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Hard to reach and a lack of funds: The challenges of emergency aid in the Tigray conflict

News Humanitarian aid

The conflict in the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia has evolved into a full-blown crisis. More than 5 million people need humanitarian support and over 1 million people have been displaced. Akinyi Walender, Cordaid’s country director in Ethiopia, is calling on the international community to get into action fast and respond to the emergency while also focusing on long-term solutions.

Displaced Tigrayan families seeking shelter in a school.
Image: EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid

Last month, Walender spoke to members of the Dutch parliament to update them about the situation in Tigray. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has funded a humanitarian response by the Dutch Relief Alliance, of which Cordaid is a member.

Troubling times

The consortium of 14 humanitarian aid organisations supports 120.000 people in need in and around the Tigray region. “That is great, but there are so many more who are in dire need of our support”, says Walender. “Farmers have not been able to cultivate and food stocks are depleted. On top of that, the country suffered a devastating locust invasion, which destroyed a large part of the crops. Famine is looming. Troubling times lay ahead.”

“In the end, it all comes down to funding. We simply need more money to respond adequately to the most pressing issues.”

During the session, one of the Dutch parliamentarians also raised the issue of women’s rights in Ethiopia, specifically in relation to the current conflict. “That was a very good point”, acknowledges Walender, herself a fervent advocate for women’s rights. “Women and girls suffer the most in the conflict, due to widespread rape and abuse. We have good programmes to respond to the crisis, but so much more needs to be done. I believe the politicians got the point and the feedback during the talks was constructive. But in the end, it all comes down to funding. We simply need more money to respond adequately to the most pressing issues.”

Akinyi Walender, Country Director Cordaid Ethiopia.
Image: Mickael Franci/Cordaid

A major setback for Ethiopia

Before the conflict started, Ethiopia’s economic future was looking bright. The densely populated country had a healthy and growing GDP. There was a palpable sense of hope and optimism, especially among urban youth, when a relatively progressive new government came to power in 2018.

Unfortunately, tensions between ethnic groups in this fascinating cultural patchwork spiralled out of control when the central government clashed with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the faction of a minority that dominated Ethiopian politics for almost 30 years.

“People want to see change, but they must be willing to actively support that change, willing to keep an open mind.”

The conflict is a major setback for Ethiopia and its effects spill over into other parts of the fragile East African region. Thousands of Tigrayans crossed the border into Sudan or fled to other Ethiopian regions like Amhara and Afar.

Church networks

According to Walender, collaboration is key in managing the humanitarian crisis. “People want to see change, but they must be willing to actively support that change, willing to keep an open mind. People need to work together. In our humanitarian response, we work with church networks, both catholic and protestant. That is an incredible advantage. Churches reach the deepest level of any community. People in these regions are very religious and if you want to reach the most vulnerable, you need the church on your side.”

Going forward, what are the most pressing issues that need to be resolved for humanitarian organisations to do their work effectively? “It is clear and simple: the two biggest challenges we face right now are access to the conflict zone and funding for our programmes. Understandably, the government will only allow us to enter certain areas when they are secure enough. We can support people in other areas, but we need access to all parts of Tigray, so we can get to those who need it most.”

Peace, reconciliation, and recovery

And once the dust has settled? “We look forward to working with other stakeholders on the recovery and stabilisation of the Tigray region. We are grateful for the funding from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, while we use these funds to set up short-term emergency responses, like the provision of water, food, and shelter, it is critical that we address long-term recovery and stabilisation. I call on the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs to support this through increased funding to the Dutch Relief Alliance and support to Tigray, as well as similar emergencies in other parts of Ethiopia.”

Activities of the Dutch Relief Alliance in response to the Tigray crisis:

  • providing cash to vulnerable households;
  • rehabilitating homes;
  • providing household items, like blankets, cooking materials and mattresses;
  • rehabilitating healthcare facilities;
  • building water and sanitation facilities;
  • providing medicines and hospital equipment;
  • providing personal protective equipment for medical personnel, against the spread of COVID-19.