Thursday, April 18, 2024
News“Heartbreaking”: Parliamentarians sound alarm over deteriorating conditions in Tigray

“Heartbreaking”: Parliamentarians sound alarm over deteriorating conditions in Tigray

  • Drought and disease wreaking havoc on wartorn region, millions at risk

Members of Parliament’s Foreign Relations and Peace Affairs committee have urged the federal government, Ethiopian citizens, the international community, NGOs, and regional administrations to step up humanitarian assistance in Tigray following a three-day visit to the battered regional state.

“We saw people in dire situations that can hardly be described as living,” said Moga Ababulgu, a member of the standing committee, during a media briefing on February 15, 2024, following the visit to Tigray.

It marks the first time that MPs are voicing concern over the living conditions in Tigray, nearly a year and a half following the end of the war.

“The devastation in Tigray is the result of a chain of catastrophic manmade and natural phenomena,” said Dima Negewo (PhD), head of the committee.

The pandemic, war, and locust invasions all accompanied by severe drought have exacerbated the problems in Tigray.

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“We have visited drought-affected areas,” said Dima. “The people are suffering not only from a shortage of food, but also water. The convergence of these problems is heavily impacting society, resulting in the deaths of domestic animals and the withering of plants.”

He disclosed there are close to one million internally displaced people in Tigray who are in desperate need of humanitarian aid as well as assistance in rehabilitation and reconstruction.

Elias Kassaye, deputy mayor of Mekelle, has called for immediate attention to close to 185,000 IDPs currently sheltering in temporary camps near the administrative capital. He told the visiting parliamentary delegation that these IDPs had not received any food assistance for over 10 months.

The visit from MPs comes amid an ongoing quarrel between the Tigray Interim Administration (TIA) and the federal government on the nature and severity of hunger in Tigray.

TIA President Getachew Reda recently compared the crisis to the 1985 famine in northern Ethiopia – a notion that federal officials vehemently oppose.

“Some elements are politicizing the food shortage in Tigray,” said Legesse Tulu (PhD), head of the Government Communications Service.

MPs say that although their three-day stay in Tigray was insufficient to draw a full picture of what is happening in Tigray, it has shed light on an imminent humanitarian crisis in the region.

MPs admitted that parts of Tigray remain under the control of non-Tigrayan and non-ENDF forces, although they refrained from specifying the details. TIA officials have long been sounding the alarm that Eritrean and Amhara forces still occupy parts of Tigray.

The visiting parliamentarians held discussions with the representatives of international NGOs providing humanitarian assistance in Tigray and reviewed status surveys compiled by experts at the regional Disaster and Risk Management bureau.

Dima disclosed the delegation had been briefed by an African Union (AU) monitoring and evaluation team stationed in the region. The team of experts was created back in December 2022 following the signing of the Permanent Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA), to provide the AU with status updates on the implementation of the Pretoria Agreement.

MPs also visited IDP shelters in Mekelle and other temporary settlements in the vicinity of the regional capital. There, they met with people displaced from Tigray’s southeast and west, and areas bordering Eritrea, as well as from Amhara, Afar, Oromia, and Benishangul-Gumuz. The IDPs are currently sheltering in Mekelle, in addition to others residing in Enderta.

The survey conducted by the region’s Disaster and Risk Management experts indicates that eight of 12 woredas in Enderta have been devastated by drought, and 522 hectares of land in the area has been rendered barren.

A press release from the Foreign Relations and Peace Affairs committee testifies the MPs visited Enderta and confirms the findings of the survey. The release states that only 49 percent of 1.3 million hectares of viable farmland in Tigray has been cultivated this year.

Moga, the MP, said that although the delegation had witnessed mothers, children, and the elderly living in cramped conditions in IDP camps in Mekelle, the reality for those in Enderta is much more heart wrenching. 

He observes that IDPs in and around Mekelle have a modicum of attention from NGOs and other humanitarian organizations, while the small camps scattered throughout Enderta’s woredas are completely outside their reach.

“The people in the woredas of Enderta are not receiving consistent aid. The residents in the surrounding used to share what little they had with them, but now, the impact of the drought has forced people to withdraw that support, leaving them in a very heartbreaking condition. There are mothers, children, and elderly people going through this,” Moga told The Reporter.

He mentioned that there have been some efforts made to remedy the situation and turn the tide, but there is a very wide gap left to bridge.

Moga proceeded to elaborate on efforts from the interim administration to distribute aid to IDPs and measures taken by the federal government to reconstruct infrastructure damaged during the war, as well as the operations of NGOs trying to reach people in need.

“Humanitarian assistance is rolling in. The people we met told us they are receiving it, but what is being distributed does not match what is needed on the ground,” he said.

Two months ago, Getachew Reda stated the drought and its effects had deteriorated to levels last seen in 1985, when a famine devastated the Ethiopian north.

The Reporter asked the head of the parliamentary delegation to Tigray if there was any truth to the claim.

“We cannot make that determination as our visit was under time constraints. We did not go through all of the region’s areas, so, we are unable to determine whether or not it can be compared to the effects of the 1985 drought,” Dima told The Reporter.

Dima also disclosed MPs had learned of areas where aid cannot get through as these places are not under the administration of TIA.

Dina Mufti (Amb.), former Foreign Affairs spokesperson, was also a member of the delegation.

“What we witnessed was insufficient. Our visit was a short one. The victims we met with are few, and of those few displaced we conversed with, most asked us to provide them with the necessary arrangements to allow them to get back to their homes. We have observed the situation is grave and serious and needs our immediate attention and action,” said Dina.

His sentiments are echoed by committee chair Dima.

“The problems in Tigray are complicated,” he said. “They cannot be solved by the capacity of the interim administration alone. This is not a regional state issue. It requires the attention of the nation, the people of Ethiopia, and collaborative efforts from the federal government and international actors.”

Dima finds the inability to provide medicine and medical attention to the war-stricken population of Tigray particularly worrisome.

The committee found that no less than 335 health centers in Tigray had been fully damaged by the war. The destruction of health infrastructure has exposed the population to life-threatening diseases such as malaria.

Dima observes hunger has weakened immune systems and made people more vulnerable to disease, while those with chronic illnesses have been particularly affected.

Information obtained by The Reporter from the office of the standing committee reveals MPs are scheduled to meet with officials from the Federal Disaster and Risk Management Commission in the coming weeks to discuss the situation in Tigray. 

Last week, TIA officials led by Getachew Reda participated in the first round of official discussions with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) and his administration since the ceasefire agreement was signed over a year ago.

 

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