ICRC and the Ethiopia Red Cross Society delivers medical supplies to health care facilities in North Amhara. ICRC /

Operational update on escalating fighting in Tigray and northern Ethiopia

Addis Ababa / Geneva (ICRC) – In just two weeks, escalating fighting in Tigray and northern Ethiopia has triggered immense suffering and risks spiralling into a wider humanitarian crisis.
News release 18 November 2020 Ethiopia Sudan

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visited health care facilities in Tigray and Amhara—many of them yet to receive any assistance—and found them in need of medical supplies and support to care for the influx of wounded. The Ethiopia Red Cross Society (ERCS) has transported hundreds of people injured in areas affected by clashes. Meanwhile, more than 1,000 people have contacted the ICRC's hotline and visited its office in Mekelle and Addis Ababa looking for help to reach their families.

As fighting continues, we are seeing a devastating humanitarian crisis unfold, not just within Ethiopia but across its borders

said Katia Sorin, ICRC's head of delegation in Addis Ababa. "Thousands are crossing into Sudan seeking safety, and an untold number are displaced from their homes inside Ethiopia. The telecommunications blackout in Tigray has made it practically impossible for people to contact their family members, causing fear and anguish on the whereabouts and safety of their loved ones."

The ICRC team visited three hospitals and one primary health care centre in North Amhara to better understand the needs and deliver medical supplies such as surgical materials and items used in trauma care, IV fluids, medicines and medical consumables. The team also provided hospital beds, mattresses, mats, and blankets. For many of these facilities it is the first time they have received any external support since the crisis started. The ICRC has also been assessing the needs at Ayder Referral Hospital in Mekelle.

The ERCS, one of the main ambulance providers in the area which has managed to evacuate hundreds of people with injuries, received first aid materials. Additional medical supplies and emergency medicines are being assembled in Nairobi and Addis Ababa to support other health-care facilities.

ICRC delegates were also granted access to people detained in relation to the fighting to verify their condition and provide essential hygiene and other items. At the same time, ICRC and ERCS teams in Mekelle are working at a local school to help those seeking to contact their families, mostly through short written messages.

Humanitarian concerns

  • Hospitals and primary health care centres in and around areas that have seen active fighting need medical supplies and support to care for the wounded. They also urgently need hospital beds, mattresses, blankets, and bed-sheets. Gonder Teaching Hospital has been receiving large numbers of critically injured patients with more than 400 people treated so far in the facility. The hospital is also catering to 14 COVID-19 patients, a signal of the strain health care facilities could increasingly be under to care for those with trauma injuries amidst a pandemic.
  • The crisis has also created supply chain disruption for routine medicines and medical consumables. Our office in Mekelle received an urgent request from Ayder Referral Hospital in Tigray for drugs and medical supplies to provide diabetic care and dialysis. The hospital is the only one in the region treating these conditions. These disruptions are also impacting communities, especially those such as refugees and internally displaced Ethiopians who are reliant on aid in Tigray.
  • Last week, three ambulances run by the Ethiopia Red Cross were attacked. The specific details behind these incidents are not clear, but it is a worrying sign that medical workers and first responders are not being respected and protected, which can have life-and-death consequences for those relying on them for care. Following this, the ERCS published a statement calling for the respect of the protective use of the Red Cross emblem and not to obstruct the humanitarian work of Ethiopian Red Cross volunteers, staff and other medical personnel.
  • Thousands of people are crossing into Sudan seeking safety, and an untold number of people are displaced inside Ethiopia. They will need food, shelter, water, and medical care as well as support to search for and contact their families.
  •  The telecommunications blackout in Tigray is making it impossible for people to know if their loved ones are alive and safe. This is causing a lot of anguish and anxiety as people search for answers. We are inundated with hundreds of requests through our telephone hotline as well our office in Mekelle to help people get in touch with their relatives and loved ones.
  • We are concerned about the well-being of thousands of Eritrean refugees currently living in Tigray who need protection and assistance.
  • The fighting in Tigray comes on top of recurrent episodes of violence that have flared in different parts of Ethiopia. Many people have been killed, displaced, arrested and injured.

Operational notes

  • The ICRC team visited four health-care facilities, including one primary health-care centre and three hospitals in Gonder, Sanja, Abereha Jira, and Abderafi in North Amhara and provided supplies to care for serious and moderate injuries. Gonder University Hospital received mattresses, blankets, and mats for 200 patients.
  •  The ERCS branch covering West, North and Central Gonder zones in Amhara has 10 ambulances that have transported hundreds of wounded people to different medical facilities so far. The ICRC provided the branch with first aid supplies to support their ambulance work.
  • The ICRC team is visiting people detained in connection to the fighting to assess their conditions of detention and treatment and to distribute basic hygiene items such as soap, disinfectant and jerry cans.
  • A hot-line has been setup to support those searching for their family members in Tigray together with the Ethiopia Red Cross. Our teams have received more than 1,000 phone calls in the last week from people in Ethiopia and abroad who are searching for their loved ones. Anyone searching for his or her family should call our hotline at +251 94 312 2207 or email at add_tracing_services@icrc.org, or the Ethiopia Red Cross at +251 11 552 7110.
  • ICRC set up a small service in a high school in Mekelle where more than 400 people have been helped to contact their families mostly through short messages called salamats. However, this is just skimming the surface of the true needs and the telecommunications blackout in Tigray makes it extremely difficult to search for and reconnect loved ones.
  • The ICRC is mobilising additional medical and relief supplies, including medical supplies to care for about 500 severely wounded, at its logistics hub in Nairobi as well as in Addis Ababa. These materials will make an immediate difference to hospitals and clinics struggling to care for patients' routine and emergency needs.
  • An assessment team will travel to the Sudan-Ethiopia border this week to speak with refugees to better understand the needs, specifically pertaining to health care and family separation together with our partner the Sudanese Red Crescent.
  • The ICRC has a long presence in Ethiopia and has been responding to needs created by violence in other parts of the country such as Oromia, Benishangul-Gumuz, Amhara, and Somali Regional State. The ICRC maintains a bilateral, confidential dialogue with weapon-bearers to ensure that those involved in fighting comply with their obligations under international law.

For further information, please contact:

Zewdu Ayalew, ICRC Addis Ababa, zayalew@icrc.org, +251 911 614 336

Crystal Wells, ICRC Nairobi, cwells@icrc.org, +254 716 897 265

Halimatou Amadou, hamadou@icrc.org, +221 78 186 4687

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