Ethiopians in the war-scarred north are dying from lack of healthcare services, are suffering food and water shortages, and remain “terrified”, according to aid agencies finally accessing remoter parts of Tigray region.
Just when people were harvesting crops in early November, the federal army launched an offensive against forces of the former local ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), whom it accused of insurrection.
Thousands died and more than 300,000 fled their homes during battles and air-strikes, creating a humanitarian crisis in the already poor region of about 5 million people.
Though the government captured regional capital Mekelle and declared the war over by the end of the month, aid groups, the United Nations and some officials say reaching needy people has been hindered by violence, bureaucracy and logistical obstacles.
“The people are terrified, they have suffered a lot,” Medecins Sans Frontieres’ (MSF) emergency programme head Mari Carmen Vinoles told Reuters as the medical charity made first forays into rural areas near towns including Adrigat and Axum.
MSF said there was barely any healthcare provision beyond Mekelle and a handful of towns, meaning people were dying without life-saving help for conditions such as pneumonia or childbirth complications.
In Adigrat, MSF found doctors and nurses struggling to keep “hungry patients” alive, Vinoles said. The main hospital’s ambulances had been stolen.
“Every time we reach a new area, we find food, water, health services depleted, and a lot of fear among the population. Everybody is asking for food,” she added.
The Ministry of Peace said on Tuesday that the government was working with humanitarian partners to rapidly deliver aid, with 1.8 million beneficiaries so far.
The European Union last week suspended budget support for Ethiopia worth 88 million euros ($107 million) until aid groups had better access.
One Ethiopian official acknowledged that “people are starving” during a meeting with the United Nations and aid groups on Jan. 8, according to official notes of the meeting seen by Reuters and authenticated by two sources.
“If urgent emergency assistance is not mobilized, hundreds of thousands might starve to death,” Berhane Gebretsadik, an administrator for the federally-appointed interim Tigray government, told the meeting.