This is apparently the tenth assessment by the UNHCR-PMS team of the conditions, challenges, and protection needs facing people in Tigray, particularly IDP returnees. However, even the number of reports are in question. This report is marked “#10”, yet the overview clearly states that this is the “third protection monitoring report on Tigray.” It is possible that some of these reports are focused outside of Tigray, but the link provided to the other reports is not accessible to the public. This is the only report in the series that UNHCR has made publicly available since they released and then immediately suppressed the first of these reports in March.
The scope of this study appears to be very comprehensive, with 501 key informant (KI) interviews, 21 focus groups discussions, and direct observations in 13 woredas across the Northwestern, Southern, and Eastern zones. However, the findings presented are very limited. It should be noted that the overwhelming majority of the KI interviews were conducted in the Eastern zone (69%), followed by the Southern zone (16%), and the Northwestern zone (15%).
While the report mentions in a footnote that the data was collected prior to the suspension of food assistance, the report fails to provide important context. It is critical to note that this assessment reflects conditions in Tigray from February through April, 2023. Despite the pause of food assistance at the end of March, this period would still represent the peak of humanitarian coverage in Tigray in the past three years. The impact of the food aid suspension did not hit until the following month. At the end of April, according to the food cluster, 96% of the targeted beneficiaries had received a six-week food ration in the past two months. This level would fall to 27% by the end of May and less than 1% at the end of June. Nutritional assistance followed a similar trajectory. According to the Nutrition Cluster, more than 12,000 children under five years old were able to access treatment for severe malnutrition. Admission capacity was cut in half in May and again in August. Preliminary data for September suggest that only around 2,000 children were admitted for severe malnutrition.
As with other reports published by various UN agencies, the findings of this assessment reflect a level of humanitarian assistance that dropped immediately following the collection of data. Every category of need remains unmet. Every challenge remains present. With the possible exception of the removal of unexploded ordinance (UXO), the only changes have been further deterioration of the conditions of life for the people covered by this assessment.
Key Assessment Findings from Key Informant Interviews (KIIs)
- Nearly 90% of respondents reported observing signs of distress in the population. It is notable that this was observed more frequently among IDP returnees (64%) compared to IDPs (48%) and non-displaced persons (31%). This was particularly prevalent in women.
- Nearly 60% of KI reported lack of food, while 37% reported infrequent food supply or irregular food. As noted, this was during the height of the humanitarian response in Tigray. Additionally, more than half of the KIs (57%) reported a lack of available water.
- Three quarters of KIs reported that medical facilities were destroyed and 72% reported a lack of medicine and medical supplies.
- Nearly three quarters of KIs reported that schools were closed due to conflict and 69% reported that schools were damaged, destroyed, or looted. Respondents from the Southern zone blamed the inability to restart education on the food shortage.
- Nearly half of respondents (48%) felt unsafe to move freely in their communities, with 35% of respondents fearing rape and harassment for women and girls. In the Eastern Zone this was attributed to the presence of armed groups in the area, while in the Northwestern zone this was attributed to overcrowded IDP centers and shelters.
- Nearly all respondents in Endabaguna reported that they could not obtain documentation of their status, leading to the denial of aid services and restrictions on movement.
- Nearly half of respondents reported destruction of homes (47%), crops (46%), and destruction or loss of property (44%).
- More than seven in ten respondents (71%) reported that there were unaccompanied small children living in their communities.
- More than 40% of respondents were aware of incidents related to UXO during the past three months. This was most prevalent in Adigrat (83%), Zana (60%), and Hawzen (56%).
Coping Strategies to Meet Basic Needs (from KIIs)
KIs described a staggering prevalence of negative strategies to meet basic needs, which provide critical insight to the so-called “diversion” of humanitarian aid. According to the table below, 67% of KIs reported that transactional sex was being used always (9%) or sometimes (58%) for survival. Other mechanisms were being employed such as begging (97%), buying food on credit (92%), illegal activities (90%), child labor (83%), and early marriage for girls (56%). It was also reported that humanitarian assistance was being sold to meet basic household needs, with 43% reporting that this was a standard (“always”) practice.
This data strongly suggests that the sale of aid supplies in marketplaces in Tigray, which was described by USAID as “widespread and systematic diversion of assistance,” was caused by the severity of the unmet multidimensional humanitarian needs of the population and not for illicit gain or profiteering. This further suggests that the decision to stop food assistance in Tigray directly contributed to an increase in each of these negative coping mechanisms. In short, the decision by USAID and WFP to cut food aid, almost certainly forced Tigrayan children out of school, forced Tigrayan women into prostitution, and forced Tigrayans into criminality in order to survive.
Key Assessment Findings from Focus Group Discussions (FGD) with IDP Returnees
- More than 70% of FGD respondents reported that destruction of homes and properties (72%) and lack of essential services (72%) were primary protection concerns. Less than half of returnees (41%) reported that they were living in the same house that they left.
- More than 80% of FGD respondents cite lack of health care services as a priority need. Direct observations found that 91% of health facilities in the locations visited were partially or fully damaged.
- Note: The report mentions that this was the second highest priority need, but the highest priority need is not revealed. It is safe to assume that this is food.
- More than three quarters of returnees were relying on loans from relatives and neighbors and selling goods and property to survive. Only 29% were able to rely on support from humanitarian agencies.
- The only good news in the assessment appears to be that 86% of returnees reported good relationships with other members of their community.
Direct Observation Notes
The scope of the assessment covered the Northwestern, Eastern, and Southern zones. However, there are no direct observation notes from the Southern zone, the notes for the Eastern zone are reprinted in abbreviated form from the March assessment, and only two areas in the Northwestern zone are included.
Zana, Northwestern Zone: There are 67 unaccompanied children in IDP hosting sites in Zana with limited access to protection services. The road from Shire to Zana has been damaged by floods, heavy trucks, and tanks. At least one school is housing both IDPs and armed groups.
Shire, Northwestern Zone: The zonal administration office is damaged by fire, rent has increased significantly, and children, women, and girls are resorting to dangerous survival mechanisms such as theft, child labor, and transactional sex.
Critical Needs and Recommendations
The needs and recommendations are presented from the assessment report. The notes are the author’s updates based on personal interviews and reports by the most recent Emergency Coordination Center Operational Update for Tigray.
- Urgent need for food: In every woreda visited, researchers found that the quotas for food assistance were either too small or excluded IDPs or returnees. The assessment teams recommended a blanket feeding program for the entire population.
- Note: The opposite has happened. Food aid was cut at the end of March and has not restarted. However, the JEOP appears to have increased their caseloads slightly, which may close some of the gap between the food distribution targets and the need. Cash-based food assistance is planned for at least eight woredas (including three from this assessment). However, after six months without food assistance this process is only in the “targeting” stage. (Sept 22 ECC Report, p.78)
- Urgent need for health services: Severe need for HIV medication and nutrition support, as well as the establishment of mobile clinics and other temporary measures to close the gap left by damaged or destroyed medical facilities.
- Note: Nutrition supply has cut drastically in Tigray. While some medical supplies have been distributed into Tigray, it appears to be far less than the need.
- Cash and supplies needed for livelihood and farming support as well as for shelter repair.
- Note: Cash has been distributed to some households in Tigray, but is generally a very small amount. In Endabaguna, for example, households received <$18 from UNHCR for rent. That is helpful, but it is not enough for rent, particularly after the population of Endabaguna tripled in size due to families fleeing ethnic cleansing. The Red Cross has distributed cash to 2,000 families in Fatsi in July and August, which may have been more significant.
- Need for coordinated protection services, particularly GBV services beyond the city centers.
- Note: Support services for survivors of GBV do not appear to have expanded. Despite the staggering level of need, only $4 million of the $104 million needed for these services was been funded as of September 2023.
- UXO education and removal are still urgently needed.
- Note: This appears to be one area where there has been significant activity since the UNHCR assessments were taken, though funding and access challenges continue to hinder progress. (See pp.27-39 of the August 25 ECC Report)
- Public services and infrastructure needed and support for local government structures.
- Note: It has been impossible to determine how much effort or progress has been made in this respect as the outputs are intangible and the functionality of local government is easier to project than achieve. With significant areas in Tigray still under illegal military occupation and public funding still being withheld by the federal government, public services and local government faces severe challenges.
- African Union Joint Monitoring Mission should assess and monitor implementation of the peace agreement on the ground.
- Note: The AU Monitoring, Verification, and Compliance Mission (AU-MVCM) does not appear to be actively monitoring any of the elements of the Pretoria Agreement that protect civilians in Tigray. The AU-MVCM team tried to access Irob following the period coved by the UNHCR assessment but Eritrean soldiers refused to allow access. The AU-MVCM held a press conference just prior to the renewal of its mandate in June, which vaguely mentioned support for IDP return. According to several reports, including a comprehensive analysis by Atrocity Watch Africa in July, there are dangerous gaps in each of the key element of the Pretoria Agreement that protect civilians.