Although recent reports are of federal troops battling insurgents loyal to the regional government in Tigray, another less publicized invasion driven by the force of nature is wreaking havoc on local communities.
Eight months ago swarms of locusts destroyed crops, disrupted agriculture, forced the displacement tens of thousands of people and visited hunger in Ethiopia's northern region.
Prior to the November 4th military invasion of the region on the orders of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed with a view to uprooting a “recalcitrant” regional government, the area was already under a humanitarian emergency.
But since March 2020, millions of people in Tigray were already reeling from a rapacious desert locust outbreak, the effects of climate change including floods and the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the International Rescue Committee (IRC) over 8 million are in need of urgent food assistance.
The ICR warned that in a region where essential services like the internet, telecommunication, transportation and banking remain shut, this figure is expected to rise to 11 million by January next year.
The fighting between federal troops and fighters of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front loyal to the regional government has already driven tens of thousands of people to neighbouring Sudan.
This had added to an estimated 96,000 refugees who fled Eritrea, thousands of locals driven from their homes by famine.
“The IRC is extremely concerned about the humanitarian situation if tensions continue to escalate. In the worst case scenario, we could see people displaced for years—living in crowded, unsanitary conditions where they are vulnerable to disease outbreaks and have no access to social services” the committee said in a statement.
The ICR is warning that while the fighting for control of Tigray rages, the area which bore the brunt of the infestation could be bracing for a fresh wave of locust invasion in a matter of weeks.
The locusts have left a large trail of destruction in the region particularly in central and northwestern Tigray where large swathes of pasturelands, and food crops have been destroyed, exposing communities to famine.
The IRC has been present in the settlement of Shire offering basic essential services to displaced persons since 2001.
It is providing clean drinking water, sanitation, health care, and education to Eritrean refugees living in the four refugee camps of My’Ayni, Adi Harush, Hitsats and Shimelba.
However the current armed offensive in Tigray is affecting the ICR’s activities in the area, prompting the transfer of its non-essential staff from Adi Harush and My’Ayni.
The protracted internet shutdown in Tigray has made it difficult to keep abreast with news of the security and humanitarian situation in the volatile region.
The closure of banks and other services had left aid agencies struggling to deal with the humanitarian crises caused by the locusts and the armed conflict.
An acute humanitarian crisis is sure to get even worse as relief workers are denied access to people trapped in the fighting.