The hope for a peaceful resolution to the Northern Ethiopia conflict, following a truce in March 2022, was shattered on August 24. New fighting has erupted between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and Ethiopia’s National Defence Forces (ENDF) continuing the nearly two-year war that broke out in Tigray in November 2020. The war, initially limited to the Tigray region, has expanded to the neighbouring regions of Afar and Amhara, affecting more than 20 million people, of which nearly three quarters are women and children, and 5.5 million have been forced to flee their homes and take refuge in other regions within Ethiopia.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that more than 2.8 million children have missed education in Afar, Amhara and Tigray in 2021. With schools set to restart across Ethiopia in September, it is most unlikely that children in these three most conflict-affected regions will be able to access education.
Conflict has led to the destruction and damage of schools: in Afar, out of 1,195 schools, 300 have been partially damaged and 245 have been totally closed since January 2022. With internally displaced people returning to their areas of origin, many are finding temporary shelter in schools, further delaying the start of the academic year. It is also unclear how many teachers are available given that the majority came from Tigray and Amhara and returned to their respective regions during the summer vacation. The worst drought in the Horn of Africa in the last four decades decreases the ability of parents to support their children who then become victims of child labour.
In Amhara, the conflict has particularly affected the northern zones of the region, preventing many schools from opening and leading to the looting and destruction of some. Refugees coming from Tigray and Afar who speak only their indigenous language, are additionally challenged in accessing education in Tigrinya and Afarinya, as this language barrier hampers their integration in local schools.
In Tigray, schools were closed due to COVID-19 between March and August 2020, reopened briefly until November 2020, then closed again when conflict broke out. At least 963 of about 2,490 schools are closed. Traditionally, community members support their local schools by providing school materials or bolstering teacher salaries, but now community members are forced to focus on livelihood opportunities and food security.
The disruption of children’s education in emergencies such as this is sometimes far down humanitarian response priorities, and yet it is also a powerful way to enhance protection, prevention and prosperity of communities experiencing conflict. It is essential that the global community does all it can to avoid these children missing out on foundational learning, as well as supporting schools to provide the safety, social emotional support and safe hub that communities need.