Millions Facing Humanitarian Catastrophe in Northern Ethiopia

by Oxfam | November 12, 2021
Background media: A dark-skinned woman wearing a colourful head scarf and a long floral dress holds a toddler on her front and carries a sleeping baby on her back. She's standing outside, looking to our left, surrounded by dry bushes and branches against a pale blue, cloudy sky.
Photo: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

Millions Facing Humanitarian Catastrophe in Northern Ethiopia

by Oxfam | November 12, 2021

Amina Muhammed, 23, and her two children have lived in an Ethiopian camp for displaced people for over a year. After drought killed her family's maize crops and cattle, they left their home in the Oromia region.

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 neighbouring 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."

How Oxfam is Supporting the People of Northern Ethiopia

Exactly 6.9 million in northern Ethiopia need emergency food assistance.

Oxfam has been partnering with local organizations to deliver urgent aid. As the conflict continues, we aim to reach 400,000 people by:

  • Distributing food
    With 400,000 people reported to be living in famine-like conditions, we've been distributing basic supplies of flour, peas, lentils, salt and oil.
  • Providing drinking water
    As the conflict has destroyed infrastructure, we've installed water storage tanks so that people can have access to safe and clean water.
  • Providing health products
    We've provided people with toothpaste, soap, menstruation products and other essential items through the distribution of hygiene kits.
  • Providing sanitation services
    We've improved access to bathing facilities and toilets.

The 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," says Oxfam's Ngala. "We need global leaders to provide the $255 million still urgently needed to help humanitarian organizations respond to the crisis. We also need to see leaders, especially in the region, use their influence to push for peace."

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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