A humanitarian disaster stares Ethiopia’s Tigray in the face

Ethiopian refugees who fled intense fighting in their homeland of Tigray, wait for their ration of food in the border reception centre of Hamdiyet, in the eastern Sudanese state of Kasala, on November 14, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
Ethiopian refugees who fled intense fighting in their homeland of Tigray, wait for their ration of food in the border reception centre of Hamdiyet, in the eastern Sudanese state of Kasala, on November 14, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
Short Url
Updated 25 February 2021

A humanitarian disaster stares Ethiopia’s Tigray in the face

Ethiopian refugees who fled intense fighting in their homeland of Tigray, wait for their ration of food in the border reception centre of Hamdiyet, in the eastern Sudanese state of Kasala, on November 14, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Hunger stalks region of six million people as federal government’s offensive against rebels enters its fourth month
  • Over a million people could starve if aid is not allowed into conflict zone, says Famine Early Warning Systems Network

DUBAI: With their few hurriedly packed belongings wrapped tightly in fabric, entire families, many with young children, are traversing vast distances on foot these days to escape fighting in northern Ethiopia between federal armed forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

Since the conflict erupted three months ago, nearly two million Ethiopians have been forced to flee the country’s Tigray region, many arriving in neighboring Sudan with axe and knife wounds, others with broken bones and severe mental trauma.

Those who have chosen to stay behind — the vast majority of Tigray’s six million inhabitants — now face shortages of food, medicine and drinking water. Ethiopia is facing accusations of blocking aid and the specter of mass hunger haunts the region.

Most concerning of all is the imminent risk of mass hunger, a phenomenon Ethiopians are tragically familiar with. The Great Famine that afflicted the country between 1888 and 1892 killed roughly one-third of its population. Another in 1983-85 left 1.2 million dead.

According to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, presided over by the US government, parts of central and eastern Tigray are just a step away from famine, with fears more than a million could die of starvation if aid is not allowed in soon.

In a recent statement, a trio of Tigray opposition parties said that at least 50,000 civilians had been killed in the conflict since November. Aid agencies and journalists have not been permitted access to the region to verify the death toll.

Ethiopian authorities insist aid is being delivered and that nearly 1.5 million people have been reached. But experts on the Horn of Africa believe one of the worst humanitarian disasters in modern history is unfolding in the conflict zone.

“If the world averts its eyes, it is a bystander to one of the most grievous mass atrocities of our era,” Alex de Waal, executive director of the World Peace Foundation and a research professor at The Fletcher School at Tufts University, told Arab News.

“It will be an unforgivable ethical stain. It is also a matter of interest. Do the countries of the Arabian Peninsula want to see another Yemen-like calamity on the southern shores of the Red Sea — a little further away, but even bigger?”




Abiy Ahmed, Chairman of Oromo Peoples' Democratic Organization (OPDO) looks on in Addis Ababa. Spearhead in the fight against the Derg dictatorship, then a real power in Ethiopia for a long time, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), which the Ethiopian army fights in its northern stronghold of Tigray, has shaped recent history of the country. (AFP/File Photo)

The TPLF, which had dominated Ethiopian politics after the fall of the military dictatorship in 1991 until Abiy’s election victory in 2018, had been in coalition with the current government until the two sides fell out in 2019.

In direct defiance of the federal government’s decision to postpone all votes until the COVID-19 pandemic was under control, Tigray authorities pressed ahead with their own parliamentary election in September. Federal authorities said the vote was illegal.

Tensions escalated further in November when Abiy accused the TPLF of seizing a military base in the regional capital Mekelle. His government responded by declaring a state of emergency, cutting off electricity, internet and telephone services, and designating the TPLF as a terrorist organization.

Although Abiy claimed victory when federal troops entered Mekelle on Nov. 28, the bloodshed has continued as Tigrayan leaders have vowed to fight on.

“The federal government called the conflict a law enforcement operation (intended) to remove from office the Tigray region’s rogue executive,” William Davison, International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Ethiopia, told Arab News.

“The reality was that Tigray’s defenses were overwhelmed by the full power of the Ethiopian federal military and allied forces.”

UN REPORT HIGHLIGHTS

* Reports from aid workers on the ground indicate rise in acute malnutrition across Tigray region.

* Only 1% of the nearly 920 nutrition treatment facilities are reachable.

* Aid response is drastically inadequate, with little access to rural population off the main roads.

* Some aid workers have to negotiate access with armed actors, even Eritrean ones.

As the campaign got underway, the Ethiopian government presented the TPLF as a treasonous entity that had attacked the military and violated the constitutional order, saying that it had no choice but to act.

It also moved against those who questioned whether the intervention would be as quick and painless as claimed, such as Davison, who was deported on November 20.




Ethiopian refugees who fled intense fighting in their homeland of Tigray, gather in the border reception centre of Hamdiyet, in the eastern Sudanese state of Kasala, on November 14, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

Abiy, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for restoring relations with Ethiopia's long-time foe Eritrea, is now being accused by some of war crimes in Tigray.

Seyoum Mesfin, a former Ethiopian foreign minister, peacemaker and an elder statesman of Africa, was among three TPLF leaders killed by the military in early January in a move that sparked an international outcry.

Pramila Patten, the UN envoy on sexual violence in conflict, has said there are “disturbing reports of individuals allegedly forced to rape members of their own family, under threats of imminent violence.”

Recently, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission said 108 cases of rape had been reported over the last two months in the whole of Tigray. It admitted that “local structures such as police and health facilities where victims of sexual violence would normally turn to report such crimes are no longer in place.”




A medic disinfects his tools inside a medical facility for Ethiopian refugee who fled fighting in Tigray province at the Um Raquba camp in Sudan's eastern Gedaref province, on November 21, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

All this amounts to a sharp reversal of fortune for a country that just months ago was being feted as Africa’s fastest growing economy. Now, Ethiopian journalists and human-rights activists are afraid to speak out, many of them avoiding the border areas and letting military atrocities go unreported.

“We’ve been on our toes for months now. You need to be very careful with your comments,” one Addis Ababa-based political analyst, who did not wish to be identified, told Arab News.

“Human-rights abuses are being committed on all sides: the Amhara militias (one of the two largest ethnic groups in Ethiopia), the federal troops themselves and the Eritreans too.

“The humanitarian aspect of the conflict is frightening and especially the lack of indication from the government’s side in providing aid. They say they will, publicly. But large sections of Tigray are still inaccessible. It’s very difficult to say how long they intend to keep it this way, which is of great concern.”




A member of the Amhara Special Forces holds his gun while another washes his face in Humera, Ethiopia, on November 22, 2020. Prime Minister Ahmed, last year's Nobel Peace Prize winner, announced military operations in Tigray on November 4, 2020, saying they came in response to attacks on federal army camps by the party, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF). (AFP/File Photo)

Eritrean soldiers have compounded the problem by reportedly attacking the TPLF on behalf of Abiy’s government, prompting calls from Joe Biden’s administration for their immediate withdrawal. (Both Asmara and Addis Ababa deny that Eritrean forces are present in Tigray.)

Reports say many of the estimated 100,000 Eritrean refugees residing in the region are at risk of getting caught in the crossfire or being forcibly returned. Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, has said he is “deeply alarmed by reports of refugees being killed, abducted and forcibly returned to Eritrea that would constitute a major violation of international law.”

De Waal of the World Peace Foundation says if the war causes a humanitarian catastrophe and the economic collapse of Ethiopia, there is no doubt that the consequences will be felt far and wide.

“The human and economic price will be paid by the people of the Horn of Africa, but those people will also start moving en masse towards Europe, and the humanitarian cum economic bailout bill will be presented to Europe and the US,” he told Arab News.

“At a time of austerity and reduced aid budgets, this presents aid donors with a terrible dilemma.”

Summing up the Tigray crisis and its potential solution without mincing words, De Waal said: “With every passing day there is more suffering, killing, starvation, deeper bitterness and wider repercussions. Withdraw Eritrean troops. Then start political talks.”

----------------------

Twitter: @rebeccaaproctor


British Muslim ‘grateful’ after baby born during coma

British Muslim ‘grateful’ after baby born during coma
Updated 10 May 2021

British Muslim ‘grateful’ after baby born during coma

British Muslim ‘grateful’ after baby born during coma
  • Marriam Ahmad told she might not wake up after contracting COVID-19
  • She woke up naturally less than a day after giving birth

LONDON: A British Muslim woman said she is “grateful” for safely having a baby after she was placed in a coma due to complications from contracting COVID-19, describing it as a “miracle.”

Marriam Ahmad, 27, from the Welsh city of Newport, went into hospital in January after testing positive for the disease. 

Ahmad, who was 29 weeks pregnant at the time and suffers from asthma, did not expect to be in hospital long, but her condition deteriorated quickly.

“All of a sudden, my oxygen mask was on a much higher setting — I couldn’t hear properly,” she told the BBC. “It was very loud. I had someone washing my face, looking after me. I was very weak.”

As her condition worsened, she was told that her baby would have to be delivered prematurely by Caesarean section. A few hours later, a decision was made to place her in an induced coma.

She was warned that her baby might not be strong enough to survive, and that she might not wake up from the coma.

“It just happened so quickly. It was within about five minutes, they told me ‘you’re going on a ventilator, you’re having a c-section, the baby’s going to come out, you’ll be unconscious, you might not make it. Say goodbye’,” Ahmad said.

“I facetimed my parents and I was crying. It was only like a two-minute phone call — my mum was like ‘what are you talking about?’ I was lonely and I was scared. I didn’t even speak to my husband or my son.”

Her husband, who was looking after their 1-year-old son Yusuf, was called by a doctor to inform him of developments. Their baby was born on Jan. 18, 2021, weighing just 1.17 kg.

Surprisingly, Ahmad woke from her coma naturally less than a day later — but was unable to see her baby due to their conditions and COVID-19 restrictions. For the next few days, nurses brought Ahmad photos and videos of her baby.

“I had no idea what happened. I woke up — obviously I could see there was nothing in my stomach anymore and I was in a lot of pain,” she said, adding that staff members became deeply invested in her baby’s wellbeing. 

Ahmad and her husband decided to name their daughter Khadija. “In the Islamic faith, Khadija is a very strong, independent woman,” she said.

“From my point of view, my Khadija was very strong. She didn’t have issues, for someone being preterm at 29 weeks. They were telling me all the complications. She didn’t have any of those. It was a miracle.”

Khadija spent eight weeks in a neonatal intensive care unit before she was allowed home. After three and a half months, she weighed nearly 4 kg.

“I am just so grateful — that she’s still alive, that I am still alive,” Ahmad said. “Even though it was such a horrific, traumatic experience, I just found myself being even more grateful for the little things. Just spending time with family.”


UK to introduce checks to prevent terrorists hiring vans

UK to introduce checks to prevent terrorists hiring vans
Updated 10 May 2021

UK to introduce checks to prevent terrorists hiring vans

UK to introduce checks to prevent terrorists hiring vans
  • ‘Shocking’ that additional checks took so long, expert tells Arab News
  • Vehicles used to target bystanders in 2017 London attacks

LONDON: Van owners in Britain will be told to carry out routine checks on people hiring their trucks to prevent vehicle-based terror attacks. 

The guidance, brought in by the British Standards Institution, will expect owners to check references and employment history for evidence of criminal links. 

Vehicles will also be expected to be checked regularly to spot any signs of tampering in a way that could be evidence of preparation for criminal or terrorist acts.

European cities endured multiple incidents of terrorists using vehicles to run over innocent bystanders, such as the Westminster Bridge and London Bridge attacks in March and June 2017, respectively.

The previous summer, a truck rammed into crowds celebrating Bastille Day in the French city of Nice. Eighty-six people were killed and hundreds more injured.

Architectural changes have been made to reduce the risk of attacks, with bollards and barriers put in place on bridges and major pedestrian areas in Britain. 

Officials are also aiming to reduce the risk of trucks being used for human trafficking by organized crime gangs.

“This is a long-awaited implementation of recommendations that came out from lessons learned from the Nice attack in 2016, and the London Bridge and Westminster attacks of 2017, recognizing the ease with which terrorists had access to vehicles and the devastating impact they could have. The London Bridge attackers had tried and failed to source a larger vehicle,” former senior British military intelligence officer Philip Ingram told Arab News.

“Daesh and Al-Qaeda channels on encrypted platforms such as Telegram actively encourage the procurement and use of large vehicles for terror purposes,” he added.

“In 2017, Rumiyah, a terror magazine aimed at English-language speakers, talked of the use of vehicles, including trucks, as weapons. It’s shocking that it has taken almost four years to bring in additional checks for hiring larger vehicles.”

Transport Minister Robert Courts said the guidelines will “go a long way to help us in our fight against terrorism and organized crime.”

He added: “Terror attacks and organized crime involving commercial vehicles have had tragic and devastating effects in recent years, with every life lost leaving an unimaginable void in the lives of so many.”


India’s COVID-19 cases dip from peak, calls for shutdown mount

India’s COVID-19 cases dip from peak, calls for shutdown mount
Updated 10 May 2021

India’s COVID-19 cases dip from peak, calls for shutdown mount

India’s COVID-19 cases dip from peak, calls for shutdown mount
  • The 366,161 new infections and 3,754 deaths reported by the health ministry were off a little from recent peaks

NEW DELHI/BENGALURU: Calls grew for India to impose a nationwide lockdown as new coronavirus cases and deaths held close to record highs on Monday, increasing pressure on the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The 366,161 new infections and 3,754 deaths reported by the health ministry were off a little from recent peaks, taking India’s tally to 22.66 million with 246,116 deaths.
As many hospitals grapple with an acute shortage of oxygen and beds while morgues and crematoriums overflow, experts have said India’s actual figures could be far higher than reported.
Sunday’s 1.47 million tests for COVID-19 were this month’s lowest yet, data from the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research showed. The figure compared with a daily average of 1.7 million for the first eight days of May.
The number of positive results from the tests was not immediately clear, however.
Many states have imposed strict lockdowns over the last month while others have placed curbs on movement and shut cinemas, restaurants, pubs and shopping malls.
But pressure is mounting on Modi to announce a nationwide lockdown as he did during the first wave of infections last year.
He is battling criticism for allowing huge gatherings at a religious festival and holding large election rallies during the past two months even as cases surged.
“A failure of governance of epic and historic proportions,” Vipin Narang, a political science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States, said on Twitter.
On Sunday, top White House coronavirus adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said he had advised Indian authorities they needed to shut down.
“You’ve got to shut down,” Fauci said on ABC’s “This Week” television show. “I believe several of the Indian states have already done that, but you need to break the chain of transmission. And one of the ways to do that is to shut down.”
The Indian Medical Association (IMA) has also called for a “complete, well-planned, pre-announced” lockdown.
New Delhi, the capital, entered a fourth week of lockdown, with tougher curbs such as the shutdown of the suburban rail network, while residents scrambled for scarce hospital beds and oxygen supplies.
“This is not the time to be lenient,” Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said on Sunday.
“This phase is so tough, this wave is so dangerous, so many people are dying...the priority at this hour is to save lives,” he said in a televised address.
Late on Sunday, the northern state of Uttarakhand said it would impose curfew from Tuesday until May 18, just days after mass religious gatherings held in the state became virus super spreading events.
Shops selling fruits, vegetables and dairy items will stay open for some hours in the morning, while malls, gyms, theaters, bars and liquor shops are among the enterprises that will be shut, the government said.
Organizers of the popular and lucrative Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament conceded the remaining games will have to be played overseas after they suspended the contest over the virus this month.
Global support, in the form of oxygen cylinders and concentrators, ventilators and other medical gear, has poured in.
On Monday, US company Eli Lilly and Co. said it signed licensing deals with Indian drugmakers, such as Cipla Ltd., Lupin and Sun Pharma to make and sell its arthritis drug baricitinib for the treatment of COVID-19 patients.
India’s drug regulator has approved the drug for restricted emergency use in combination with remdesivir for hospitalized adult sufferers in need of supplemental oxygen.
By Sunday, the world’s largest vaccine-producing nation had fully vaccinated just over 34.3 million, or only 2.5 percent, of its population of about 1.35 billion, government data shows.


Britain set to ease COVID-19 lockdown

Britain set to ease COVID-19 lockdown
Updated 10 May 2021

Britain set to ease COVID-19 lockdown

Britain set to ease COVID-19 lockdown
  • Rapid vaccination programs have allowed a number of wealthy nations to start taking steps toward normality

LONDON: Britain on Monday was set to announce a further easing of its coronavirus lockdown, joining several European nations in gradually reopening their economies, but India remained in the grip of a devastating outbreak.
Rapid vaccination programs have allowed a number of wealthy nations to start taking steps toward normality, but the virus is still surging in many countries and concerns are growing about global vaccine inequality.
The pandemic has claimed close to 3.3 million lives worldwide and Britain has the highest death toll in Europe, but its successful vaccination program has allowed the authorities to start relaxing curbs.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was due to announce the latest measures – effective May 17 – in a press conference on Monday, including the reopening of indoor seating in pubs and restaurants.
When asked during a BBC interview Sunday if hugging would be allowed, senior minister Michael Gove said: “Without prejudice to a broader review of social distancing... friendly contact, intimate contact between friends and family is something that we want to see restored.”
Cinemas are also expected to reopen, as well as some large indoor venues after the government held several pilot events – including a rock concert – to test safety measures.
This follows Spain’s lifting of a state of emergency in place since October, allowing people to travel between regions.
“It’s like New Year’s,” said 28-year-old Oriol Corbella in Barcelona, where the end of the curfew was met with shouts, applause and music.
In Germany, people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 were exempt from many restrictions from Sunday after the government passed new legislation.
And Cyprus on Monday will exit a third partial lockdown with a new coronavirus “safety pass” system to allow people to move freely.


Afghanistan Taliban plan three-day cease-fire for Eid holiday

Afghanistan Taliban plan three-day cease-fire for Eid holiday
Updated 10 May 2021

Afghanistan Taliban plan three-day cease-fire for Eid holiday

Afghanistan Taliban plan three-day cease-fire for Eid holiday
  • The cease-fire would begin on either Wednesday or Thursday
  • The Afghan government has not yet responded to the Taliban announcement

KABUL: Afghanistan’s Taliban Monday announced a three-day cease-fire for the Eid-Al-Fitr holiday this week marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The cease-fire would begin on either Wednesday or Thursday. The Muslim calendar follows lunar cycles and the Eid holiday depends on the sighting of the new moon.
Justs hours after the pending cease-fire was announced, a bus in southern Zabul province struck a roadside mine killing 11 people, said Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Aeian. At least 24 more people on the bus were injured. Improvised explosive devices litter the countryside and have been used extensively by the Taliban.
Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said Taliban fighters have been ordered to stop all offensives, “to provide a peaceful and secure atmosphere to our compatriots … so that they may celebrate this joyous occasion with a greater peace of mind.”
The cease-fire announcement comes amid heightened violence in the country and follows a brutal attack on a girls’ school on Saturday that killed as many 60 people, most of them students between 11-15 years old. The death toll from the three explosions continues to climb.
The Taliban denied any responsibility and condemned the attack, which occurred in the mostly Shiite neighborhood of Dasht-e-Barchi in the west of the capital.
Attacks in the area are most often claimed by the Afghan Islamic State affiliate, but no group yet has claimed the attack on the school.
The cease-fire announcement also comes as the US and NATO are withdrawing the last of their military forces. The final 2,500-3,500 American soldiers and roughly 7,000 allied NATO forces will leave by Sept. 11 at the latest.
The Afghan government has not yet responded to the cease-fire announcement.