Emergency Tigray is slowly getting started: ‘Armed men sent us out’

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has begun the distribution of food in the Ethiopian region of Tigray. Since November last year, a war has been raging behind closed doors in the northern state. Last Saturday, the WFP and Ethiopia signed a deal to facilitate access for aid workers to Tigray.

According to the WFP, they can now support some 1.3 million people. Karla Bil, medical coordinator of Mรฉdecins sans Frontiรจres, also sees that this food aid is badly needed.

โ€œ A shortage of food is a common story among displaced people in Tigray. The establishment of food supply is therefore a major priority. It is important that the banks reopen so that people can withdraw money to buy food.โ€

Bil came back from Ethiopia last week. She spent a month in the city of Shire and its surroundings, north of Tigray. Among other things, the aid organization offers medical assistance to malnourished children.


Tens of thousands of displaced persons are currently staying in and around the city of Shire. They have been fleeing from the bloody conflict that has been taking place in the province since November. The army of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the Tigray People‘s Liberation Front (TPLF) compete for power there.

Here lies the conflict zone:

The Ethiopian government has completely shut down the province of Tigray, so emergency aid is slowly getting started. โ€œFor some areas we have been given permission to do our job,โ€ says Bil. โ€œYet it has happened twice that we were arrested and sent back by armed men.โ€

A lack of reliable information about the area and safety concerns also contribute to the delay in emergency assistance.

Hospitals not functioning

In addition to food supply, it is also important, according to Bil, that the health facility is rebuilt. โ€œWhat I was particularly harrowing to see was that the hospitals are not functioning properly anymore,โ€ says Bil. โ€œThere is a shortage of medical resources and because the electricity is cut off, there are no refrigeration supplies. As a result, for example, it is no longer possible to keep vaccinations and the immunisation programme is no longer possible.โ€

Some of the hospital staff have been fleeing, fearing their safety. Also, some hospitals have been plundered. Another problem is that the water supply in the city is closed, which means that there is no clean drinking water. โ€œPeople drink water from rivers or local wells, making them sick faster.โ€

Families apart

Although little information about the conflict comes out, Bil received a picture of what has happened there over the last few months through the refugee inhabitants. โ€œPeople told me that they had to flee acutely, some could not take more than what they wore. Also, some families are no longer together. A woman told me she hasn’t been in contact with her husband since November. She has no idea where he is or how he is.โ€

She also heard stories about women who had to give birth while fleeing in the woods because hospitals were not open. In addition, there are stories about sexual violence, which took place especially in November when the conflict broke out. โ€œBut we have not been able to confirm these messages for the time being,โ€ says Bil.

To neighbouring Sudan

Before the conflict broke out in November, about 5 million people lived in Tigray. Approximately half of them need urgent help. Hundreds of thousands of Tigreans have been fleeing. A large proportion of them in their own country, while some 50,000 inhabitants have left for Sudan. There they are taken care of in refugee camps.

Check out the stories of the Ethiopians who have fled to Sudan here: