Children in Tigray in great need of protection and assistance
As more supplies and emergency personnel reach those affected by the crisis in Tigray, an incomplete but worrying picture of serious and continuing harm to children is emerging.
Between 4 and 7 February, a UNICEF team accompanied by the Head of the Regional Health Office traveled from Mekelle to the city of Shire in central Tigray, with six trucks filled with 122 tons of emergency supplies. This was the first UN mission to Shire since the conflict broke out on November 4, 2020.
Shire, home to about 170,000 residents, is now home to at least 52,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), with more arriving each day from the mission. There was no potable water, as the city’s water treatment plant is down, so UNICEF and the ICRC are trucking water to residents and internally displaced persons. Many internally displaced persons are taking refuge in schools, none of which are operational. Conditions at places of displacement are dire: the few toilets are broken, there are no showers and there is very little drinking water. Many families were separated while fleeing and there were many unaccompanied or separated children among the internally displaced.
Many families reported deep psychosocial distress and said they did not feel it was safe to return home, speaking of a persistent and pervasive fear of present and future harm.
Shire Hospital was partially operational. Two out of four health centers were providing maternal and outpatient services, and one health facility has resumed some vaccinations. Staff have received partial payment of their salaries. Outside of the city center, only one of the seven rural health facilities evaluated was functioning; the rest had been damaged or looted and the staff had fled. Vaccines came to a standstill three months ago and the city’s entire vaccine stock was damaged due to power outages. Power is restored, but the city still suffers from frequent power outages.
The internally displaced said their most urgent need was food. An evaluation by partners found that the prevalence of severe acute malnutrition, which is life-threatening, especially when combined with diseases such as cholera, diarrhea or measles, is 2.1%. This is above the World Health Organization emergency threshold. The very real risk of a disease outbreak, coupled with poor access to water, sanitation, hygiene and health services, increased food insecurity and inflation in food prices, poses serious threats to children malnourished.
The mobile network, Internet and banking services were not yet operational.
UNICEF has shipped 655 metric tons of supplies, including emergency health kits, high-energy therapeutic foods and cookies, and personal protective equipment, with more supplies on the way. In late January, other areas of UNICEF’s emergency response in cooperation with the government and other partners in Tigray and neighboring regions included:
¶Conduct screening for malnutrition in more than 465,000 children under the age of five and provide life-saving treatments for more than 2,750 severely malnourished children;
¶Reach more than 137,000 people, including refugees, displaced people and host communities with water supplies and services;
¶Provide dignity kits to more than 5,400 adolescent girls and women.
The partial picture that emerges of the impact that the crisis in Tigray has had on children, and the systems and services on which they depend, makes it clear that children are in dire need of protection and assistance. Fundamentally, the humanitarian community still needs to go beyond the main cities and towns to rural areas, where the majority of the population lives, to get a real picture of needs.
Above all, children must be protected from harm.