Ethiopia: Hunger and disease rife among displaced as aid workers gain access to new parts of Tigray

Published 18. Mar 2021
Severely hungry children and pregnant women are among 37,000 displaced people that have arrived into Sheraro, northwestern Tigray, over the last few weeks. They are among thousands of people in urgent need of aid and medical attention across the conflict-stricken region.

“The situation in Sheraro is beyond dire. Despite families arriving every day, no aid has been delivered for weeks. Food, water and medicine are running out fast. People could die unless they get humanitarian aid now,” warned Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).

“People have told us that they fled sexual violence, killings and widespread violence in Tigray, only to arrive in Sheraro and find a desperately helpless situation. We also heard accounts of refugees hiding in remote villages scared to be identified, which puts them at the risk of being cut off from any assistance. Lactating mothers also told us that they have been unable to produce milk for their babies,” he added.

These stories and evidence of desperate hunger indicate an elevated risk of malnutrition among displaced people. Pregnant women are forced to sleep on the ground in overcrowded classrooms with no sleeping mats, blankets or mosquito nets, putting them at serious risk of malaria.

For weeks, humanitarian access to people most affected by the conflict in Tigray has been constrained and impossible. Fluid conflict lines, increasing violence and mass displacement continues to characterise the conflict, four months on. 
Yet many parts of the region, particularly central, western and rural areas, as well as Hitsats and Shimelba refugee camps, had not been accessed by the humanitarian community until now.

NRC emergency teams were the first to visit the previously destroyed Hitsats and Shimelba refugee camps in Tigray this week. Prior to the conflict, the camps hosted close to 33,000 Eritrean refugees, and who have either had to flee to safer locations, relocated to safe areas or forced to go back to their country. 

While NRC teams did not find any refugees, there were 3,000 internally displaced people that fled from Western Tigray who have taken refuge in the shelters meant for refugees in Shimelba camp. This highlights how the conflict continues to displace people in multiple locations. The two abandoned camps had NRC facilities there, including an office compound and guesthouse.

“The situation in Sheraro is only the tip of the iceberg, as people in countless more hard-to-reach areas in Tigray are also in desperate need. We urge Ethiopian authorities to do all they can to ensure aid reaches everyone who needs it, regardless of where they are,” said Egeland.

“There cannot be any sustained response if the conflict rages on. Beyond meeting immediate needs, people need help to restore their livelihoods, get their children back to school and return home when it is safe. We call on all warring parties to find solutions that will restore lasting peace and give people a chance to rebuild their lives,” he added.