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Aid Efforts in Ethiopia’s Tigray Thwarted by Lack of Access

FILE - Children play in front of a bullet-ridden wall of a destroyed store in the village of Bisober, in Ethiopia's Tigray region, Dec. 9, 2020.
FILE - Children play in front of a bullet-ridden wall of a destroyed store in the village of Bisober, in Ethiopia's Tigray region, Dec. 9, 2020.

About 1.3 million Ethiopian children continue to suffer despite humanitarian efforts 12 weeks into the conflict in the Tigray Region, the United Nations’ children’s agency said in a press release Wednesday.

UNICEF’s inability to fully assess the impact on children because of access restrictions could worsen their conditions, the release said.

“Our knowledge of the situation is still very limited. Our concern is that what we don’t know could be even more disturbing.”

Limited knowledge gleaned from the accounts of partner organizations and U.N. assessments indicate health care delivery has stopped due to the destruction of health facilities or pillaging of essential supplies.

In effect, immunizations have also stopped in Ethiopia’s troubled region, according to the release, which said access to water and sanitation systems has been curtailed by the lack of fuel to power them.

Children have returned to school in most of Ethiopia following the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions but not those in Tigray, where they continue to suffer acute malnourishment related to the fighting since November between government and regional forces.

Rates of severe acute malnutrition are up to 10% among children below the age of five in Tigray’s Shire region, according to a January study by a UNICEF partner organization.

This grim figure, which translates to about 70,000 children, is above the World Health Organization’s emergency threshold of 3%, the release underscored.

Limited access to conflict-affected populations across the Tigray Region is delaying or thwarting efforts of the international humanitarian community.

UNICEF said a small opening that allowed them to dispatch truckloads of relief items is no longer enough.

“The one thing we do know is that every additional day of waiting for help will only worsen children’s suffering,” the organization warned in the statement.

To reach the children, UNICEF also urged the Ethiopian government to pay the salaries of civil servants and grant access to humanitarian staff to deliver relief items and services.

Approximately 300 unaccompanied or separated children are among the refugees who fled to Sudan, according to the release, which warned that many more children could be among the internally displaced persons.

Military forces of Ethiopia’s central government have clashed with fighters of the Tigray Region, where local leaders are accused of treason. Local leaders, on the other hand, say they are against the postponement of elections because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

UNICEF said the parties to the conflict have a “fundamental obligation to enable rapid, unimpeded, and sustained access to civilians in need of assistance.”