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In November 2020, the long-simmering tensions between the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Ethiopian government escalated. Since then, the crisis in northern Ethiopia has changed from an open conflict to a complex crisis that is largely invisible in Switzerland.
The humanitarian situation in the province of Tigray, which borders on Eritrea, was already critical prior to the outbreak of the military conflict: The lack of rainfall and the locust plague led to a million people in Tigray needing help even before. The ongoing conflict has further worsened the situation and, according to the United Nations (OCHA), has driven more than two million people from their homes. Their flight meant leaving behind their jobs, their farmland and their cattle, and thus losing their only livelihood. While more than 60,000 people have so far sought shelter in Sudan, most of the displaced people fled within Tigray to larger cities such as Shire, Adwa, Adigrat and Mekelle.
Most precarious living conditions
Wherever they arrive, they are mainly dependent on the local population. This in turn increases the pressure on food security and local resources. More than 5 million people, or 90 % of the population in Tigray, are now affected by food insecurity. Large parts of the infrastructure such as water supplies, schools or hospitals have been destroyed or can no longer function due to a lack of staff and equipment.
The continuing unstable situation prevents the cultivation of the fields before the rainy season to reduce food shortages in the near future. There is a lack of basic provisions such as drinking water and personal hygiene products. The precarious sanitary conditions help the spread of infectious diseases such as cholera or COVID-19. Temporary emergency shelters, for example in schools, are overcrowded.
Emergency relief measures started in Tigray
In June 2021, the slightly improved security situation allowed direct involvement in individual Tigray regions. Together with the local partner, the diocese of Adigrat (ADCS), Caritas Switzerland initiated emergency relief measures: Displaced people who have found refuge in makeshift temporary shelters are provided with the most essential items for cooking, sleeping and personal hygiene. The focus is on particularly vulnerable groups such as women and children. In the medium term, it is planned to follow this with measures including the rehabilitation of the water supply, the erection of sanitary installations and the resumption of agriculture – if the security situation allows it. To mitigate long-term consequences, it is imperative to act now.