The Ethiopian Government’s announcement of an immediate unilateral humanitarian ceasefire on June 28, 2021 has shifted the political dynamics in the Northern Ethiopian Region of Tigray drastically. Following the withdrawal of the Interim Government and the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) from the capital, Mekelle, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) took over control of major cities and roads in the region. Electricity and communications have been cut throughout Tigray since then, flights suspended, road movement restricted and two bridges have been destroyed further compromising humanitarian operations on the ground.
This changing context comes amid a dire humanitarian situation with nearly 91% of the region’s population in need of emergency aid and over 5.5 million people in Tigray and the neighboring regions of Afar and Amhara facing high levels of acute food insecurity. In the midst of the unfolding events, the United Nations and numerous governments have called for a ceasefire to be respected, especially to allow humanitarian aid to reach civilian populations.
Over the past two weeks, a series of events in the political arena has brought humanitarian operations to a halt in the Northern Region. Amidst a fluid and uncertain situation, the killing of three aid workers from MSF-Spain on June 25, deeply shocked the humanitarian community and prompted the evacuation of personnel and the suspension of operations in some parts of Tigray, further compromising the access to health care and life-saving assistance for the conflict-affected population.
The declaration of ceasefire by the Federal Government and the takeover of power by the Tigray People's Liberation Front brought a new shift in the regional dynamics and additional constraints for delivering lifesaving aid in the region. The cut off of essential services, the communications blackout, restrictive checkpoints, as well as shortages of fuel and cash are major constraints for current humanitarian partners’ capacity and ability to resume operations across the region.
Situations remain uncertain for the nearly 2 million internally displaced people scattered across major cities in Tigray (see map) and the neighboring Afar and Amhara regions. After nearly a week on hold, assessments on the implications of the recent events are being conducted by humanitarian partners in order to resume operations as soon as the situation stabilizes, especially in hard-to-reach and previously not accessible areas.
The rising food insecurity in the Tigray Region is alarming where 1.8 million are on the brink of acute food insecurity and more than 400,000 people are estimated to have crossed the threshold into famine. In addition, there are an estimated 3.8 million people in need of health care while the health system’s capacity has been seriously diminished after widespread damaged and looting by armed groups. Despite the scale up efforts, the main barriers to build back capacity for health care provision continue to be the severe lack of staff (26%), medical supplies and equipment (56%) and lack of training of health staff (14%), as reported by HeRAMS-WHO. Protection concerns for vulnerable populations caught at the crossfire of armed clashes or airstrikes, as well as the persistent reporting on serious sexual and gender-based violence cases, outline the current protection crisis in Tigray. Current reported cases of sexual and gender-based violence are likely only a fraction of the actual cases as stigma, shame, fear of reprisals, as well as the lack of health, legal/police and psychosocial services continues to drive underreporting in the region. The Minimum Initial Service Package (MISP) calculator methodology indicates that at least 26,000 survivors of sexual violence are expected to seek clinical management of rape services in the coming months while the proportion of health facilities partially available to provide care in the region is 29%.
UNFPA is currently assessing the security and operational situation to resume the scale up of implementation of relief activities across the region, including the relocation of international surge capacity. UNFPA’s Preparedness and Response Plan for the Tigray crisis focuses on preventing and responding to gender-based violence, bridging protection, gender equality and MHPSS, while building back capacity on sexual and reproductive health and rights in the conflict-affected regions in Northern Ethiopia. UNFPA has presence in Mekelle (Tigray), Semera (Afar) and Bahir Dar (Amhara) with 17 deployed International Surge Capacity Specialists and 7 National Specialists for the Tigray Response.