- Sophia Peteza
- BBC – World Service
Little Haftom is about five years old, and his name means “wealthy” in the language of the Tigray region, but he suffers from severe malnutrition, and his weight is half of what a child of his age should have.
While the doctor lifts the child’s tracksuit jacket and pants to show Haftom’s slender arms and legs, his mother, who did not want to be named, watches the scene with an expressionless face.
This scene represents the daily reality in the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia, where famine and malnutrition are characteristic of conditions after two years of war between the forces of the region and the Ethiopian government. The peace agreement ended the fighting in the region, but the repercussions of the conflict still exist.
The United Nations estimated in August that nearly one in three children under the age of five in Tigray suffered from malnutrition.
The region suffered from a real blockade during the period when fighting was taking place between the Ethiopian federal government forces and the fighters of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray, as the Ethiopian authorities either restricted or severely restricted aid access to the northern region.
“I come back empty handed”
Magda, another severely undernourished child, is the same age as the conflict that broke out on November 4, 2020, but she lies like a baby in the arms of her mother, Hewott. She is listless, lethargic, and her stomach is very distended.
“It has become very difficult to get food,” Hewitt says. “It is very difficult to be able to eat, even once a day.”
Since Magda was admitted to the hospital, her condition has worsened. “My daughter is in this situation because they told us there was no medicine. We couldn’t get anything,” says Ms. Hewott.
“Even when we were here last year because of the same problem, I couldn’t get anything and went home empty-handed,” the mother added.
The families of Haftom and Magda were trying to get treatment for the two children at Ayder Hospital in Mekelle, the capital of the Tigray region. There, the BBC met them last month.
Tigray leaders agreed to a ceasefire after August, after federal government forces seized more territory.
The authorities in Addis Ababa have said that under the terms of the November 2 peace agreement, they will send aid and allow aid organizations to deliver more to the Tigray region.
“help Consume in one day”
Dr. Kiburn Geberslasi has been working as a surgeon at Ayder Hospital for 15 years, which is the largest state hospital in the region of seven million people.
“It’s shocking to see young children and mothers suffering and crying every day,” says Dr. Kipprom.
“Many children have died in our hospital, because when a child becomes malnourished, they are not treated by just giving them food. They need medicine, antibiotics, minerals… We don’t have all of that,” he added.
Some of the required aid and medical materials have arrived at the hospital, but they are insufficient and do not meet the growing needs.
Dr Kiberom says two trucks carrying medical supplies from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were the first aid to reach Mekele.
He adds, with a sigh, “The amount of medicine we received was sufficient for only half of our patients, and it only lasted for one day.”
And every day that goes by that no help arrives at the hospital, more patients die.
says Dr. Kipprom : “For cancer patients, for example, the situation is very grim. There was no chemotherapy in the entire Tigray region.”
“Every day, every week, every month, their stage of cancer is getting worse,” he says. “If a stage of cancer was previously treatable, it is now untreatable. For patients who are in really bad shape, every day, every hour counts.” “.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that the Ethiopian government and aid agencies sent more than 1,600 trucks to Tigray carrying food, medical supplies and tents between mid-November and the first week of December.
The International Committee of the Red Cross says it has sent at least 38 trucks to Mekele since mid-November and is in the process of sending more aid.
“Efforts are being made by all humanitarian actors, but they are insufficient compared to the scale of the need,” said Jude Fuhnwe, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Ethiopia.
Indeed, the scale of these needs is enormous.
The United Nations World Food Program has set a goal of delivering emergency food aid to 2.1 million people in the Tigray region every six weeks, and says it is on track.
“A lot has improved since the peace agreement,” says Claude Jebedar, WFP Representative and Country Director for Ethiopia.
“After two years of conflict, we don’t expect a return to normal overnight.”
Mekele is still under the control of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, although government forces control areas around the Shire in the north of the region.
In another department of Ayder Hospital, Vekadu Gamber, a retired teacher, says he has not been able to get medication for diabetes for the past three months.
“When we come here for treatment, we find that most of the equipment is not working. We are trying (to find medicine) everywhere, but there is nothing because of the blockade,” he added.
“Many people die because of this. We hoped after signing the peace agreement that we would get medicine, but nothing has arrived yet,” says Fikadu.
The hospital suffers from an acute shortage of most basic materials, which constitutes a huge burden on doctors.
“We don’t have enough gloves for surgeries,” says Dr. Kipprom. “We have to wash and reuse them three times.”
“We can’t do any blood transfusion because we don’t have blood bags. So, when we know a patient will need a blood transfusion, we don’t do the operation.”
Another Ayder hospital doctor, who asked not to be identified, says they are receiving minimal medical supplies.
“The hospital is full of wounded soldiers and sick civilians, most of whom are not receiving treatment,” the doctor explains.
Several people in the hospital say the only positive thing the Ethiopian government has done is restore electricity to Mekele.
The hospital administration said in a recent tweet that HIV medicines and test kits had begun to arrive.
However, these improvements are not enough to change the situation, especially for the most vulnerable groups, primarily children, who have paid the highest price for the disastrous conditions in the region as a result of the conflict and the blockade.
“I want a better future for her, that’s all I can think of,” says Hewitt, Magda’s mother, as she looks down on her daughter.