Responding to the Emergency in Tigray, Ethiopia

An update on Action Against Hunger's work to help families impacted by the crisis.

Nearly five months ago, conflict broke out in Tigray, Ethiopia, a region located in the north along the border with Eritrea.

Even before the conflict, one million people in Tigray were in need of humanitarian aid. More than one million people have been been displaced within the region, and more than 60,000 have fled to neighboring Sudan as refugees. As many as 500,000 people live in hard-to-reach areas, cut off from humanitarian assistance and crucial supplies.

A Hunger Crisis

Access to food has been severely impacted by the violence. The conflict began at the start of harvest season, leaving families unable to reap their crops and replenish their dwindling food stores. Additionally, crops and livestock have been burned and looted. As a result, an estimated 4.5 million people in the region are currently in need of urgent food aid. Food insecurity leads to malnutrition: according to UNICEF estimates, the number of severely malnourished children who have been admitted for treatment this year has more than doubled compared to last year.

“Millions of people in Tigray have been driven into hunger as a result of the conflict, and the full scale of this humanitarian crisis is not yet known,” says Panos Navrozidis, Action Against Hunger’s Country Director in Ethiopia. “Data is scarce and incomplete and, with fighting ongoing, many communities remain out of reach from humanitarian aid. We fear that the true human toll of the conflict could be far worse.”

Action Against Hunger’s Response in Tigray

To meet growing humanitarian needs, Action Against Hunger launched an emergency response in Tigray within weeks of the outbreak of the conflict. By early 2021, our new office in the capital city of Mekele was open and the first shipment of lifesaving supplies had entered the region.

In January, our teams also began preparations for new operations in two major towns of Central and Southeastern Tigray, Samre and Abi Adi. These areas, which were previously relatively secure, experienced increased violence, looting, and destruction in February. Despite the security concerns, we have recruited more than 50 new staff, deployed six vehicles, and delivered 11 trucks of humanitarian aid to Tigray.

To date, our humanitarian work has focused on three main areas: responding to health and nutrition needs, restoring access to clean water and safe sanitation, and providing protection and mental health support to vulnerable people. 

Supporting Emergency Health and Nutrition Needs

Hunger and health needs have been growing while, at the same time, warring parties have targeted and destroyed health centers and looted medicine and other lifesaving supplies. Many doctors, nurses, and other health workers fled and have not returned to work – they have not been paid for months.

In response to the crisis, our health and nutrition teams focus on three areas:

  • Providing Lifesaving Services: Our teams are preventing and treating malnutrition through the deployment of three mobile health and nutrition teams.
  • Rebooting the Primary Health Care System:  We are providing lifesaving supplies, supplementing health worker salaries to incentivize these vital service providers to return to work, and setting up two new stabilization centers to treat severely malnourished children with complications. 
  • Rebuilding Trust to Increase Demand: Our community mobilizers are helping to identify people in need of care – especially children, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers – and encouraging them to seek health and nutrition services.

Data from ongoing operations show that more than half of the pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers screened were malnourished. Starting in April, we will expand our programs to treat thousands of moderately malnourished mothers and children, as well as to prevent malnutrition in the first place through supplementary feeding.

Improving Access to Clean Water, Safe Sanitation, and Good Hygiene

Throughout the conflict in Tigray, water infrastructure has been attacked, causing communities to lose access to safe water access. Water pumps have been destroyed, and equipment has been looted.

Action Against Hunger’s emergency water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) programs will reach at least 50,000 people in need in the districts – known in Ethiopia as “woredas” – of Abi Adi, Tanka Abegrele, Tanka Melash, and Samre. This work includes:

  • Trucking in water to serve thousands of people as regular access to water is restored.
  • Ensuring that existing water sources are safe and clean through monitoring and disinfecting work.
  • Providing hygiene kits that include jerry cans, buckets, washing basins, soap, laundry detergent, and water treatment chemicals.
  • Supporting local workers, who are operating and maintaining water supply systems.
  • Cleaning latrines in area schools, which have been converted into shelters for people displaced by the conflict.
  • Delivering key supplies, including water storage tanks, hand pumps, spare parts, and fuel.
  • Providing key WASH supplies to health centers, to ensure that doctors, nurses, and patients can maintain good hygiene to prevent the spread of disease.

Providing Protection and Mental Health Support to Vulnerable People

The ongoing conflict puts vulnerable groups, such as displaced families and women, in danger. Our teams are helping to keep them safe, to address mental health consequences of trauma, and to provide supplies needed to make it through this crisis. This work includes:

  • Distributing shelter, hygiene, and feminine hygiene supplies to 30,000 displaced people.
  • Supporting 1,600 of the most vulnerable families through emergency cash payments.
  • Hiring protection officers, who can help keep vulnerable people safe from attack.
  • Providing psychosocial counseling and supporting women and girls who have experienced gender-based violence.

“Conflicts destroy quickly: entire communities can lose everything in a matter of hours, or even days. Responding and rebuilding takes months or years. This is a huge emergency, and we continue to face challenges,” says Navrozidis.

“Our teams have done incredible work so far to launch programs as violence surrounds them, but we are not yet satisfied with our response – because it is not enough. There are still so many people in need. That’s why we each day we do more, and each day we make progress. We will never give up.”

Action Against Hunger in Ethiopia

Our teams have been operating in Ethiopia since 1985, meeting urgent humanitarian and development needs across the country. In 2020 alone, we reached more than 700,000 people with lifesaving nutrition and health programs across the country, including refugees and internally displaced people.

Action Against Hunger is leading a global movement to end hunger in our lifetimes. It innovates solutions, advocates for change, and reaches 25 million people every year with proven hunger prevention and treatment programs. As a nonprofit that works across 50 countries, its 8,300 dedicated staff members partner with communities to address the root causes of hunger, including climate change, conflict, inequity, and emergencies. It strives to create a world free from hunger, for everyone, for good.