On November 4, 2020, the war began in Tigray. Then-Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed shut down the network in the region.
All communication disappeared. It was no longer possible to call in or out. Small drops of news were still arriving. About mass murder, rape as a weapon and destruction of food.
In April the first news came that people were starving. A growing famine, experts warned. In July, the UN said it had taken Tigray seriously.
An ongoing crash makes it impossible to know how bad the situation is. Journalists and humanitarian workers are denied entry.
Aftenposten has received unique documentation showing what the UN calls the worst famine disaster of the decade.
Doctors pass out while operating
Usually the surgeon Sinatayehu (33) operates three times a day. When it is the second turn, it has become common for at least one of his colleagues to pass out in the operating room.
Not because there are too many patients. Not because the atrocities are so great. But because the doctors have not eaten.
– You should leave at least one meal a day so that you can save what you have for later, says Sinatayehu on a satellite phone from Ayder Hospital in Mekele.
It is the capital of the Ethiopian state of Tigray. 90 percent of the 7 million people in the region have lived with food shortages for several months.
In July, the UN announced that the situation was drastically deteriorating. At least 400,000 people had crossed the threshold of famine. There is more than the rest of the world put together. And the situation worsens with each passing day.
At Mekele Hospital, time is running out. Sinatayehu has taken pictures of the hospital for Aftenposten. They clearly show catastrophic conditions.
See more photos of the hospital below in the case.
Civil war locked up
Hunger is not a foreign word in Ethiopia. The famine of the 1980s killed more than a million people in two years. During the historic Live Aid concert in 1985, Freddie Mercury, Madonna and Mick Jagger sang out loud to fix the problem. It didn’t happen overnight, but over the next several decades, Ethiopia’s 107 million people rebuilt the country.
Democracy found a place in politics. The economy became one of the largest on the continent.
So why does history seem to repeat itself?
It all started when the war broke out in Tigray in November 2020. On one side is the Ethiopian government. On the other, there is the Tigray Liberation Army (TPLF).
The two have been locked in a power struggle for years. The TPLF had control over Ethiopia’s military and intelligence forces until 2018. Then-Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power with promises of a democratic future.
For a long time it seemed to be successful. The same year he became prime minister, he called for peace with neighboring Eritrea, with which Ethiopia has been at war for 20 years. The Atonement awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize the following year.
TPLF would not cooperate with the Abiy government. Rather, the party ruled Tigray as a state within a state. In November 2020, the TPLF attacked a government-controlled military base. Subsequently, Abiy forces invaded the province with the support of Eritrea.
They are accused of deliberately destroying crops in the Tigray. In April, the first reports came in that people were starving.
This summer, the situation reached critical levels at the Mekele hospital.
Live off fermented pancakes
– The hospital has already collapsed, explains Dr. Sinatayehu.
Two months ago, the hospital ran out of money to buy goods. Then they had to find new ways to feed the patients. The solution was rations from the closed universities of Tigray.
So far, he has provided three meals a day. But always the same traditional food, injera. A kind of pancake fermented with sauce.
Several of the hospitalized patients are now malnourished. For newly operated patients, it is essential.
– No matter what we do, his wounds do not heal. They get infected. Finally, you see the patients dying. In the past, these were patients you took for granted. Their operations were simple, it was obvious that they would survive, explains Sinatayehu.
– Now we are condemned to fail in everything we do.
Still, the people of Mekele are lucky. In the villages the situation is much worse.
In August, rural residents survived by eating green leaves for days, he writes AP.
Just a month earlier, people expected the situation to improve.
The surrounding cities succumb to hunger. Now “Jemal” fears that hunger will reach the family.
Food trailers disappear
In July, the war reached a turning point. Later, the TPLF forces regained control of Tigray. Government forces were forced to flee. Then Abiy put on the table a proposal for a ceasefire.
Instead, the TPLF moved to the neighboring regions of Amhara and Afar, where fierce fighting is taking place. The latter is the only open country road into Tigray for aid organizations now.
The continuous coups make it difficult to get help, according to the UN. So do the restrictions of the Abiy board.
Although government forces were expelled into exile, they give the green light from abroad to the entry of aid convoys. Several aid organizations have had their work suspended in the region. Among other things, the Norwegian NRC.
In practice, this has led to a blockade of Tigray.
At least 100 trucks with food and vital equipment must enter the region every day to meet demand, according to the UN. By September 8, 445 had arrived since July; it should have been around 7000.
But it is not enough that they enter. They also have to get out. Few have. Only 38 trucks have returned since July. This prevents new aid from coming in.
So where do the trucks go?
No one knows for sure. Rumor has it that TPLF will take them for its own use, writes Al Jazeera. At the same time, there are reports that the trailer drivers, who are often from Tigray, are harassed by Abiy government forces at border crossings.
Whatever the cause, the blockade creates more problems than food shortages at Mekele hospital.
Lack of medical equipment
Medicines. Antibac. Surgical gloves. The list of teams that will soon be empty is long.
Sinatayehu and his colleagues can only wear one protective glove each when operating.
The blockade has prompted the United States to announce new sanctions. The first arrived in June. The United States then imposed visa restrictions on members of the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments and the TPLF. The motive was accusations of serious human rights violations by all parties involved in the war.
On September 17, President Joe Biden signed a executive order. It allows to intensify the sanctions.
What is the goal of the United States with that? Getting more assistance at the Tigray.
Abiy has not received her well.
Great political game
He responded in an open letter to Biden. There he described the TPLF as a terrorist organization. We must wage our own “war on terror” as “did your predecessors,” he continued.
However, he is not completely alone. In late August, he met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. They signed a military financial agreement. Its content is not public knowledge.
But it could be a tactical way for Turkey to support the government’s war in Tigray, while the great power positions itself on the African continent, he writes. Middle East Monitor.
Against the background of the great political game, time ticks by for several dozen children in the Mekele hospital.
Three weeks left
There, a separate department treats severely malnourished children.
In the rest of the region, there may be hundreds of thousands of children who need the same help.
At the hospital, they now have 22 children admitted. The oldest is 10 years old, the youngest is one month old. The hospital has enough milk to feed them for three weeks. Even less if they receive more patients.
– What happens when you run out?
– The children will die. And more children will face the same fate, concludes Sinatayehu.