Ethiopia's Tigray crisis: What is happening and how you can help
5 January 2021
On 4 November 2020, armed conflict broke out between the regional government and the Federal government in northern Ethiopia in the country’s Tigray region.
With communications cut in Tigray, and the situation changing all the time, it is difficult to confirm what is happening. Media reports say that clashes between Ethiopian and Tigrayan forces continue in Tigray and over 1 million people are now thought to be displaced (AP report).
How is CAFOD responding to the crisis?
We have a local presence in Ethiopia and are working with local church and aid agencies to respond to this growing crisis. We are supporting the work of the Ethiopian Catholic Church and Caritas Internationalis.
Already, along the border with Tigray and in parts of western Tigray, we have been able to support with the delivery of temporary shelter materials, blankets, sleeping mats, cooking items and hygiene kits to over 400 families, made homeless by the conflict.
While Mekelle city was inaccessible, we supported local partners to provide displaced families food, shelter and blankets.
CAFOD’s programme in Ethiopia plans to work with local church partners to deliver food, cash, healthcare provisions and psychosocial support to over 21,000 affected people.
Working alongside the church in Ethiopia, Caritas Internationalis plans to deliver water to 30,000 people, nutrition support to over 50,000 children under 5, and practical support like trauma and emergency kits and hygiene facilities to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
This will be alongside longer-term support, which will include the provision of seeds, cash transfers and education materials.
In Eastern Sudan, we are working with members of Caritas Internationalis and ACT Alliance who have access to eastern Sudan and are doing rapid assessments to address the needs of refugees who have fled across the border to Sudan.
There is a long history of ecumenical response to humanitarian needs in Sudan and together with our partner, we are developing a project to address the needs of around 20,000 refugees and vulnerable host communities.
What is the situation for the Ethiopians fleeing into Sudan?
To date, the UN report that 45,000 Ethiopians have arrived in eastern Sudan and they estimate a further 200,000 will arrive in the coming weeks and months.
The Ethiopian Bishops also expressed their grave concern at the numbers of people made homeless by the spread of the conflict and the loss of life of innocent people:
"The horrific massacre of our innocent brothers and sisters has left our Church deeply saddened…all Catholics in Ethiopia and around the world to take a closer look at the current situation in our country and pray for peace and reconciliation."
Have CAFOD's local partners been able to share any information?
CAFOD has a long history of working in Ethiopia and we are receiving some information from partners about the extent of the humanitarian needs due to the conflict. For the safety and security of our partners, we cannot name who has sent us this information.
Aid worker number one said: “People cannot get hold of the basics, to survive – food and water. They cannot get medication or health care. Banks are closed, and the internet is suspended.”
A large proportion of those affected by the conflict are women and children, many of whom have fled to cities.
Aid worker number two added: “Many [are] staying in the church compounds and on streets. They come with nothing and there is an urgent need for food, blankets and other essential survival items in the very short term.”
What is the Ethiopian Church and Pope Francis saying about the escalating Tigray conflict?
The Catholic Bishops of Ethiopia have appealed for peaceful dialogue. In a letter they said, "We urge parties to resolve their differences amicably, in a spirit of respect, understanding."
They hope and pray "for the people to live together in respect, concertation, and dialogue, and to work together for the prosperity of their common country".
Pope Francis has reiterated the same calls appealing to the Ethiopian leaders to choose the path of peace, inviting all Ethiopians “to prayer and to the fraternal respect for dialogue and the peaceful resolution of discord”.
What wider impact will the Tigray conflict have?
This conflict will have repercussions across the Horn of Africa. The UN chief Antonio Guterres has warned that "the stability of Ethiopia is important for the entire Horn of Africa region."
The UN estimates that 600,000 people in Tigray rely on food aid and across the country around 7 million people face food shortages.
There are growing health concerns for the spread of the coronavirus as people end up in large makeshift camps, without the basics - like clean water, and health care facilities - to protect themselves against the virus.
What are the origins of the conflict?
Accusing the leadership of the Tigray region of attacking a military base, the Ethiopian government began military operations in the region.
The eruption of violence came after roughly two years of growing tensions between the government and the country’s former ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, who ran Ethiopia for almost three decades.