Ethiopia’s Tigray war: Walking three days to find a hospital

People’s lives in Ethiopia’s rocky and mountainous region of Tigray are in tatters as they deal with famine in the ruins of a war zone.

Government troops, backed by those from neighbouring Eritrea, have been involved in battle with the region’s now-ousted ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), since November, precipitating a humanitarian crisis.

The BBC’s Kalkidan Yibeltal has visited the region, where access can be difficult.

Short presentational grey line

Tigray’s capital, Mekelle, has a semblance of calm.

Many businesses and offices are open. Compared to previous months there is more movement of people and less visibility of soldiers.

But the appearance of normality is deceptive.

Mekelle’s main hospital, Ayder, is overcrowded with patients who had come from villages and towns that had been devastated by the conflicted

Among them is 13-year-old Getish Solomon, a heart patient whose condition had deteriorated since the start of the conflict more than eight months ago.

Living with his parents and five siblings in the town of Hagere Selam, Getish was forced to travel about 50km (31 miles) to Mekelle to get treatment because their local health centre had been damaged in the fighting.

“We had hospitals and health centres and a good economy. If we needed something, we used to rush to them,” the 13-year-old’s father, Solomon Teferi, says.

As Getish requires treatment regularly, the journey to get him to a medical facility is no always easy.

“[On one occasion] the roads were closed so we had to walk for three days. That affected him a lot,” Mr Solomon adds.

Clinic turned into military camp

I visited Aleasa Health Centre in a village near Hagere Selam. The clinic is still not operating, with residents saying that soldiers had, at one point, used it as their camp.

Now aid workers are based there, with hundreds of people – mostly women and children – gathering to collect food.

Many of them abandoned their homes at the height of the conflict, and hid in nearby mountains. About 1.7 million people have been displaced in Tigray since the conflict began.

Both locals and humanitarian workers say food is scarce – and the aid being distributed is not enough.

Last week, UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said there was now famine in Tigray – a view he reiterated at a closed session of the UN Security Council earlier this week.


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