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News: Tragedy strikes Abiy Addi IDP Camp as hunger claims hundreds of lives in Tigray, thousands remain in peril

Internally displaced civilians living in the Abiy Addi IDP camp lack basic medications in addition to access to essential humanitarian aid (Photo: Addis Standard Source)

By Mihret G/kristos @MercyG_kirstos

Addis Abeba – Hunger-related complications have tragically led to the deaths of at least 27 individuals, including children, at the Abiy Addi internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in central Tigray. With thousands of people seeking refuge within its boundaries, the camp now stands as a stark reminder of the looming danger and dire circumstances that continue to plague the population in Tigray.

“The death rate has been rising sharply since last November,” Tadesse Yilma, coordinator at the camp, told Addis Standard.

According to Tadesse, among the 27 deaths recorded at Abiy Addi camp since November last year, 11 were children. Two of them belong to Haftu Hagos and his wife, residents housed at the camp. Tragically, Haftu’s wife did not receive adequate food and nutrition during her pregnancy while sheltered at Abiy Addi, resulting in the devastating loss of their newborn twin babies shortly after birth. “This broke our hearts,” said Haftu.

Alongside the scarcity of essential humanitarian aid, the shortage of vital medications has left these vulnerable people in an immensely critical state according to Mahder Haileselassie, head of the Abiy Addi town Social Affairs office. Mahder sheds light on the dire conditions faced by displaced individuals seeking shelter within the confines of schools and colleges. “People are literally dying.”

On Tuesday AP reported that 728 hunger-related deaths have been recorded in three of the region’s seven zones since food aid was suspended in March. Tigray’s Disaster Risk Management Commission leader, Gebrehiwot Gebregziaher said the data is based on information gathered by district officials.

Abiy Addi IDP camp has provided refuge to approximately 80,000 civilians forcibly displaced amid a two-year conflict that devastated northern Ethiopia, including the Tigray region. However, following a peace agreement between the Ethiopian government and the TPLF in November of last year, the number of IDPs in Abiy Addi has decreased to 54,000 with some displaced individuals choosing to relocate to other cities in search of a better future after the peace deal, whereas others compelled to leave due to insufficient access to crucial humanitarian aid.

Unfortunately, the conditions did not improve for those who decided to remain. Semaet Gebremichael, a 60-year-old woman who fled her home in Tsegede, Western Tigray, along with her four children, shared the unbearable conditions they face in the camp. “People are experiencing starvation right here in this camp,” she lamented, highlighting the grim reality of their dire situation.

Adding to the challenges, Semaet, who is also grappling with diabetes, requires regular medication and treatment to manage her condition. Unfortunately, in Abiy Addi, access to these essential medical resources remains tragically out of reach. With a heavy sigh, she recalls, “Since I am unable to afford the medicine myself, I have been unable to obtain the life-saving treatment I desperately need.”

However, this kind of experience pales in comparison to the immense pain and anguish that children are currently enduring. Three weeks ago, Mengsh Bahreslassie, nutrition coordinator at Tigray Health Bureau, told Addis Standard that at least 2,850 children have lost their lives to acute malnutrition in Tigray since the onset of the conflict in November 2020. This staggering figure, however, excludes the western and certain parts of southern Tigray.

Close to 2,850 children have lost their lives to acute malnutrition in Tigray since the onset of the conflict in November 2020 (Photo: UNICEF)

Despite widespread reports of hunger and hunger-related deaths in Tigray, major humanitarian partners, including USAID and WFP, have suspended their aid operations in the region since May 2023. This decision was made in response to alarming reports of alleged “food diversion and aid theft.” These organizations demanded a thorough investigation before resuming their activities.

Recognizing the severity of the situation, the Tigray Region Interim Administration took action a month ago by establishing a committee dedicated to investigating the allegations of aid theft. Similarly, the federal government has recently taken comparable measures to address this issue. Just two days ago, Selamawit Kassa, the state minister for Government Communication Service, informed journalists that a joint technical committee had already been formed to investigate the claims of food aid misappropriation.

Last week, officials from the WFP expressed their intention to resume some food aid distribution in Ethiopia as early as next month. However, they stressed the need for stricter control over the selection of beneficiaries. “We would like to have much more direct involvement ourselves,” Valerie Guarnieri, WFP assistant executive director for program and policy development, told Reuters. AS

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