Many of the hospitals in Ethiopia’s conflict-hit Tigray region have been under struck by artillery during the two months of fighting, according to the first humanitarian assessment of the devastation.

Ethiopians who fled the ongoing fighting in Tigray region gather to receive relief aid at the Um-Rakoba camp on the Sudan-Ethiopia border, in Kassala state, Sudan December 17, 2020.
Ethiopians who fled the ongoing fighting in Tigray region gather to receive relief aid at the Um-Rakoba camp on the Sudan-Ethiopia border, in Kassala state, Sudan December 17, 2020. (Reuters)

Many of the hospitals in Ethiopia’s conflict-hit Tigray region, outside its capital, have been struck by artillery during the two months of fighting, according to the first humanitarian assessment of the devastation as aid begins to arrive with desperately needed supplies.

The scale of the damage has been largely unknown while Ethiopian forces pursue and clash with those of the now-fugitive Tigray regional leaders, with the involvement of troops from neighbouring Eritrea. Transportation and communications links were severed. More than 50,000 people have fled to Sudan, some telling The Associated Press of mass abductions, torture and killings along ethnic lines.

The United Nations and rights groups have long emphasised that intentional attacks on hospitals are war crimes. The assessment does not say who fired at hospitals; the UN humanitarian agency said it did not have confirmation of such details.

Tigray leaders dominated Ethiopia’s government for nearly three decades before Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power and sidelined them amid sweeping reforms that won him the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize. Abiy has rejected international “interference” in the conflict, which continues outside the Tigray capital, Mekele, and in other areas.

The full humanitarian assessment, seen by the AP, was prepared by a joint mission of Ethiopia’s government, UN agencies and aid groups that visited the Mekele and communities in southern Tigray in late December after weeks of pleading by the UN and others for access.

READ MORE: Millions of children in Ethiopia’s Tigray without access to aid

Food, medical supplies and other basics have run alarmingly low across the region. The assessment cites regional authorities as saying more than 4.5 million people, more than two-thirds of the population, need humanitarian assistance.

“The little food stock the affected communities had have either been looted, burned, or damaged,” the assessment says, adding that a locust outbreak has worsened the situation. "Living conditions for both recently displaced people and host communities remain very critical."

It adds: “As a result of the conflict, many houses, shops, and private stores were burned or damaged.” Schools, health centres, shops and other buildings were looted.

An even grimmer picture expected from an assessment based on a visit to western Tigray, where some of the fighting first erupted in early November.

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said Saturday that he had spoken with Ethiopia's deputy prime minister, Demeke Mekonnen, “and conveyed the EU’s alarm over the situation in Tigray. Full and unrestricted humanitarian access must be granted. This is not an EU demand, this is international law.”

READ MORE: US urges Eritrean troops to withdraw from Ethiopia's Tigray region

Ethiopian women raped in Mekelle: soldier

Soldiers and police in the northern Ethiopian city of Mekelle have expressed concerns about insecurity, with one saying women were raped this week, after the city fell to federal forces during a war late last year.

Prime Minister Abiy's government declared victory in its conflict with the Tigray region's former ruling party after seizing Mekelle, the local capital and home to half a million people, on November 28

At Friday's meeting in Mekelle broadcast on ETV, a state TV channel, an unidentified man in Ethiopian military uniform spoke of repeated abuses against women.

"I was angry yesterday. Why does a woman get raped in Mekelle city? It wouldn't be shocking if it happened during the war because it is not manageable and could be expected for such a thing to happen," he said.

"But women were raped yesterday and today when the local police and federal police are around. We need to communicate among ourselves and act together and strengthen our chain of command."
No more details were given and Reuters was unable to verify his account. Communications and access to Tigray remain hard.

READ MORE: Over 2M displaced in Ethiopia's Tigray region: local official

Mekelle's mayor did not answer phone calls seeking comment, while national military and police spokesmen, Abiy's spokeswoman and the spokesman for a government task force on Tigray did not immediately respond to questions.

At the meeting on state TV, the new government-appointed mayor of Mekelle, Ataklti Haileselassie, said security forces would work more closely to guarantee peace and security.

Another soldier complained that when criminals were arrested, there was no one to hand them to.
"Basic institutional structure has been destroyed," he said.

A policeman said he and colleagues had not been paid.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies