UNICEF Executive Director: Children’s lives at risk in Ethiopia

The Executive Director of the UN Children’s agency, UNICEF, says children’s lives and well-being will be put at immediate risk if fighting in Ethiopia’s Tigray region further escalates.

By Vatican News staff writer

It’s been 3 weeks since hostilities broke out in the Tigray region of Ethiopia.

In that short space of time, the humanitarian situation has rapidly deteriorated and the lives of thousands of people have been put at risk.

Among those are some 250,000 children who live in the conflict hotspot of Mekelle.

Impact on children

As unrest continues, the UN Children’s agency UNICEF is urging “parties to the conflict in Ethiopia to spare children from the impact of hostilities in the Tigray region.”

In a statement, the Executive Director of the agency, Henrietta Fore, says that “UNICEF is deeply alarmed that the two parties’ threat of a further escalation in the fighting would put their lives and well-being at immediate risk.”

Appeal to halt fighting

“We call upon parties to the conflict,” she says, “to cease the fighting and reach a peaceful settlement. Humanitarian agencies should be allowed urgent, unimpeded and sustained access to all affected areas.”

The Executive Director also expresses her concern at “the safety of hundreds of humanitarian workers” who are still in Mekelle and elsewhere across Tigray. “We call upon all parties to the conflict to take all necessary measures to ensure their protection,” she says.

Malnutrition

At present some 2.3 million children in the Tigray region need humanitarian assistance and cannot be reached due to restricted access and the current breakdown in communications.

UNICEF has expressed alarm at the rates of malnutrition in the region.

Acute malnutrition increased by one-third between 2019 and 2020 mainly due to Desert Locust infestation and Covid-19. 

Refuge in Sudan

The Ethiopian Prime Minister announced a military offensive on Nov. 4 against the regional government in Tigray in response to an attack by Tigray forces, and since then tens of thousands of people have fled to neighbouring Sudan.

According to UNICEF, thousands of children – many without parents or relatives – are among those who have sought refuge in camps and registration centres and are at risk. Conditions for these children have been described as extremely difficult.