Ethiopia’s Tigray crisis: What is happening and how you can help

Media reports say that clashes between Ethiopian and Tigrayan forces continue in Tigray and over 1 million people are now thought to be displaced (AP report).

As of 13 March, it is estimated that over 4.5 million people are in need, with around 52 thousand people killed since the start of the conflict and over 61 thousand having fled to neighbouring Sudan (OCHA).

There have been numerous reports of large-scale massacres of civilians and high numbers of violent attacks, sexual violations and abuses, including rape. The brutality of the conflict has left countless people, especially women and girls, traumatised.

Hunger is a major issue, with harvests impacted in November and December many areas are approaching famine levels. Most health clinics have been destroyed or looted and are struggling to function.

How is CAFOD responding to the crisis? 

We have a local presence in Ethiopia and are working with local church and aid agencies to respond to this growing crisis. We are supporting the work of the Ethiopian Catholic Church and Caritas Internationalis. 

Along with our local partners, we are supporting health clinics and pharmacies to provide vital care and to restock medicines and supplies.

We are working with local experts and community support networks to provide psychosocial support to people and communities affected by the conflict.

In multiple locations around Tigray, we have been able to support with the delivery of temporary shelter materials, blankets, sleeping mats, cooking items and hygiene kits for families displace by and made homeless by the conflict.

Our partner is working to provide emergency food aid to thousands of people in need.

Working alongside the church in Ethiopia, Caritas Internationalis plans to deliver water to 30,000 people, nutrition support to over 50,000 children under 5, and practical support like trauma and emergency kits along with hygiene facilities to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

This will be alongside longer-term support, which will include the provision of seeds, cash transfers and education materials.

What is the situation for the Ethiopians fleeing into Sudan?

By 20 January 2021, about 60,000 Ethiopian refugees have crossed the border, with new arrivals continuing daily.

The refugees are being resettled into two main camps in Gedaref State after arriving through transit centres: Um Raquba and Tunaydbah.

While Um Raquba was already established as a camp and is reaching capacity, Tunaydbah is a new resettlement site that is now beginning to receive arrivals.

Our partner has established itself working in the new resettlement camp of Tunaydbah, where few actors are currently present and they have started to construct latrines for about 5,000 people.

Work in Tunaydbah faces additional challenges due to its lesser accessibility and black cotton soil which is poor for construction.

What can I do to support the people affected by the conflict?

Although there is a lack of media attention, this is a huge humanitarian crisis. The people of Tigray will need our support for years to come in order to recover.

Are CAFOD’s local partners safe?

CAFOD has a long history of working in Ethiopia but with communications cut in Tigray, and the situation changing all the time, it is difficult to confirm what is happening. We are receiving some information from partners about the extent of the humanitarian needs due to the conflict. For the safety and security of our partners, we cannot name who has sent us this information. 

Aid worker number one said: “People cannot get hold of the basics, to survive – food and water. They cannot get medication or health care. Banks are closed, and the internet is suspended.”

A large proportion of those affected by the conflict are women and children, many of whom have fled to cities.

Aid worker number two added: “Many [are] staying in the church compounds and on streets.  They come with nothing and there is an urgent need for food, blankets and other essential survival items in the very short term.”

What is the Ethiopian Church and Pope Francis saying about the escalating Tigray conflict?

The Catholic Bishops of Ethiopia have appealed for peaceful dialogue. In a letter they said, “We urge parties to resolve their differences amicably, in a spirit of respect, understanding.”

They hope and pray “for the people to live together in respect, concertation, and dialogue, and to work together for the prosperity of their common country”.

Pope Francis has reiterated the same calls appealing to the Ethiopian leaders to choose the path of peace, inviting all Ethiopians “to prayer and to the fraternal respect for dialogue and the peaceful resolution of discord”.

What wider impact will the Tigray conflict have?

This conflict will have repercussions across the Horn of Africa. The UN chief Antonio Guterres has warned that “the stability of Ethiopia is important for the entire Horn of Africa region.”

The UN estimates that 600,000 people in Tigray rely on food aid and across the country around 7 million people face food shortages.

There are growing health concerns for the spread of the coronavirus as people end up in large makeshift camps, without the basics – like clean water, and health care facilities – to protect themselves against the virus.

What are the origins of the conflict?

Accusing the leadership of the Tigray region of attacking a military base, the Ethiopian government began military operations in the region.

The eruption of violence came after roughly two years of growing tensions between the government and the country’s former ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, who ran Ethiopia for almost three decades.

How else can I help the people of Ethiopia? 

Our partners in Ethiopia respond to both emergencies and longer term issues of poverty and injustice. You may have read about our long-term development work in Ethiopia through our Lent Appeal and Abdella’s story of his struggle to access water each day. We are committed to continuing to support our partners and the people of Tigray in both humanitarian assistance and longer term development.

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