“Many children died on the way” – Ethiopians flee war and drought to try and find aid

30 May 2022

More aid is urgently needed to save lives and help people fleeing a deadly combination of war and drought in northern Ethiopia, says Islamic Relief.

Fleeing families have told Islamic Relief staff in Afar region of their terrifying journeys on foot through the mountains, with children dying on the way from lack of food and water. They have fled war only to arrive in drought-stricken camps where there is not enough aid to meet the growing needs.

The war in northern Ethiopia erupted in Tigray in late-2020 and then spread into Afar and Amhara regions. More than 2.6 million people have fled their homes. A temporary truce was announced in April to enable humanitarian aid to reach affected areas, but the UN has warned that it will not be enough. The humanitarian response in Ethiopia is critically underfunded, and three successive failed rains have caused the region’s worst drought in decades, destroying the crops and cattle on which people depend.

Hanan*, 22, arrived in one of the camps for displaced people in April. She told Islamic Relief staff how she and her brother escaped heavy fighting around their home town in northern Afar:

“Mothers and children were separated as we fled in fear. Later they managed to find each other in the mountains. We were in the mountains for over two months. We saw a lot of suffering in those mountains. All we had were our animals, so we slaughtered them to survive. My mother and father were taken away by armed men. We do not know where they took them or why.

“We walked for eight days and eight nights with no food. Many young children died on the way due to the heat and lack of water. We did not have a place to sleep, so we came here (to the camp).

“One year ago I was studying and about to graduate from university. Now I pray for help to get us out of this miserable situation.”

Despite the truce, some clashes have continued and people have continued to arrive in the camps.

Fekadu Mandefro, Islamic Relief’s communications coordinator in Ethiopia, recently visited Silisa camp in Afar region as part of a team distributing food, shelter and clean water to thousands of recent arrivals. He said:

“The heat was intense and the wind was so strong that it whipped up sand and dust into our faces. It was difficult to breathe, let alone work. The camp is crammed full of people struggling to survive, with little or no food or access to clean water and toilets. Many people are living in the open air or in flimsy shelters, exposed to the harsh elements. They have fled for their lives and now they’re living in horrendous circumstances, traumatised by the violence and hunger they experienced.”

Another young woman, Asiya, arrived in Silisa camp with her three children. They walked for 14 days to reach the camp, on an exhausting and dangerous journey with little food or water. She says:

“Heavy artillery was fired near our homes and as the fighting got closer we left everything and fled. Those who fled with me are the ones who are strong and healthy enough to walk long distances.

“The weak and elderly who are unable to walk were stranded. Some of my relatives were left behind because they could not escape. My husband is still there.”

Islamic Relief has provided food supplies including wheat flour, lentils and oil to more than 43,000 people like Asiya and Hanan* who have fled the conflict in Afar, as well as clean water, shelter and other vital aid. However, much more is needed. Hunger is increasing due to the drought and loss of livelihoods, and much vital infrastructure such as water points, health centres and schools have been destroyed in the conflict.

Islamic Relief is calling on all parties to the conflict to continue to observe the truce, work to restore peace and stability, and ensure unimpeded humanitarian access into all affected areas. The charity is calling on international donors to fully fund the humanitarian response plan in Ethiopia.


*The name of Hanan has been changed to protect her identity

More than 9 million people are now in need of food and other vital aid across Tigray, Afar and Amhara, according to the UN