Briefing note from the Palais de Genève on the situation of children in Tigray, Ethiopia, and Cabo Delgado, Mozambique

GENEVA, June 11, 2021 –As you have seen and heard, UNICEF, WFP and FAO are extremely concerned about the situation in the Tigray region where the risk of famine is imminent, unless food, livelihood assistance and other vital interventions continue to be scaled up, unimpeded access is guaranteed and hostilities cease.

“The UNICEF nutrition officer is currently in Tigray and, upon his departure, will give a specialized briefing at this Palace on Tuesday.

“And as you may have heard from the Executive Director of UNICEF: We are seeing ‘more and more young children and babies sliding dangerously close to disease and potential death from malnutrition. UNICEF works with our partners to provide assistance with nutrition, health care and clean water. However, without humanitarian access to scale up our response, an estimated 33,000 severely malnourished children in currently inaccessible areas of Tigray are at high risk of death. The world cannot allow this to happen.

“Although this figure of 353,000 does not reach the threshold necessary to trigger a formal declaration of famine (20% of the population surveyed), let’s not play with the terminology when people die.

“June is a critical month as it is the end of the grain planting season for the year. When I was in Tigray in May… I saw the devastation of crops and livestock. And we have sounded the alarm to allow people to plant now so that they can have food later in the year. This does not happen. There are many issues, but secure access remains paramount.
And we now have the highest number of people categorized as catastrophically food insecure in a decade (since the Somalia famine of 2010-11.) And it risks the needless deaths of tens of thousands of children.

“Finally, when we think of famine, we often think of a lack of food. But increasingly, the crisis is not only a crisis of food insecurity, but also of drinking water, sanitation and health care – especially disease prevention and treatment. Water and sanitation are just as important as food for children and families facing famine and food insecurity.

“UNICEF response:

  • UNICEF, the cluster’s lead agency for nutrition, is scaling up its nutritional response in Tigray in the seven zones, focusing on screening and treating children with severe wasting. Since February, 250,000 children under five have been screened for wasting and more than 7,000 of them have been admitted for treatment.
  • UNICEF predicts that of the estimated 56,000 children in Tigray who will need treatment for severe wasting in 2021, 33,000 will be missed if unimpeded access is not guaranteed. This can lead to extremely high levels of deaths of children under five in the current situation where more than 70% of the health system is no longer providing services. Lack of access also systematically hinders assessments and surveys to better understand the needs and determinants of undernutrition.
  • UNICEF needs $ 10.7 million to provide ready-to-use therapeutic food for children in Tigray and neighboring affected areas in Amhara and Afar regions. The funding will also enable UNICEF and partners to provide routine medicines and scale up life-saving wasting treatments and advise mothers and caregivers on recommended feeding practices for infants and young people. children.


Let me turn to Mozambique and Cabo Delgado.

“After the brutal attack in Palma in March, there are some 2,000 registered children who have no idea where their parents are – or if they are even alive.

“What is happening in Cabo Delgado is a children’s crisis – an emergency on top of an emergency – a deadly cocktail of the impacts of climate change, conflict and COVID-19.

“Women and children, in particular, are in desperate need of the support of the international community – from clean water to basic sanitation, nutrition, education and care for physical and mental injuries. And they need protection.

“Many children have suffered profound trauma. If left untreated, it could become the ingredient in a long, protracted crisis that could quickly spill over into other areas.

“The people of Ibo and Cabo Delgado have barely recovered from the destruction Cyclone Kenneth left in its path in 2019, claiming lives and destroying schools, homes and healthcare.

“We hear about alleged murders and mutilations – often in a barbaric way intended to spread terror.

“Girls and women told horrific stories of rape and sexual and gender-based violence.

“There are numerous unverified reports of boys forcibly recruited into fighting and girls abducted to serve as so-called ‘wives’ to activists.

“More than a third of the health facilities in Cabo Delgado have been damaged or destroyed. In the areas most affected by the fighting, there are no functional facilities.

“More than 220 schools and several water supply systems have come under attack. If this is verified, it could possibly constitute serious violations against children.

“Targeted assaults by armed groups have displaced a third of the population of Cabo Delgado.

“What’s so scary is that we don’t have a full picture of what is happening to children due to security and access constraints.

“We remind all parties to this conflict of their obligation to allow humanitarian access and to protect civilians, especially women and children, which is a fundamental obligation under international humanitarian law.

“UNICEF is working with the government and its partners to respond to them. But the needs are enormous.

“At least 33,000 children suffer from life-threatening forms of malnutrition that require specialized care; and with malnutrition expected to increase by the end of the year in Palma, Macomia and Quissanga, that number will increase.

“More than 300,000 school-aged children are displaced and depend on the emergency school. As in the rest of the country, schools were closed for an entire year in Cabo Delgado due to COVID-19.

  • “In collaboration with national, provincial and district authorities, and humanitarian partners, UNICEF is:
  • Provide life-saving supplies and services to displaced children and families, including those who have fled Palma, and the communities that shelter them.
  • Intensify and strengthen community psychosocial support for children as well as referral systems and essential child protection services.
  • Provide (at least 33,500) severely malnourished children with special therapeutic milk and foods.
  • Establish a mechanism for monitoring, reporting and responding to children’s rights.
  • But the needs exceed the funds. UNICEF is appealing for some US $ 90 million in humanitarian aid to cover children in need across Mozambique. “

About Geraldine Higgins

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