Conflict In Ethiopia Leaves 2.3 Million Children Without Access To Humanitarian Aid

Following the recent crisis in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, an estimated 2.3 million children have been left without access to necessary humanitarian aid. Critical medical supplies provided by international organizations, including vaccines, emergency medications, and sanitation items, are likely running low, as communication and transportation into the region is limited. The conflict between the national and regional forces dates back to the beginning of November and is ongoing. As a result of the violence, approximately 50,000 have fled Tigray. The refugees crossed from the northernmost region of Ethiopia into the bordering nation of Sudan. About 45% of those crossing the border into Sudan are children. Those remaining in Tigray are currently living without electricity, and running water.

United Nations officials have expressed significant concern regarding the situation of children caught in the crisis. Virginia Gamba, the Special Representative of Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict and the UN chief’s Special Representative on Violence Against Children, Dr. Najat Maalla Mjid, “urge all parties to do everything possible to better protect children and all civilians, uphold human rights and ensure humanitarian access for the provision of much-needed assistance.” Both representatives emphasized the necessity of cooperation with the Federal Government of Ethiopia. In fact, Gamba and Mjid call on Government agencies to prioritize the “protection and provision of emergency” to children. Further, Henrietta Fore, the Executive Director of UNICEF, is particularly concerned for the children in the region as “supplies for food, including ready-to-use therapeutic food for the treatment of child malnutrition, medicines, water, fuel and other essentials run low.” Patrick Youssef, the regional director for the International Committee of the Red Cross claimed that citizens in the capital of Tigray, Mekelle, have “been struggling with water supplies. So basic, basic services.”

Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed has repeatedly claimed that no civilians are being hurt in the crossfire of the conflict. However, refugees dispute the claims. The Tigrayans who successfully escaped to Sudan describe the military campaign as brutal, and indicate that civilians are victims of killings, rape and looting by government forces and allied militias. On December 5th, the Prime Minister announced in a tweet that “humanitarian assistance efforts” will continue. Despite the access agreement and Ahmed’s claims, children remain cut off from humanitarian assistance and aid. 

Hundreds have reportedly been left dead as a result of the violence. However, as communications remain cut, the precise number remains unknown. On November 4th, Ahmed ordered the military offensive. Prior to the outbreak of the conflict, tensions escalated between the federal government and leaders of the regional political party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. The party initially rose to power in 1991, dismantling a military dictatorship. The T.P.L.F led the nation’s coalition government until 2018, when Prime Minister Ahmed was brought to power by anti-government protestors. Elections held in September in Tigray, and the refusal by the T.P.L.F to merge with Ahmed’s Prosperity Party, resulted in both governments declaring the other as “illegitimate.” The current conflict is escalating into a guerrilla war.

It is necessary to provide civilians with humanitarian aid. International organizations, including UNICEF, claim that they are ready to deliver support in Tigray, but are effectively prevented from accessing the population. Children are particularly vulnerable during times of conflict. Children, especially those unaccompanied, are at risk of violence and abuse, which includes sexual and gender-based violence, trafficking and recruitment. Young refugees in Sudan also remain at risk of such abuses. The World Food Programme has appealed to the international community to increase donations in order to aid refugees, currently living in crowded conditions. Support for all civilians impacted by the conflict is necessary.