Tigray conflict putting strain on humanitarian efforts

Beginning in early November 2020, three months of conflict in northern Ethiopia’s Tigray Region between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF), and other armed group elements loyal of the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, have resulted in mass civilian deaths and population displacement, generated large-scale humanitarian needs and led to a severe protection crisis.

While major military operations ceased in late November, ongoing insecurity, including clashes between armed elements, ambushes and violent crimes, continues to disrupt basic services, endanger civilians, including aid workers, trigger large-scale humanitarian needs and limit humanitarian access in several parts of the region. Most notably, demand for humanitarian assistance has been exacerbated due to restricted access enforced by the Government of Ethiopia.

In response to the humanitarian needs generated by the conflict in Tigray, the Government of Ethiopia and the UN signed an enhanced coordination agreement in late November intended to facilitate humanitarian access to the region.

However, despite efforts to bolster coordination, delayed Government of Ethiopia approval processes under the enhanced coordination agreement, alongside insecurity and other constraints, have continued to prevent humanitarians from accessing the region, particularly rural areas, where approximately 80 percent of Tigray’s population resides.

Prior to the conflicts, up to 950,000 people in the region required humanitarian assistance. Now, at least 4 million people across Tigray will likely require emergency food assistance in 2021.

Insecurity and related service disruptions have prompted thousands of Eritrean refugees to vacate Hitsats and Shimelba refugee camps—the two northernmost refugee camps in Tigray.  Relief actors are concerned that ongoing insecurity in and around the camps and the lack of basic services are contributing to severe humanitarian needs among remaining refugee populations.

Although UNHCR led an interagency multi-sector assessment mission to North Western’s Adi Harush and Mai Aini refugee camps, the UN agency has been unable to access Hitsats and Shimelba, where humanitarian services have been disrupted since November and conflict has resulted in the widespread destruction of camp infrastructure

Violence in northern Ethiopia had prompted nearly 60,600 people to seek shelter in eastern Sudan’s Blue Nile, Gedaref, and Kassala states as of February 1, according to UNHCR. UNHCR has noted an urgent need to extend food and nutrition services to all reception centers and relocation sites in eastern Sudan; access to safe drinking water, latrines, and medical supplies are among the other identified priority needs.

Additionally, many refugees are unable to contact separated family members due to communications shutdowns in Tigray, prompting increased requests for family tracing and reunification services.

The progression of humanitarian needs as a result of conflicts in Tigray has ignited a global effort to provide assistance. USAID has outlined exactly how the conflicts exacerbated humanitarian assistance, and how they plan to address these needs and provide much needed relief in the future.

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