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Ethiopia: Tigray starts to receive desperately needed aid

November 15, 2022

The first aid consignments have started to trickle into Tigray. The deliveries come just days after Ethiopia's government and Tigrayan fighters agreed to allow aid into the region.

Men push boxes in a bagge crate with a ICRC plane in the background
The International Committe of the Red Cross delivered medicine during the truceImage: DW

Two trucks packed with medical items, emergency medicines and surgical equipment arrived at Tigray's main hospital in the regional capital, Mekele, on Tuesday afternoon, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). 

More lifesaving aid supplies are packed up and ready to move by truck and plane into the war-torn northern region as soon as possible, the ICRC told DW.

Other international aid organizations are also waiting to complete the security and clearance process. The World Health Organization said on Monday that it hoped to access people in need "in the coming days," according to AFP news agency.

These are the first aid deliveries to arrive in the region since a truce unraveled in August. But even during the five-month ceasefire, aid arrived only in trickles into Tigray, which was plunged into a severe humanitarian crisis following two years of fighting between the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) and pro-government forces, along with a near blockade of the region.

Residents in Tigray face humanitarian catastrophe

Roadmap promises aid can flow

A deal reached on Saturday between top commanders from Tigrayan forces and Ethiopia's government agrees to give "unhindered humanitarian access" to Tigray. It also guarantees the safety of aid workers, as part of a roadmap for implementing a peace pact signed by both sides on November 2 in Pretoria, South Africa.

Before the humanitarian aid deal was reached, the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said it had started delivering federal aid to Tigray. "Aid is flowing like no other times," national security adviser Redwan Hussein tweeted on Friday, adding that 35 trucks of food and three of medicine had arrived in the city of Shire, east of the regional capital Mekele. "Flights are allowed," he added.

The National Disaster Risk Management Commission also announced on Friday that "all" humanitarian corridors were open to the country's three conflict-hit regions of Tigray, Amhara and Afar, according to the state-run Ethiopian News Agency.

The disaster commission told DW on Monday it couldn't comment on the aid delivery process, adding that it would make a general statement about the situation at the end of the week.

Workers carry white sacks of grain from the World Food Programme on their backs
International aid organizations are still waiting for final government approval before they can deliver aid into TigrayImage: Eduardo Soteras/AFP/Getty Images

Hellish hospital situation

Tigray has been suffering from the lack of medicines, medical supplies and health care staff.

Fasika Amdeslasie, a gastrointestinal surgeon at Ayder Referral Hospital, the largest and only operating hospital in Tigray, said on Tuesday morning before the ICRC shipment arrived that the hospital virtually had no medicines..

Ayder hospital has become almost empty, Amdeslasie said in an interview with DW from Mekele, because it has so few resources that it can only treat emergency patients — and even their treatment is "substandard."

"We lack intravenous fluids, antibiotics, anesthesia drugs, oxygen," he said, listing what he lacked for surgery. "We have stopped all elective [non-emergency] surgery, even cancer treatment."

Patients whose kidneys have stopped working and need regular dialysis also won't survive, Amdeslasie said, as the hospital has no supplies to continue their treatment.

Of the 90 dialysis patients registered at the beginning of the war, 65 had already died, he said. The 25 remaining "will die in a few days" unless medical supplies arrive beforehand.

Last month, Ayder hospital sent an open letter calling for urgent diabetes supplies in Tigray. The letter said that "not a single vial of insulin nor oral hypoglycemic medications" was available for the region's 26,700 diabetics.

Tigray also lacks antiretroviral drugs for its 40,000 HIV patients, and no antibiotics for those infected with tuberculosis. In addition, malaria cases have risen 80% compared to a year ago.

"In every aspect, it's hell," Amdeslasie said. "It is just a catastrophe."

A patient lies in a hospital bed under a grey woolen blanket
Ayder hospital is can only treat emergency patients, like this man injured in an air strikeImage: REUTERS

Clinics looted and damaged

According to the World Health Organization, more than half of the region's health facilities are closed. And those that are open can't function normally because of extensive looting and damage, as well as the lack of medical supplies.

In the past months, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who comes from Tigray, has been increasingly vocal about the urgency of getting medical aid and food into the region.

During a press conference held last week before the aid deal was concluded on Saturday, the organization called for massive deliveries of food and medicines, lamenting that aid had not been allowed since the November 2 ceasefire.

"You can imagine that many people are dying from treatable diseases," Tedros said. "Many people are dying from starvation."

Almost one in every three children under 5 in Tigray is malnourished.

ICRC spokesperson for Ethiopia, Jude Fuhnwi, said the organization's immediate priority is to deliver medical items since the organization has to "save lives before anything else."

"We are prioritizing medicines, war-wounded kits, post-rape kits and first aid supplies for ambulance services like antibiotics, anesthetics, surgical drugs and materials, gloves," he said.

A destroyed tank sits in a dusty field
The two-year conflict has devastated the Tigray region, as well as other parts of EthiopiaImage: Tiksa Negeri /REUTERS

Hanna Demisse in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, contributed to this article. It has been updated to reflect recent events.

Edited by: Chrispin Mwakideu

Kate Hairsine Australian-born journalist and senior editor who mainly focuses on Africa.