Ethiopia + 2 more

Ethiopia - Tigray Region Humanitarian Update Situation Report, 20 May 2021



  • Humanitarian needs continue to be grave, exceeding to current capacities.

  • While some areas were accessible, others remain hard to reach due to movement restrictions and ongoing conflict.

  • An alarming cases of acute malnutrition among children has been reported.

  • Only about 2 per cent of the targeted 720,000 school children have access to learning opportunities.

  • About US$200 million is needed to respond to humanitarian needs until the end of July.


Situation Overview

Humanitarian access in Tigray remains extremely fluid and volatile. While some areas were accessible, others remain hard to reach due to movement restrictions and ongoing conflict. In the areas accessed, the humanitarian situation is observed to be dire.

Food insecurity is particularly alarming with a high risk of mass severe acute malnutrition looming in the next few months if not addressed immediately. During the reporting period, nearly 11,000 children under the age of five were screened for acute malnutrition of whom about 2000 (nearly 18 per cent) were identified as moderately malnourished, and about 500 children (4.5 per cent) were identified as severely malnourished.

On 15 May, a joint OCHA, WFP and International Rescue Committee (IRC) visited Zana Town in North-Western Zone, which until recently was inaccessible, to assess the humanitarian situation. Shortages of food, dysfunctional water system, lack of electricity and lack of health services (except for an INGO mobile clinic services once a week) were reported. The town has not yet been reached with basic provision of aid, including food.

Most of the Central Zone, with a population of about 1.8 million people, remains largely inaccessible. However, from 18-21 May, OCHA and UNICEF visited 15 of the 21 displacement sites in Axum and Adwa, two of the largest reception towns of internally displaced people (IDPs) in the region, with more than 360,000 IDPs living in sites and with host communities, according to estimates by the zonal administration. Only one food distribution has taken place in Axum and Adwa since the start of the conflict nearly seven months ago and most displaced people have not received any food assistance at all.

Farmers are unable to access and plant their lands, further exacerbating food insecurity in the area. Meanwhile, INGO health partners have only been able to provide limited health services in these IDP sites.
On 20 May, OCHA conducted an assessment mission to Abi Adi Town, also in the Central Zone, where approximately 40,000 IDPs currently live. While access and security situation in the town have improved recently, the presence of protection actors and services is urgently needed as under-age girls are reportedly facing intimidation, sexual violence and abuse. A few INGO partners based in Abi Adi, since the start of the conflict, are providing limited food, nutrition, non-food items, water, sanitation and hygiene, protection, and health services.

In Shire and surrounding areas in North Western Zone, access is becoming increasingly challenging where heavy fighting was reported on 16 May. The movement of humanitarian partners from Mekelle to Shire via Abi Adi was blocked on that day.

Similarly, the road from Mekelle to Shire via Adigrat remains unpredictable with Ethiopian Forces at Agulae checkpoint requesting proof of permission from partners to pass through. There is no access into or out of Hawzen town in Eastern Zone.

Several partners reported shortages of fuel, severely affecting the humanitarian operations including ambulances, water trucks, water pumps, generators and food dispatching and distribution. In North-Western Zone, for instance, petrol stations closed and some fuel is being found in the black market at higher prices and with low quality. Suppliers are unwilling to transport fuel to Shire without proper military escort or security guarantees along the main roads. A number of partners have reportedly halted their vehicles movement and limited their operations as a result. In Mekelle, the fuel supply is declining due difficulties transporting it from neighbouring Afar region due to recent insecurity there.

Acts of sexual and other forms of gender-based violence continue to be reported. The reported cases greatly underestimate the actual cases as underreporting is widespread due to a combination of factors, including fear of stigmatization and/or retaliation, limited access to trusted service providers, and widespread impunity for perpetrators. In a statement issued on 21 May, Ethiopian attorney general’s office said that the military prosecutors have convicted three soldiers of rape, one solider of killing civilians and pressed charges against 28 others suspected of killing civilians in Tigray region. In addition, 25 other soldiers are charged with acts of sexual violence and rape.

While humanitarian partners are gradually scaling up response, the humanitarian needs continue to be grave, urgent and exceeding current capacities due to a combination of insecurity, access constraints, and lack of funding. Unpredictable (and lack in some places) of communications is further hindering humanitarian operations and the flow of information on the humanitarian situation.

In a press release issued on 15 May, US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, expressed grave concerns over blocking of humanitarian access to parts of the Tigray Region, calling on the Ethiopian Government to immediately facilitate full and unhindered access for humanitarian actors to all parts of the region.


Humanitarian Preparedness and Response

There are currently [as of 27 May] 392 UN staff supporting the humanitarian response (94 international and 170 national staff in Mekelle and 22 international and 106 national staff in Shire), an increase from 227 a week earlier. Similarly, NGO partners have significantly scaled-up with 32 NGOs currently responding in Tigray (up from 17 pre-crisis). Additional staff continue to be deployed to support the response. With at least 1,141 additional national staff and 108 international staff deployed, the total NGO staff in Tigray is approximately 1,850. There are 54 partners (Government, UN, NGO) operating across the region.

Nearly half a million people were reached with food assistance during the week, bringing the total number of people reached since the start of round 1 of food distribution for 2021 (27 March-19 May) to more than 2.2 million people out of the targeted 5.2 million people. Some 14,184 children had access to learning opportunities across IDP sites and host communities in Mekelle, Shire and the South-Eastern Zone, an increase from 11,071 children a week earlier. This, however, remains very low and only about 2 per cent of the targeted 720,000 children have access to temporary learning opportunities.

The Regional Health Bureau and Health Cluster partners are currently operating over 55 mobile health and nutrition teams (MHNT) in 57 Woredas, compared to 26 MHNTs covering 39 Woredas a week earlier. At “Sabacare-4” relocation IDP site in Mekelle, which will accommodate 19,000 people, all 3,310 planned shelters were constructed, of which 2,877 are fully completed and the remaining are near completion.

Meanwhile, Eritrean refugees who fled Hitsats and Shimelba refugee camps in the north are being relocated from Shire to Adi Harush and Mai Aini camps by UNHCR at a rate of over 200 refugees per month. Upon arrival, they are provided with emergency shelter, food and core relief Items. Essential services have been re-established and primary schools have reopened in the refugee camps in Tigray.


UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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