Millions facing humanitarian catastrophe in northern Ethiopia

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Oxfam is working with Ethiopian groups to assist people affected by conflict over the last year in northern Ethiopia. Megan Shields/Oxfam

Since conflict broke out one year ago, humanitarian needs are outpacing aid.

One year after conflict broke out in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, communities there and in neighboring Amhara and Afar are reeling from the combined toll of violence, human rights abuses, hunger, locusts, and the COVID-19 pandemic. As many as seven million are in need of humanitarian assistance.

With the conflict now spreading in northern Ethiopia, many more vulnerable people are left without vital protections and resources. The need is growing exponentially, while the aid that could save lives and head off further catastrophe falls woefully short due to access restrictions and inadequate funding for the response.

According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification’s figures, 400,000 people in Tigray are living in famine-like conditions. While the Ethiopian government has not endorsed these findings, their own figures show that close to two million people displaced in Amhara and Afar are in urgent need of aid.

“No matter how you measure this crisis, there is no disputing that hundreds of thousands of people are suffering in catastrophic hunger and even more are in urgent need of aid,” says Parvin Ngala, Oxfam’s regional director for the Horn, East, and Central Africa. “Families desperately need food, clean water, shelter, and other essentials – and they also need to be able to safely return to work, have access to cash and fuel, and to live in safety.

Oxfam has been responding to the crisis in Tigray and Amhara since November 2020 in partnership with local organizations, reaching close to 85,000 people with food, clean water, health, and sanitation services. Oxfam’s goal is to reach 400,000 people total, but that is being hampered by the severe risks and restrictions the humanitarian community is facing.

“There is so much more we can and must do, and we are committed,” Ngala says. “Now we also need a commitment from all parties to allow unfettered humanitarian access and the tools for the response, and for the economy to recover.”

Heavy human toll of conflict

Humanitarians are witnessing first-hand the human toll this crisis is taking. People who have fled their homes have shared with Oxfam harrowing stories of losing their property, cattle, and food stocks and spending days hiding out in rough terrain without food, water, or shelter. Many farmers reported not being able to plant or harvest crops this year and have lost their animals due to the conflict.

The people of Ethiopia are doing all they can to support themselves and each other to survive, with communities hosting many of those who have been forced from their homes and sharing what little they have. As the conflict continues however, and resources become even more scarce, they need additional, urgent support now to meet their most basic needs.

“As is so often the case, those already facing incredible hardships are stepping up for others in need. We need global leaders to provide the $255 million still urgently needed to help humanitarian organisations respond to the crisis. We also need to see leaders, especially in the region, use their influence to push for peace,” Oxfam’s Ngala says.

“Oxfam calls for all parties to de-escalate the conflict and respect international law, to allow humanitarians to access the most vulnerable and to make cash, fuel, and other services available to allow the economy to recover and for the response to save lives. And above all, Oxfam calls upon all warring parties to reach a sustainable and inclusive peace before more lives are lost.”

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