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Ethiopia - Northern Ethiopia Humanitarian Update Situation Report, 22 Oct 2021

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  • Two airstrikes on Mekelle killing three children and injuring 10 people, according to health officials.
    Another airstrike carried on 20 October, injuring a number of people.

  • Between 7-13 October, only about 52,000 people reached with food or 1 per cent of the targeted population in Tigray, in which half of them received only one or two food items.

  • Fuel is still not allowed to enter Tigray via Afar.
    The percentage of children identified with severe acute malnutrition in Tigray is rising on weekly basis and alarming at above two per cent.

  • Partners reached more than 807,000 people with food since early August in Amhara Region, including nearly 97,000 people during the reporting period.

Situation Overview

The overall situation in Northern Ethiopia remains unpredictable and volatile. Heavy military reinforcements by parties to the conflict continue to be reported along the regional boundaries with Tigray Region and with ongoing fighting in Amhara and Afar regions.

On 18 October, two airstrikes were reported in Tigray’s regional capital Mekelle and its outskirt. Health workers and community members confirmed that three children aged 9, 12 and 14 were killed, and two people injured in the airstrike near Ato Lilay Niguse crop field while harvesting and herding animals. A second airstrike in Mekelle Town reportedly injured nine people and caused damages to nearby houses and a hotel. On 20 October, airstrikes carried out at a factory in Mekelle.

Initial information from the ground indicates that civilians were injured including women and children.
In Amhara, active fighting continued in parts of North and South Wello, Wag Hamra, and North Gondar, blocking access and the delivery of humanitarian assistance. In Afar, extensive fighting was reported in Ewa and Awra Woredas in Zone 2, with unverified reports of civilian casualties. Inside Tigray, some areas in Eastern Zone remain inaccessible.

In Tigray, the humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate due to the continued restrictions imposed on the delivery of humanitarian supplies into the region via the route through Afar (Semera-Abala-Mekelle). Between 13 and 19 October, 215 trucks of humanitarian supplies arrived in Tigray, a slight increase from the week before. This brings the number of trucks carrying humanitarian supplies that entered the region since 12 July to 1,111 or 15 per cent of the trucks needed. An estimated 100 trucks with food, non-food items, and fuel must enter Tigray daily to meet critical humanitarian needs.

The trucks this week carried food, nutrition, shelter and mixed cargo supplies. Fuel, however, has still not been allowed into Tigray. Fourteen fuel tankers (45,000 liters/each) remain in Semera. On 14 October, fuel trucks received approval by the Government to proceed, but they were denied transit to Tigray at a checkpoint, requiring a letter of authorization from the Federal Police Commissioner in Addis Ababa. Consequently, the trucks returned to Semera. Partners estimate they need more than 272,000 liters of fuel every month to carry out their humanitarian operations.
Due to the severe shortages of fuel, several humanitarian partners were forced to significantly reduce or suspend their activities. Since 11 October, out of the seven main active food partners, for instance, at least three have already forced to cease food distribution. The other four will also have to cease distribution outside of Mekelle within one week if fuel is not received. Water trucking and dislodging by some partners have almost seized, as well as the distribution of WASH items.

One-stop centers, providing services to survivors of gender-based violence, halted their activities, including field movements, outreach and assistance. Nutrition partners are currently at less than 20 per cent capacity, reducing malnutrition screening and treatment activities for children and pregnant and lactating women. Some health partners have halted or reduced the frequency of the mobile health and nutrition teams (MHNTs) field visits from five to three or two per week. to 3 or 2/ week.

UNICEF confirmed the transport of 14 Interagency Emergency Health Kits (IEHKs) and 28 Emergency Drug Kits (EDKs), containing essential medicines via the second ECHO flight on 6 October. The kits are the standard kits that UNICEF distributes to hospitals throughout the country on a regular basis. The IEHK kits benefit 5,000 people and the EDK benefit 5,000 people over a 3 months period. In addition, between July and September, UNICEF transported 55 IEHKs and 117 EDKs via road. However, this is still far from sufficient to reach an estimated 2.3 million people targeted for health interventions in the region, in which half of them are children. Essential medical equipment, supplies, vaccines and basic medicines, including cholera kits, IEHKs, antibiotics, antimalaria medicines, kits for the treatment of children with severe acute malnutrition, and reproductive health kits, are needed.

UNHAS continues to schedule two passenger flights per week between Addis Ababa and Mekelle. Passengers reported intrusive and intensive searches at Addis Ababa airport on departures and arrivals. On average 10-15 international humanitarian workers have been denied to board each flight since additional supporting documentation were requested from the Government came into effect on 30 September. International staff working with international agencies require a resident ID issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and those working with NGOs need a resident ID issued by the immigration authority. International staff temporarily deployed as part of the humanitarian scale up require an approval and supporting letter from the Ministry of Peace.

The amount of cash allowed to be brought by humanitarian organizations into the region is still limited and insufficient to sustain humanitarian operations. An estimated US$6.5 million are needed every week, either through a functioning banking system or Government approval to transport adequate amount of cash. Since 12 July, about $6.4 million (295 million Birr) has been cleared or dispatched to Tigray, including $826,000 (38 million Birr) last week. As per the procedures set by the Government of Ethiopia, partners can only carry a maximum of $432,000 (2 million Birr) on UNHAS flight.

Food continues to be urgently needed in Tigray Region, with at least 5.2 million people in need of emergency food assistance, including over 400,000 people in famine-like conditions (IPC 5: ‘catastrophic’ level of food insecurity) and more than 4 million people - 70 per cent of the population – experiencing high levels of acute food insecurity (IPC 3 or above). As the conflict continues and humanitarian and commercial supplies remain sporadic and insufficient, more people could slide into famine like condition. Infants and children under five years old, pregnant and nursing women, elderly, and people with disabilities or chronic diseases are particularly at increasing risks of starvation.

The levels of severe acute malnutrition (SAM) among children under the age of 5 continue to be alarming at above 2 per cent. Of the approximately 63,000 children, including about 32,000 girls, some 1,600 children, or about 2.5 per cent were diagnosed with SAM during the reporting period, up from to 2.3 per cent a week earlier and 2.1 per cent two weeks ago.

Malnutrition among pregnant and lactating women is constantly very high at above 60 per cent during the reporting period. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that a few summer-bred swarms of Desert Locust are likely to have formed in parts of Afar and adjacent areas of southeast Tigray and eastern Amhara regions, which will further affect the already dire food security situation. However, the exact locations and scale of infestation are not yet confirmed as most areas are inaccessible due to insecurity.

The spillover of the conflict to Afar and Amhara regions continues to lead to displacement, disruption of livelihoods and increased food insecurity. According to recent needs assessments led by the Afar regional government, and with participation from NGO partners, the spill-over of the Tigray conflict has affected more than 323,000 people in zones 2 and 4 in Afar. Assistance is urgently needed to both regions and humanitarian partners are scaling up humanitarian aid in support of the regional authority-led responses (see below on response).

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs: To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit