safely obtain life-saving services and begin to rebuild their lives.