A race against time for sick patients after Ethiopia’s peace deal | help
D:Doctors and health workers in Tigray are racing against time to keep desperately ill or malnourished patients alive as they await humanitarian aid after a surprise peace deal could end the conflict in the north. Ethiopia.
In the deal signed in South Africa on Wednesday. the federal government pledged to end the blockade of Tigray at the start of the war imposed two years ago, while the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the ruling political movement in the region, agreed to disarm its forces.
The deal came as a surprise to many observers who had expected a more limited ceasefire. Humanitarian organizations that have been unable to get any aid to Tigray ever since the last truce collapsed in late Augustgreeted the news with caution.
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) regional spokeswoman Alyona Sinenko said she hoped the organization would be able to resume aid deliveries “as soon as possible”.
Earlier this year, after a previous cease-fire allowed small amounts of aid to reach Tigray, the ICRC airlifted supplies such as insulin, dialysis equipment and surgical gloves. help workers hope the latest agreement could lead to the resumption of ground convoys that could transport much larger amounts of aid.
“What happens on the ground, we’ll probably have to wait and see,” he said. “But we need more roads open, we need safe access for humanitarian organizations and we just need people [in Tigray] in order to get some relief from it and resume normal life.”
Since the beginning of the war, the blockade of Tigray by the federal authorities has cut off almost all communications and halted banking and other commercial services. Health care for Tigray’s 6 million residents has been reduced to a bare minimum because facilities were closed and medicine was in short supply. Food, fuel and electricity were scarce.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the conflict as having “a devastating impact on civilians in what is already a dire humanitarian situation”.
Within hours of news of the deal, UN staff began talking to Ethiopian officials about reopening roads that had been closed for months.
“We are in contact with the Ethiopian government and others to resume the movement of aid convoys and personnel… Our humanitarian partners tell us that critical supplies, including food, nutritional products and medicine, are running low in Tigray,” the UN office said. for coordination of humanitarian issues said in the statement.
The World Food Program has said it is ready to immediately increase the delivery of humanitarian aid to the affected population of northern Ethiopia, where more than 13 million people are at risk of starvation.
A senior doctor at one of Tigray’s few operating medical facilities said he wanted the deal to be implemented “as soon as possible on the ground” so that patients’ lives could be saved.
The hospital, the largest health facility in the region, had to stop dialysis treatment for patients with severe kidney disease due to a lack of supplies.
“We hope that even with the first humanitarian flight, we will get such life-saving drugs to save several lives of kidney failure survivors who have been struggling and struggling with the lack of medicine,” the doctor told the Guardian by phone. .
“So we are desperately waiting for those supplies to arrive. Now that the peace talks have materialized on paper, we want to see it happen on the ground as soon as possible.”
The doctor, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals, said the hospital had been forced to stop dialysis treatment for 25 patients who were previously stable but were now “on the brink of death” because of a lack of supplies since the fighting resumed in August.
“We have completely stopped the hemodialysis service for this group of patients. We are helpless now… and all this is due to the prolonged war and siege, no humanitarian aid or any supply of medicine since August,” he said.
More than 100 patients have died from kidney problems that are normally treated since the de facto blockade began in July 2021, and the death rate for kidney patients has doubled from 25% before the war to 53%.
The conflict between the TPLF and Ethiopian central government forces began in November 2020, when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into Tigray, accusing local forces of attacking government military bases.
A ceasefire agreed earlier this year collapsed in August. leading to bloody battles in which thousands died and many others displaced.
The ceasefire signed on Wednesday after just a week of formal peace talks in Pretoria reflected the heavy pressure on both sides. Both made concessions to reach a ceasefire, though the final deal appears to fulfill most of Ethiopia’s federal government’s hopes and offer little to the TPLF.
Tigray forces agreed to a disarmament plan they had previously rejected and backed away from their claim to be a legitimately elected regional government, one of the main justifications for the conflict, as the federal government did not recognize the recent regional elections held in Tigray. legal
“The conditions clearly reflect the very heavy pressure the Tigranians were under… [and] were proposed in the wake of a very brutal but successful military offensive. It was a senseless war from the start, with massive strategic miscalculations on both sides,” says Alan Boswell, Horn. Africa Director of the International Crisis Group.
A serious potential obstacle to lasting peace is the neighbor Eritreawhich sent troops to Tigray to fight alongside Ethiopian federal forces, and the presence of pro-government militias from neighboring regions such as the Amhara.
Eritrea’s authoritarian government has not taken part in the talks and has not said whether it will withdraw its troops and abide by the ceasefire agreement.
“There is no reason for aid supplies to be delayed for unimpeded access… If this does not happen, or the Eritreans do not withdraw, the Tigranes can use these as pretexts to delay their own commitments. On the other hand, Addis may also withdraw if Tigray refuses to disarm as soon as agreed,” Boswell said.
There are also concerns about impunity for human rights abusers. Atrocities on all sides, including extrajudicial killings, rape, looting and ethnic cleansing, have been widely documented by UN bodies, Ethiopia’s state-appointed human rights commission, independent aid groups and the media. including the Guardian. All parties have denied the allegations. The deal calls for a “transitional justice policy framework to ensure accountability, truth, reconciliation and healing,” but gives little indication of how this might work in practice.
“The cessation of hostilities in northern Ethiopia after nearly two years of bloodshed is a crucial moment in ending atrocities and the immense suffering of millions of civilians,” said Karine Kaneza Nantulya, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “International oversight will be key to ensuring that belligerents who have committed widespread abuses do not prolong the harm inflicted on civilians.”
Mulya Mwanyananda, Amnesty International’s director for eastern and southern Africa, said the agreement “did not offer a clear road map on how to ensure accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and ignores the impunity that prevails in the country, which can lead to repeated violations.” “.
The actual death toll from the conflict is unknown, but may approach levels that make the conflict one of the world’s deadliest. With no access to independent journalists and a limited presence of international humanitarians, reliable data is scarce.
Researchers at Ghent University have estimated that several hundred thousand people in Tigray may have died since the conflict broke out, including those who died from lack of medical care and weakened by widespread malnutrition.
More have been killed in neighboring regions, and overall the war in northern Ethiopia will rank among the deadliest in decades.
The Ethiopian government accuses the TPLF, which played a leading role in the country’s ruling coalition until Abiy came to power in 2018, of trying to reassert Tigran’s dominance across the country. Tigrayan leaders accuse Abiy of leading a repressive government and discrimination. Both deny the other’s accusations.
The war has further destabilized the volatile Horn of Africa region and complicated Ethiopia’s diplomatic relations with Western allies, which have called for a ceasefire.
On Friday, the British government called on all parties in Ethiopia to take steps to implement the agreement. “Most importantly, humanitarian aid must be delivered immediately to all those in conflict-affected areas,” the statement said.
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