The access situation in Tigray is highly fluid and constantly changing. While there had been improvement in access over the past weeks, this week witnessed widespread insecurity constraining humanitarian partners’ ability to move. Active hostilities have been reported in North-Western, Central, Eastern, South-Eastern and Southern Zones. The Alamata-Mekelle-Adigrat-Shire remains partially accessible. There have been sporadic incidents that have impacted this road in recent weeks, but for only short periods of time. Heavy fighting seems to have largely subsided in areas bordering Eritrea in Eastern and the northern Woredas of North-Western and Central Zones. In Central Zone, fighting has been moving southwards, which has allowed some partners to move into areas that were previously inaccessible such as Abi Adi and scale up operations. There is however limited business activity and tensions remain high. There has also been an improvement in access to Hagere Selam and surrounding areas. One partner was able to reach Kola Temben and Keyhe Tekli, while other areas in Central Zone remain inaccessible. Zana, which was partially accessible, is no longer accessible due to high levels of insecurity.
Humanitarian partners in Tigray continue to operate in a high risk environment due to the volatility of the security situation, with armed clashes evolving in intensity and geographical scope rapidly. On 23 March, an international NGO witnessed the aftermath of an ambush against ENDF on the main road from Mekelle to Adigrat, and the INGO driver was physically assaulted despite travelling in a clearly marked vehicle. To date, there is no indication that aid partners in Tigray are “a target” by parties to the conflict, interactions with weapon bearers in field locations/check points being generally non-violent. The Humanitarian INGOs forum (HINGOs) has, in a statement on 1 April, called on all parties to the conflict to ensure protection of all humanitarian aid workers and civilians to enable assistance to reach all people in need. The UN’s safety and security wing, OCHA and the Logistics Cluster in Mekelle are drafting an Operational Plan. The plan's overall objective is to mitigate the impact of future disruptions on life-saving humanitarian operations through the provision of consolidated information to inform the best decision making. The plan will highlight key hotspots, the presence of partners (including national NGOs) in Tigray, with recommendations on how to sustain operations during the current crises.
In addition to insecurity, humanitarian partners continue to flag challenges with capacity and resources to be able to scale up to the level needed to respond across Tigray. Many areas across Tigray have only received food assistance, and this assistance has not reached the entire population (assistance figures are reportedly around 50-60 per cent of the total population, and assistance has generally been delivered once, or in some cases twice, during a period of four months. There is a need to ensure monitoring mechanism are instituted and efficiently enable inclusive access based on needs. During a joint mission to Tigray (22 to 26 March), OCHA and ECHO met with humanitarian partners in Mekelle and Shire and with the Shire Zonal Administrator. The team also visited four IDP sites in Mekelle, Axum and Shire. The mission noted that the overall IDP response in terms of food, shelter, protection and WASH remains largely inadequate.
In Western Tigray, tens of thousands of people continue to flee to the rest of the region, crossing the Tekeze River and arriving in Sheraro, Shire, Adwa, Axum, and possibly other locations. People have been found hiding in the bush, waiting to cross, but unable to move further. There are reports of many abandoned villages in Western Tigray. For the population remaining in the West, almost no services are available. There is a large IDP population that have arrived in Sheraro from Western Tigray, with the majority lacking resources to continue the journey to Shire by bus. There are only a few humanitarian actors operating in Sheraro and there is reportedly an urgent need to scale up WASH, health, NFI and food response. The Reporter newspaper, citing the NRC Secretary General, Jan Egeland, informed that the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) warned that emaciated children and pregnant women are among the at least 37,000 IDPs arriving into Sheraro.
Given the highly fluid displacement situation and access constraints, the overall number of people uprooted by the conflict in Tigray is not conclusively known yet, but according to the Regional Bureau of Labor and Social Affairs (BOLSA), there are an estimated 1.7 million displaced people across the region (as of 27 March).
Gross violations and abuses against civilians, including sexual violence, continue to be reported. The level of violence and the age of many victims calls for a robust mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) response, in addition to immediate access to medical services.
Security permitting, humanitarian partners that have the capacity and the resources to expand into more rural areas are looking into ways to expand, especially in areas where no assistance has yet been provided. Meanwhile, the Government of Ethiopia is working to reach six Woredas (Chila, Rama, Ahsea, Egela, Adet and Hahayle) that have not received any food assistance (approximately 300,000 people) since the beginning of the conflict, in Central Zone. Most of the health facilities in these Woredas have been looted and/or destroyed. They lack access to medical professionals, medical supplies and to medicines. The communities in these Woredas also need of WASH, NFIs, food and nutrition assistance.
To further increase humanitarian capacity to respond, the Government must bolster security to protect public structures and increase the confidence of public servants to return to work (including but not limited to salary payments), as well as administration capacity, particularly at the Zone, Woreda and Kebele levels. Deployment of trained and neutral police forces to protect essential services in crucial. The restoration of the banking, electricity, basic communications and water services will alleviate suffering of displaced people and of vulnerable groups including women, children, people with disabilities and older people, and enable the scale up of response operations.