'The situation in Tigray could not be more dire,' says WHO

People displaced by the conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. Photo by: Demissew Bizuwerk / UNICEF Ethiopia / CC BY-NC-ND

The humanitarian disaster is worsening in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, where military conflict has affected millions of people, according to Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization's Health Emergencies Programme. There are escalating needs and increasing sexual violence, and aid workers still cannot access many areas in the region.

“The situation in Tigray could not be more dire. The people there could not be in more need of support and help,” Ryan said during a press briefing Monday. “It’s very hard to overstate the extent of the humanitarian crisis and the health crisis currently unfolding in Tigray.”

In Brief: Fighters deliberately target health facilities in Tigray

An assessment by Médecins Sans Frontières finds that "health facilities in most areas appear to have been deliberately vandalized to make them non-functional.”

The crisis has impacted an estimated 4.5 million people and led to the risk of famine. About 2.5 million people in rural areas have no access to essential services. There are 1 million people displaced within the region, scattered across 178 different sites, Ryan said.

A health and humanitarian crisis: A WHO survey of 264 health facilities in Tigray found that only 72 are operational and, of those, 40 are only partially accessible. Nineteen hospitals are completely destroyed, and 15 have major damage.

The conflict has been marred by widespread sexual violence. At just five hospitals, there have been over 800 cases of sexual and gender-based violence recorded.

Ryan added that WHO is concerned about widespread malnutrition, malaria, cholera, measles, COVID-19, and meningitis, among other diseases.

“There is a health crisis on top of a humanitarian crisis,” he said.

Ending the conflict: Ryan called for unfettered humanitarian access to Tigray, for those engaged in the conflict to remove themselves from civilian areas, and for those “who should not be there” to leave. The United Nations has demanded Eritrean troops withdraw from the region following widespread, corroborated reports of their culpability in massacres and killings.

About the author

  • Sara Jerving

    Sara Jerving is a global health reporter based in Nairobi. Her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Vice News, and Bloomberg News, among others. Sara holds a master's degree from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism where she was a Lorana Sullivan fellow. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists in 2018, part of a Vice News Tonight on HBO team that received an Emmy nomination in 2018 and received the Philip Greer Memorial Award from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2014. She has reported from over a dozen countries.