Doctors Without Borders warn of food crisis in southern Ethiopia

Displaced Gedeo women in West Guji. Violence between Ethiopia’s largest minority, the Oromo, and the Gedeo people has plagued the southern Gedeo and West Guji zones since April 2018. (AFP)
Updated 18 April 2019

Doctors Without Borders warn of food crisis in southern Ethiopia

  • MSF has treated more than 200 children in the past two weeks for serious malnutrition in Gedeo
  • MSF field coordinator Markus Boening said some parents were arriving at their clinics with children just clinging to life

ADDIS ABABA: Doctors Without Borders (MSF) warned Thursday that severe malnutrition was gripping parts of southern Ethiopia where ethnic violence has driven nearly a million people from their homes into squalid camps.
MSF has treated more than 200 children in the past two weeks for serious malnutrition in Gedeo, where fresh violence in recent weeks between ethnic minorites has forced families to flee.
MSF field coordinator Markus Boening said some parents were arriving at their clinics with children just clinging to life, suffering from the worst form of malnutrition.
“Many of them arrive much, much too late... we lost some children because of that,” he told AFP, without providing an overall figure for those who have died.
Violence between Ethiopia’s largest minority, the Oromo, and the Gedeo people has plagued the southern Gedeo and West Guji zones since April 2018, shortly after the inauguration of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
The fighting died down by the end of the year and some of the close to one million people displaced by the conflict began returning to their homes in Gedeo and West Guji, key coffee growing areas.
But an outbreak of fresh violence in March saw families again on the march, many leaving behind their only source of income as they crowded into fetid displacement camps.
“The situation in the camps is pretty dire, from my point of view, in terms of shelter, in terms of water and sanitation,” Boening said.
“It can become quite catastrophic.”
Elected by Ethiopia’s ruling party after more than two years of anti-government unrest, Abiy has announced popular reforms such as ending hostilities with neighboring Eritrea and welcoming banned groups back into the country.
But his first year in office was marred by violence between the Oromo and the Gedeo — among other ethnicities — as 1.8 million people fled their homes in 2018, the highest displacement rate on the planet.
Boening warned that those eking out survival in camps in Ethiopia’s south would encounter fresh hardship when the rainy season began in coming weeks.
“For the betterment of the situation, there’s definitely more help needed,” he said.


Family of detained UK consulate worker rejects ‘made-up’ report

Updated 7 min 26 sec ago

Family of detained UK consulate worker rejects ‘made-up’ report

  • Simon Cheng disappeared after visiting Shenzhen on August 8
  • Beijing confirmed they detained an employee of a British consulate

BEIJING: The family of a staffer at the UK consulate in Hong Kong have rejected a “made-up” report by Chinese state media that he was detained in the mainland for visiting prostitutes.
Simon Cheng disappeared after visiting the city of Shenzhen from the semi-autonomous city on August 8, and the Foreign Office in London said both British officials and relatives have been unable to speak to him since.
The Global Times, a tabloid state-run newspaper, said he had been detained for “soliciting prostitutes,” citing police in Shenzhen, which lies on the China-Hong Kong border.
But a Facebook page run by Cheng’s family dismissed the report.
“This is a made-up crime of soliciting prostitution, everyone should see it’s a joke,” the comment said.
Beijing confirmed Wednesday an employee of the British consulate had been “placed in administrative detention for 15 days as punishment” by police in Shenzhen for breaking a public security law.
“Let me clarify, this employee is a Hong Kong citizen, he’s not a UK citizen, which is also saying he’s a Chinese person,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.
According to the Global Times, Cheng could be detained for up to 15 days and fined up to 5,000 yuan ($700) for the alleged crime.
In an editorial on Friday, the tabloid said it was at Cheng’s request that police did not contact his family and that “thanks to the British foreign ministry and media, which have been hyping it, the case is now fully exposed.”
Cheng was in the process of returning via high-speed train on August 8 and sent messages to his girlfriend as he was about to go through customs.
He has not been seen or heard from since.
The family said it had hired a lawyer in Shenzhen who had been unable to find or speak to the detained consulate employee.
Police in Shenzhen did not reply to AFP’s request for comment.
A spokesperson for the British Foreign Office said in a statement Thursday that it was continuing “to urgently seek further information about Simon’s case.”
The incident comes as relations between Britain and China have become strained over what Beijing calls London’s “interference” in pro-democracy protests that have wracked Hong Kong for three months.
China promised to respect the freedoms in the semi-autonomous territory after its handover from Britain in 1997 — including freedom of speech, unfettered access to the Internet and an independent judiciary — but protesters say these rights are being eroded.
Chinese authorities have increased their inspections at the border since the protests, including checking the phones and devices of some passengers for photos of the demonstrations.
Beijing has faced criticism in the past for detaining foreign nationals amid ongoing diplomatic spats, and for accusing dissidents or activists of sex crimes.