Ethiopia’s War Stokes Humanitarian and Virus Disaster

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The war in Ethiopia’s northern region has been going on for more than a month now. The region is home to over 5 million people caught in the conflict between Ethiopia’s federal forces and Tigrayan soldiers. Due to this, numerous fighters from both sides and innocent Tigrayan residents have ended up dead.

Tens of thousands of other locals chose to flee the conflict and seek safer shelter elsewhere. Most of these locals decided to cross over into neighboring Sudan to escape the fighting. More than 45,000 refugees from Tigray are now living in remote parts of Sudan. They have taken shelters in crowded camps in Sudan, where the food and water are running out fast.

Coronavirus Threat

But while the growing lack of food and drinking water is a concern, humanitarians assisting refugees arriving in Sudan say an even more significant threat for them is the coronavirus. The war in Ethiopia has displaced over 1 million people. With most of these individuals heading to Sudan’s refugee camp, it has strained local humanitarian services to the breaking point. Most of those arriving in Sudan are already sharing shelter in the crowded camp in Sudan. At these camps, the different aid agencies have no coronavirus testing or treatment capabilities. These agencies fear that the camp might spark Africa’s worst coronavirus outbreak in a country where numbers are rising rapidly.

At the Umm Rakouba camp in Sudan, few refugees arriving seem to see the coronavirus pandemic as their first concern. Most of these people have witnessed deadly attacks and now live in fear for family members left behind. With so many people fleeing Ethiopia, buses transporting the refugees into Sudan are crammed with over 60 people onto them. When the refugees reach the camp, they meet a situation where they have to share shelters and cram together in lines for food, cash, and registration with different aid agencies.

Few of these people arrive wearing face masks, and the humanitarian workers have very few of the masks for distribution. Because of the drastic conditions in the refugee camps, most people forget the coronavirus risks as they face thirst, hunger, and heat. Meanwhile, Sudan’s government has raised concerns over the growing virus cases in the country. The concerns have raised fears that the country might enforce a lockdown. If a lockdown occurs, it could stop further refugees from crossing into Sudan.

Victory in the War in Tigray

Last week Ethiopia’s prime minister declared victory in the Tigray region. But the fighting has continued between the federal and regional forces in the area. The prime minister allowed aid agencies to access Tigray areas under the federal government’s control. Most of the agencies involved visited health centers in Tigray and the neighboring Amhara regions.

According to humanitarian officials, the crisis in the Tigray region was critical. The medical supplies were running low, including those needed to fight the coronavirus pandemic. The largest hospital in Nothern Ethiopia in the Tigray capital of Mekele did not have painkillers, gloves, sutures, anticoagulants, and even antibiotics. When fighting began, Tigrayan fighters blocked humanitarian aid to the Tigray region, from medical supplies to food. As the fighting continues, this is causing distress to health workers and humanitarians as access to other conflict regions is restricted.

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