In early November 2020, fighting erupted in northern Ethiopia between the federal government and Tigray forces, displacing hundreds of thousands of people from their homes.

More than 60,000 people, nearly half of whom are children, from Tigray in northern Ethiopia were forced to flee into neighbouring Sudan, with hundreds of thousands more displaced within Tigray. Living in crowded camps, children and families urgently need food, shelter and clean water.   

'Deeply troubling’ situation in Tigray      

Inside Tigray, Ethiopia the region is facing a severe humanitarian crisis with more than 222,000 people displaced – the majority are children and women.  

Immunisations have ground to a halt, health and water facilities have been damaged or destroyed, and essential supplies looted. Children in most of Ethiopia have returned to school following COVID-19 restrictions – but not the 1.3 million school-aged children in Tigray. 
"Children are suffering enormously
in Tigray right now.
James Elder, UNICEF Regional Chief of Communication for Eastern and Southern Africa, says the situation for children is ‘deeply troubling.’ 

“There is little fuel to operate water and sanitation systems, so families are drinking unsafe water, which in turn exposes children to deadly diseases,” says James who is orginally from Australia and now based in Nairobi, Kenya, which borders Ethiopia.

“Schools remain shuttered; many have been looted or vandalised, some are sheltering displaced families, while others have been occupied by armed forces or groups."  

“The limited UN and partner assessments that we’ve been able to undertake show that hunger is a very serious concern, with alarming spikes in acute malnutrition.” 

One recent assessment showed severe acute malnutrition rates of up to 10 per cent in the Shire area among children under the age of five. This could potentially put the lives of up to 70,000 children at risk.  

“Children are suffering enormously in Tigray right now,” says James. “Children are deeply distressed by the violence, displacement and insecurity and are lacking food and clean water.” 
Three-year-old Milen eats a high energy biscuit provided by UNICEF. Her family was displaced from Tigray. © UNICEF/UN0409573/Leul Kinfu

The international humanitarian community has had limited access to conflict-affected areas across most of Tigray. However, UNICEF was one of the first international organisations to ensure life-saving supplies got into Tigray since the onset of the crisis.  

In early February, a UNICEF team travelled to the town of Shire in Tigray with six trucks filled with 122 tons of emergency supplies. This was the first UN mission to Shire since the conflict erupted in November. But it is still nowhere near the level of access and scale of support that is needed.  
UNICEF is on the ground in Tigray, Ethiopia providing life-saving supplies including: 
  • Screening children below five years old for malnutrition, and providing life-saving treatment to those who are severely malnourished. 
  • Providing children with high energy biscuits to prevent malnutrition.
  • Trucking in clean and safe water for displaced families.  
  • Providing emergency health supplies, and dignity kits to adolescent girls and women. 
But emergencies are stretching our teams and resources to the limit. We've never needed your generosity more. 
Mebraq watches as her twin babies take a nap. The young mother fled bombing in Tigray and is now receiving care in Kassala, Sudan. © UNICEF/UN0403276/Abdalkarim

Thousands flee to Sudan  

Initially up to 5,000 men, women and children were crossing the border daily into eastern Sudan, rapidly overwhelming the humanitarian response capacity on the ground. This is an influx unseen over the last two decades in this part of the country. 

In just the first few days of 2021, more than a thousand people crossed from Tigray into the Kassala and Gedaref states of Sudan. Recent families fleeing from areas deeper inside Tigray are arriving weak and exhausted. Some say they have spent days and even weeks on the run inside Ethiopia as they made their way to the border. 
When the bombing in Tigray started, Mebraq had just given birth to premature twins, Solot and Sempa, at a hospital in Ethiopia. She grabbed her babies in the middle of the night and fled. Due to the trauma, lack of food and stress, Mebraq was unable to produce breastmilk. 
"I knew I had to flee to save my
life and my children's life...
“For days, I could not breastfeed, maybe because I’m so tired, I knew I had to flee to save my life and my children’s life, so I walked for three days,” says Mebraq.  

When she reached Hamdayet reception centre in Sudan, Merbraq was immediately transferred by ambulance to a hospital in Kassala, where she and her twins were admitted for several days. Now safe inside a makeshift UNICEF tent for mothers and newborn babies, Solot and Sempa sleep peacefully as they have just had breast milk for the first time. 
A young boy carries food to his family at the Um Rakoba camp in Sudan. UNICEF is working with partners to respond to the overwhelming needs faced by refugees in the camp. © UNICEF/UN0403221/Abdalkarim

Camp conditions extremely dire

In Sudan’s refugee camps – where the population is overwhelmingly women and children – conditions are extremely dire.  

Overcrowded and unsanitary, it's impossible for people to practice COVID-19 prevention measures. Men, women and children often have to share sleeping spaces, or sleep out in the open. Many displacement sites have no toilets, showers or water supply.  

Sudan is a country already facing multiple challenges. Fuel shortages and food insecurity make day-to-day life difficult for families. In addition, Sudan currently hosts more 1 million refugees from South Sudan, Eritrea, Central African Republic, Ethiopia and other countries. Nearly a third of the growing refugee population are children. 

UNICEF is on the ground in Sudan providing life-saving water, sanitation and hygiene services as well as health — including routine vaccinations — and nutrition services for children and families forced to flee. 

But as this crisis continues, we urgently need your help. 

A young child and mother at the UNICEF child-friendly space at Um Rakoba camp, Sudan, about 43 miles away from the border. © UNICEF/UN0403219/Abdalkarim
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