Looming rainy season in Northern Ethiopia to bring more risks of disease and hunger, as aid still falls short

Published: 16th June 2022

The upcoming rainy season in northern Ethiopia poses new and heightened threats as communities struggle to cope with ongoing conflict, displacement, hunger, and disease.

Across Ethiopia’s Tigray, Amhara, and Afar regions, communities already reeling from 18 months of conflict, will be welcoming, but also bracing for the rains that often bring heightened risk of water-borne diseases and hamper humanitarian aid, warns Oxfam today.

Oxfam’s Country Director in Ethiopia Gezahegn Gebrehana said, “While the rains are welcomed as necessary for agriculture, they will make it difficult for people to reach vital resources and could contaminate water sources and cause more disease. When people are already pushed beyond their limits and have lost their coping ability, even the expected rainy season can propel them over the edge into true catastrophe.”

The rainy season brings added threats in terms of water and sanitation – potentially flooding which could contaminate already overstretched clean water sources and cause a rise in water-borne illnesses such as cholera and diarrhea. If the rains become very severe, there is a real threat that some progress made in the humanitarian response could be undone as latrines, water points, shelters, and other materials and systems Oxfam and others have provided could be damaged or lost. 

This is an expected seasonal cycle, but after over 18 months of conflict, communities have been pushed to the brink and have lost many of their means to cope with the season’s added challenges. Since the conflict in Northern Ethiopia began in November 2020, roughly 2.5 million people have been forced to flee their homes, and more than 9 million people are now in urgent need of food aid. Many are still living without the basics, as continued shortages and rising costs of fuel, food, and medical items impact families, with the added burden of limited cash in the Tigray region where banks are still not operational.  

Thousands of people across the three regions are still living in camps for displaced people, which will be flooded, muddy, and nearly impossible to navigate – especially for those living with disabilities.

Against this backdrop, humanitarian agencies are facing tremendous funding shortfalls, as donors response continues to pale in comparison to the scale of humanitarian need. 

The rains will also hit the most vulnerable people hardest, especially women and children. Those who are sleeping outside will be even more exposed and at risk, and people living with disabilities will find the already daunting challenge of moving around and accessing aid nearly impossible. The rains will also make it more difficult to find firewood. Overall aid distribution is much more difficult in these potentially extreme rainy conditions, which will put those relying on aid in an even more precarious situation. 

Destaye, who fled violence in her village in Northern Ethiopia with her two daughters and mother has been living in Amhara’s Debark camp for displaced people since October. Destaye uses a wheelchair and knows that when the rains come and bring muddy conditions, she will face even more trouble accessing aid and the other resources she needs. 

She recently told Oxfam, “With summer and the rains approaching, I don’t have the money to go to town to live, and I won’t be able to travel once the rains start. This will be the first rainy season away from home and just thinking about it makes me tired. I am confident the people here will help me, but if the rains come and blow over all of our tents, who will be in a position to help others?” 

Representative Alelign Mamo with local organization ORDA-Ethiopia said, “With the coming rainy season, this camp for displaced people will become extremely muddy and there will not be enough resources to support the community. Overall, there is just not enough money – many programs are ending here but the need remains.” 

For those who have remained at home and need to plough their land, seeds and fertilizers are in short supply, further disrupting the planting cycle.  This is yet another blow to communities who rely on farming and livestock for survival and who have already lost so much. 

Oxfam, along with partner ORDA-Ethiopia and other humanitarian organizations working in Debark IDP site and across the region have been providing the basics, but it’s barely meeting the bare minimum. 

“We are on the ground and ready to help but we urgently need more resources to help communities prepare for this time of year, but the money just isn’t coming. Right now only a small percentage of conflict-impacted people in Northern Ethiopia are having their urgent needs met,” Oxfam’s Gebrehana continued,

“Northern Ethiopia is at a critical juncture, and we are calling on donors and the international community to step up before more lives are lost. After 18 months of conflict, all parties must continue to deescalate and commit to a sustainable peace so communities can access the aid they need now, and one day return to their homes to rebuild their lives. Without an immediate infusion of lifesaving cash and an inclusive peace process, this crisis will continue to outpace the humanitarian response and put recovery further out of reach.”

Oxfam, alongside local partners, aims to scale up its operations to reach 940,000 people throughout Tigray, Amhara, and Afar with clean water, sanitation services like latrines, showers, hygiene kits and trainings, and cash for people to buy necessities in the local market.

Notes to editors

Contact information

Lauren Hartnett in the US | lauren.hartnett@oxfam.org | +1 (203) 247-3920 
Annie Thériault in Peru | annie.theriault@oxfam.org | +51 936 307 990

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