Latest UN Humanitarian Update Tigray: “Many displaced people arriving in towns are visibly malnourished”

With the harvest and markets disrupted by the conflict, there is a risk of a further deterioration of food insecurity across Tigray. While many internally displaced people seek refuge in public institutions, most newly displaced families across the Region are seeking refuge with relatives and host communities, putting an incredible strain on their already stretched food resources. Food assistance from the Government and partners remains the main source of food for most families in the Region.

Partners on the ground report serious concerns about poor targeting and, in some areas, food not reaching those in greatest need, particularly in the rural areas, according to the regional ECC on 19 February and 5 March.

Source: UN OCHA

  • Humanitarians have assisted over 1 million people with complete food baskets out of 3.5 million in accessible or partially accessible areas and transported above 1,160MT of cargo
  • With the new notification system of international staff deployments to Tigray, partners have been able to step up their activities and reach previously inaccessible areas
  • With ongoing clashes continuing across Tigray, the humanitarian situation is alarming. Looting, vandalization and occupation of civilian infrastructure continue to be reported
  • Many displaced people arriving in towns are visibly malnourished while assessments in Abi-Adi, Adwa, Axum and Shire revealed the extremely dire situation of displaced people
  • It is vital that additional funding is immediately released to enable humanitarians to increase the scale and scope of the response



Active hostilities continued to be reported across Tigray Region, and the humanitarian situation remains of deep concern.  Aid workers have described  a deliberate and widespread targeting of health-care facilities in the Region, which is having a devastating impact on the people, especially those in rural areas.  At least 12 health facilities were looted by armed actors in the past two weeks, according to the Emergency Coordination Centre (ECC) meeting on 12 March. Preliminary results from a rapid nutrition assessment conducted early March in various areas in Tigray indicate that among screened children under age 5, there was a very high proportion of children affected by acute malnutrition. In all areas assessed across six woredas, the proportion of Global Acute Malnutrition based on Mid-Upper Arm Circumference exceeded the emergency thresholds. The UNICEF Executive Director, on 19 March, stressed that as families continue to flee for their lives, parties to the conflict must ensure that children are protected from harm at all times and that basic service outlets, such as health centers, must be protected.

The number of newly displaced people across the Region continued to increase, with at least 1,000 people arriving daily in Shire, according to partners on the ground. The majority of the displaced have reportedly fled from Western Tigray to Shire, Adigrat, Axum and Shiraro, with an additional influx recorded from parts of North Western and Central zones, where they are reportedly being expelled by armed actors. While it is currently not possible to identify the full scale of the displacement, the regional government Early Warning Response department reports that more than 140,000 people have been displaced from Western Tigray Zone since the Amhara occupation.

Shelter Cluster partners have raised concerns over the poor living conditions for displaced people in Adwa, Axum, Shire and Abi-Adi, where up to 60 people are reportedly staying per single classroom. Further, while some people are taking shelter in overcrowded schools, churches and among host communities, many are forced to stay in open air, exposing women and girls to gender-based violence (GBV), in addition to other health and protection-related concerns. Aid workers stress that the lack of shelter is especially concerning given the upcoming rainy season, which threatens to aggravate the plight of many displaced people already exposed to inadequate conditions. The assessment team highlighted that the situation in Abi-Adi is particularly concerning, given that people have been displaced multiple times due to recurrent episodes of fighting, while receiving very little assistance. Similarly, an estimated 107,000 displaced people who arrived in Adwa over the past four months have so far only received very limited humanitarian assistance of any kind.

The GBV prevalence in Tigray Region in areas affected by the conflict is reportedly high, with the ECC on 12 March reporting that there have been at least 516 self-reported GBV cases across the Region since the beginning of the conflict.  ECC notes that these reports are likely only “the tip of the iceberg”, while partners add that the young age of many victims and the level of violence is concerning. GBV risks in displacement settings are growing, with overcrowded conditions, insecurity and limited assistance exacerbating the vulnerability of people.

Beyond GBV, displaced people express serious concerns for their safety due to the presence of military elements who are reportedly interfering with people’s interactions with aid workers in some sites. According to partners on the ground, many displaced people are hiding the assistance they have received for fear of looting. Amid concerns about limited assistance, protection actors also received concerning reports of displaced people in host communities engaging in survival sex due to an inability to pay for their shelter.

In Western Tigray, amid reports of grave human rights violations and of forceful relocation of Tigrayan communities on ethnic grounds, partners on the ground indicate that several major towns are now empty of Tigrayan people, with new residents occupying vacated houses. The heavy presence of Amhara Special Forces along the Tekeze River and logistical challenges have restricted access to the Western Zone from the rest of the Region. Currently, access to Western Tigray is only possible through the Amhara Region. Similarly, parts of Tigray’s Southern Zone are only accessible through Amhara, with Amhara forces reportedly managing the security.

The growing needs in the Region now vastly exceed the preliminary response plan that was developed by the humanitarian community in the first weeks of the conflict in November 2020. However, partners are increasingly able to reach more people in need and to move more supplies and personnel into the Region. The 2021 Humanitarian Needs Overview launched by the humanitarian community on 5 March estimates that about 4.5 million people are currently in need of humanitarian assistance in Tigray. More than 3.5 million people are estimated to be in accessible and partially accessible areas who are in immediate need of life-saving assistance, of whom 1 million have been reached with complete food baskets and more than 631,500 with water. Over 1,160 metric tons of non-food humanitarian cargo has also been transported to Tigray. The humanitarian community will continue to update the needs as more assessments become possible in the Region.

The United States Secretary of State, on 18 March, announced that it is providing an additional nearly US$ 52 million, mostly on food assistance, to respond to the humanitarian crisis in Tigray. Further resources are urgently needed to increase the scale and scope of the response and ensure it is commensurate with needs.


Following the transition in early March to a notification system for international staff travel to Tigray, the humanitarian community has stepped up their presence and activities in Tigray. The UN estimates that there are currently around 240 UN staff in Tigray, with hundreds more aid workers with international and national NGOs present across the Region. The new notification arrangement for humanitarian cargo movements is also speeding up the provision of assistance to those in need.

Humanitarian organizations continue to increase efforts to deploy additional international staff to support the scale up of operations and ensure protection-by-presence amid reports of ongoing atrocities against civilians. During the reporting period coordination presence has scaled up in Shire, while in Mekelle all Clusters have coordinators. Partners note the urgency to decentralize their presence and provide relief in areas that have not been previously reached to mitigate secondary displacements, which threaten to further increase people’s vulnerability.

In the past week, access to parts of Eastern Tigray Zone continued to improve as heavy fighting reportedly largely subsided, and partners reached at least four previously inaccessible woredas of Erob, Saesie, Tsaeda Emba and Atsibi. In Central Zone, access to Abi-Adi town and surrounding areas also improved, and partners were able to reach Kola Temben, Ahferom and Keyhe Tekli woredas. Abergele, Tanqua Melashe, Edaga Arbi, Endafelasi and Hahayle woredas, however, remain inaccessible. In North Western Tigray Zone, despite ongoing confrontations that continue to limit partners’ access to people in need, aid workers were able to access the former refugee camps of Hitsaats and Shimelba for the first time since the beginning of the conflict, confirming that all humanitarian facilities in the camps have been destroyed by parties to the conflict, and the camps are empty. More partners were also able to reach Sheraro without major difficulties. On the other hand, active hostilities intensified in South Eastern and Southern zones over the past week, limiting partners’ access to people in need. Despite ongoing clashes of varying degrees, the main road between Alamata, Mekelle and Shire remains accessible.

Partners across all Clusters continue to stress that the lack of communications in most of Tigray seriously undermines efforts to scale up the response and ensure principled humanitarian action. Since the beginning of the conflict, power has been available only intermittently in main towns. Last week, power was restored in Adigrat, Axum and Shire, although it remains unreliable, and some parts of Shire Town is now accessing water services. It is estimated that some 4.5 million people in rural areas have been without access to electricity, communications and other essential services for more than four months.

Amid the ongoing influx of new arrivals to main towns, such as Shire and Mekelle, government officials are reporting serious challenges in registering displaced people due to limited staffing and lack of IT equipment. This is particularly concerning given that distribution of food aid is currently limited to registered displaced people who are a very small fraction of the overall number of displaced people. In Shire, authorities are forming volunteers to increase registration capacity, and partners are engaging with local authorities to identify and prepare additional sites for displaced people, as well as to address protection concerns, including intimidation and threats by military actors on sites. Humanitarians are also providing, and working to scale up, critical assistance such as water services and emergency shelter support, to newly arrived people.

Considering plans to re-open schools in the Region, the Protection Cluster is working closely with Camp Coordination and Camp Management actors to support the planned relocation of displaced people from school compounds and ensure safe, dignified and informed relocations to adequate alternative sites. With the arrival of many new actors on the ground, the Protection Cluster is also working to strengthen the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse (PSEA) component across the response by delivering trainings and distributing relevant materials, including on providing support to GBV survivors for non-specialized actors.



  • With the harvest and markets disrupted by the conflict, there is a risk of a further deterioration of food insecurity across Tigray. While many internally displaced people seek refuge in public institutions, most newly displaced families across the Region are seeking refuge with relatives and host communities, putting an incredible strain on their already stretched food resources. Food assistance from the Government and partners remains the main source of food for most families in the Region.
  • Partners on the ground report serious concerns about poor targeting and, in some areas, food not reaching those in greatest need, particularly in the rural areas, according to the regional ECC on 19 February and 5 March. These reports highlight the urgent need to strengthen the targeting and monitoring system and focus on exclusion and inclusion errors. Insufficient food distribution in sites for displaced people have also led to increased tensions among the displaced people, according to aid workers on the ground.



  • The National Disaster Risk Management Commission (NDRMC), in collaboration with the Food Security Coordination Directorate (FSCD), the Joint Emergency Operation Program (JEOP) through its partner Relief Society of Tigray (REST), World Food Programme (WFP) and other partners are involved in the food response across Tigray.
  • As of 9 March, the Government’s report on food dispatched and distributed for the second round indicates that 11,918 tons have been moved to Tigray. The first round of assistance was reportedly completed in all woredas except Chile, Ahsea and Adet in Central Zone and Tselemti, Maekel Adiyabo, Laley Tselemti and Mai Tsebri Town in North Western Zone where distributions are being delayed due to access challenges.
  • As of 13 March, JEOP has reached 1,022,250 people with double food rations to cover three months. JEOP was able to deliver food aid in all allocated woredas. To ensure that all food insecure people receive assistance in all of JEOP operational woredas, and through the one food operator per woreda principle, JEOP started dispatching and distributing food for Productive Safety Net Programme clients and has included 14,462 clients with a double-round food basket.
  • WFP has secured sufficient internal resources to start food response in 14 woredas. 520 tons of food has been dispatched to and is being distributed in the two priority woredas of Atsbi Endeselassie and Endga Hamus.
  • WFP’s dispatch of food to Mai Ayni and Adi Harush camps is completed for March distribution, and distribution is due to start next week. At least 28,000 refugees were reached during the month of February in the two camps. In Shire Town, Eritrean refugees continue to be assisted with high energy biscuits as they transit to the two southern camps.
  • The Food Cluster Monitoring Working Group held its second meeting on 12 March. The Working Group includes participants from NDRMC, FSCD, JEOP, WFP, World Bank and USAID and will work to strengthen the targeting and monitoring of food response in the Region.



  • With no internet, limited telephone communications and banking services outside Mekelle, partners report serious difficulties in communicating with staff across the Region and in gathering and monitoring information on food dispatches and distributions.
  • Access continues to be a challenge in certain parts of Tigray, including but not limited to Werelehe, Saharti Samre, Hawzein and Kola Temben woredas where partners were unable to smoothly distribute food.
  • There continues to be requests from partners to improve on monitoring of food distributions in the Region. Similarly, the latest Emergency Coordination Centre (ECC) meeting on 12 March also stressed the need for all government officials to adhere to distribution guidelines. The newly established Monitoring Working Group is working to address this issue and support the Cluster on improving the monitoring process and ensure principled humanitarian action.
  • Partners continue to underscore the need to ensure the adequacy of the food basket and that a full and nutrition-rich basket is delivered. The ECC, on 5 and 12 March, stressed that children under age 5 and pregnant and lactating women are exposed to heightened risk of malnutrition in woredas that are inaccessible for regular food in distributions or where an incomplete food basket was distributed.
  • Limited functionality of government structures at the district level, lack of targeting, and insecurity continue to affect food delivery, according to the ECC on 12 March.



  • As partners access and conduct screenings in more woredas, they are raising alarms about an extremely concerning malnutrition situation across the Region.
  • Preliminary results from the UNICEF-supported regional Emergency Nutrition Coordination Unit’s (ENCU) Rapid Nutrition Assessment (RNA) conducted in the first week of March indicate that among screened children under age 5, the proportion of those affected by Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) greatly exceeded the emergency threshold of 15 per cent in all six woredas assessed: 34.5 per cent in Endamehoni, 34.3 per cent in Kilite Awulao, 31 per cent in Hintalo, 29.8 per cent in Enderta, 25.5 per cent in Tseada Amaba, and 23.8 per cent in Raya Azebo. Other nutrition partners also screened 3,067 children under age 5 in the first week of March, out of which 52 and 343 children were identified with severe acute malnutrition (SAM) and moderate acute malnutrition (MAM), respectively. Since the beginning of the conflict, more than 400 SAM admissions have been reported across the Region.
  • More than half of the 605 pregnant and lactating women (PLWs) screened in ten woredas in early March were identified with MAM. Partners are raising concerns about the unfolding of an intergenerational cycle of nutrition in the Region, which can manifest as increased stillbirths, miscarriages, and risk of maternal and neonatal mortality.



  • With 346 children aged 6-23 months and 333 PLWs recently reached in Ganta Afeshom woreda, WFP and partners have so far reached a total of 23,463 people, three per cent of the targeted people, with blanket supplementary feeding programme (BSFP).
  • In the second week of March, GOAL Ethiopia supported the re-establishment of four outpatient therapeutic feeding programme locations in Kolla Temben, Hintalo and Sase and two stabilization centres in Kola Temben and Enderta.
  • Since the beginning of the conflict, Nutrition Cluster partners have re-established 51 outpatient therapeutic programmes and 11 stabilization centres. It has also mentored a total of 73 health facilities on nutrition service and provided on-the-job training for 113 health workers.
  • UNICEF provided financial and technical support to the regional ENCU in conducting RNA in the six woredas of Endamehoni, Kilite Awulao, Hintalo, Enderta, Tseada Amaba and Raya Azebo.
  • The sub-national nutrition Cluster continues to meet weekly, and the partners’ mapping has been completed.



  • Most health facilities across the Region are not yet functional, and there continues to be a shortage of health workers and health extension workers. Looting of health facilities and destroyed Health Management Information System are hindering the scale up of the response.
  • Access remains a significant challenge, with a partner recently reporting that it was unable to access Sahrti and Samre due to insecurity.
  • Partners have not yet been able to conduct a comprehensive nutrition survey, and there is still a lack of information on the full scale of needs across Tigray. Available screening data nonetheless point to a serious malnutrition situation, and aid workers report that there is a pressing need to mobilize more resources to meet the high needs on the ground.

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