Tigray, Ethiopia: “We have seen worse than death and it doesn’t matter if we die." - CARE

Worries rise for Tigray residents' longer-term safety

A man in a CARE shirt squats to speak with a family partially sitting under a covering of tarps and blankets.

Photo: Tesfaye Hussein/CARE Sudan

Photo: Tesfaye Hussein/CARE Sudan

Addis Ababa, Monday 19 April, 2021 – As Tigray residents recount the horrors they have faced, worries rise for people’s longer-term safety as they are left without food, inputs for planting, and high food prices and access to cash and markets. A recent CARE assessment found that the food situation in a number of areas of eastern Tigray is truly alarming, with little or no agricultural inputs available for people to recover over the coming months.

Esther Watts, CARE Ethiopia Country Director says; “this is an area that was already suffering from food security issues before the conflict, with amongst the worst malnutrition and stunting rates in the country even beforehand. On top of this northern and central parts of Tigray were also hit by the locust swarms last year. All this means that people in the region have no harvests to live off and nothing to plant during the upcoming planting season, leaving them in a truly dire situation. These impacts are compounded by the psychological trauma and fear faced by household members on a daily basis.”

Planting season begins in June. Without immediate help the numbers of people suffering from hunger and children and mothers suffering from malnutrition are likely to increase even further, to potentially catastrophic levels. This is compounded by high food prices in the markets and a lack of basic foodstuffs. Many people, especially amongst the most vulnerable groups, are also struggling to access markets to buy food, even when they are still able to afford to do so.

The Government of Ethiopia estimates that 4.5 million people need emergency food assistance until late this year.[1]

Watts adds; “People urgently need food and nutrition support. They are keen to resume their previous livelihoods activities, but they need support to acquire inputs, and most of all, they need stability and safety. Households in Eastern Tigray rely heavily on livestock, as well as on daily labor and petty trade. The continued instability and fear of displacement and looting means many are not yet ready to begin reinvesting in other livelihoods.”

Respondents told CARE that their immediate needs include food and nutrition support, non-food items (such as mattresses, blankets, kitchen utensils and jerrycans), health services, agricultural inputs, and, ultimately, peace.

One young woman interviewed by CARE in a recent assessment said; “We move with our lives in our hands. A person’s life is like a plastic bag worth 10 cents, like something you don’t try to catch when the wind is taking it.”

While another noted: “I started a petty trading business by borrowing 2,000 birr [around US $50] from a relative, after losing my poultry business of 200 chickens and all my savings. Now I make sure that I have everything I sell on a plastic mat so that I can run with it whenever I see soldiers coming.”

CARE is responding to the conflict in Tigray providing vital food, nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene support as well as support to victims of gender-based violence as a result of the crisis. Since the beginning of its response in early December, CARE has reached more than 76,000 people across the central, southern, western and eastern parts of Tigray and bordering northern Amhara and Afar. CARE has also trained health facility workers on psychological first aid and is about to set up mobile health and nutrition services in Eastern Tigray.

The Tigray conflict has also exacerbated gender and other inequalities, perpetuating the cycles of hunger and violence that prevent millions of women and girls around the world from reaching their full potential.

According to Watts; “We know that conflicts make it more difficult for women and girls to produce, process, and provide food for themselves and their families. And we also know that they play vital roles in preventing and responding to food insecurity. Gender inequality is the reason why women and girls are differently and disproportionately affected by food insecurity, at risk of severe food crisis, and subjected to gender-based violence, both in peacetime and during conflicts. In Tigray women are telling us that they are afraid of physical and sexual violence while they are out earning an income and that sexual violence during the fighting increased.”

[1] Ethiopia – Food Security Outlook: Thu, 2021-02-25 to Sat, 2021-09-25 | Famine Early Warning Systems Network (fews.net)

Notes to Editor

  • All quotes from affected people in Tigray have been anonymised to protect the identities of those interviewed.
  • CARE’s recent Livelihoods assessment targeted three woredas of Eastern Tigray targeted by this assessment (Hawzen, Ganta Afeshum, and Gulomekeda) between March 8-13, 2021 and interviewing a small selection of women, men and youth from the different areas, as well as government officers and market traders.
  • Prior to the conflict, inside Tigray CARE has been implementing livelihoods and resilience building activities in Tigray for many years through its local implementing partner the Relief Society of Tigray (REST). Over the past four years, CARE and REST, together with technical partner the Netherlands Development Organization (SNV), have implemented the Feed the Future – Livelihoods for Resilience Activity in eight woredas1 of Eastern and Southern Tigray. The Livelihoods for Resilience Activity targets 35,700 households that participate in the Government of Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP), with the objective of enabling these households to graduate from the PSNP.

Anonymised quotes:

– Gulomekeda focus group participant “We don’t know where to go, all places are like fire. It is better to die than live like this.”

– Gulomekeda female focus group participant: “I saw my daughter very troubled one day and tried to understand her problem and she told me she has nothing to use for her menstruation and I told her to tear a part of the bed sheet we have and use it.”

– Gulomekeda female focus group participant: “We have seen worse than death and it doesn’t matter if we die.”

A woman who was selling tea, coffee and water in Gulomekeda woreda: “I tell everyone that I spend the night with family but in fact I am sleeping in my own broken house. I hide everything, including my clothes, during the day. I do not want people, especially the men, to know I will be there at night. Since I tell them I do not spend the night there, I have a reason to ask customers to leave, very politely, when it is time for me to close.”

For More Information Contact:

Kalei Talwar
Press Officer
Kalei.Talwar@care.org