A new UN report warns that conflict, displacement and dire humanitarian conditions in Tigray could be driving a surge in COVID-19 infections.

The conflict in Tigray has led to instability in Ethiopia and neighboring countries

The United Nations has raised concerns over potential “massive community transmission” of the coronavirus in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, amid displacements, conflict and a damaged health care system.

In its first on-the-ground assessment from Tigray, published late Thursday, the UN described the dire humanitarian situation facing the region, where at least 2 million people are in need of aid.

The report said hospitals, schools and other public service facilities have been ravaged since the conflict between Ethiopian forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) began in early November.

“The interruption of COVID-19 surveillance and control activities for over a month in the region, coupled with mass displacements and overcrowded conditions in displacement settings, is feared to have facilitated massive community transmission of the pandemic,” the report said.

Only five out of 40 hospitals in Tigray were physically accessible, the report added, with four others reachable by mobile networks.

Ethiopia has one of the highest COVID-19 caseloads in Africa, with at least 127,000 people infected. The Ethiopian government has not said whether it is receiving information on coronavirus infections from Tigray.

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The report was based on two humanitarian missions conducted by the UN and government agencies in December. The fact-finding teams stressed that the situation was “dire,” and that two out of four refugee camps in Tigray remained inaccessible.

The UN had pleaded with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed late last year to allow access to Tigray, amid international concerns over the humanitarian crisis. Abiy, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, had rejected any international “interference,” but the two reached an agreement to let aid into the region in December.

The TPLF, a political party formerly in power in Tigray, controlled most of the governmental positions in Ethiopia for almost three decades. That changed when Abiy came to power in 2018, sidelining the Tigray leaders and pushing through sweeping reforms.

Ethiopia’s National Defense Force on Thursday said that four TPLF senior members had been and killed, and nine were arrested. The whereabouts of TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael and other members of the party’s central commitee remains unknown.

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The Ethiopian government in November announced victory over the TPLF, although the UN report confirmed that fighting was still ongoing.

More than five humanitarian workers have been killed in the conflict. It is not known how many civilians have died.

On New Year’s Day 2021, Africa’s economies ring in a new era with the official launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). The coming months and years will see the creation of the world’s largest free trade zone. Experts say the agreement has enormous potential, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made implementation difficult.

Police operations targeting the opposition — including challengers and protesters — have resulted in dozens of deaths. Images from Uganda’s election campaign have sparked worldwide concern. On January 14, citizens will choose between long-term President Yoweri Museveni and former pop star Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine. Observers have stressed the importance of holding free and fair elections.

Will Ethiopians find unity after the central government’s offensive against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF)? Or will the country fracture under the weight of its many internal conflicts? 2021 could decide whether Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed can achieve democratic balance in Ethiopia. The elections planned for June 5 may be his best chance.

One consequence of the conflict in Tigray is clear: Tens of thousands have fled the embattled region to neighboring Sudan, where the fledgling government is struggling to provide for them. Elsewhere, too, it is feared that ongoing conflicts will lead to new refugee crises in 2021, while old ones remain unresolved. It will be another difficult year in Cameroon, northern Nigeria and DR Congo.

Alongside Uganda and Ethiopia, Benin, Somalia, South Sudan, Zambia, Cape Verde, Chad and The Gambia will head to the polls in 2021 to elect new heads of state. While some countries are hoping for relatively uneventful elections, the situation in Somalia and South Sudan is already tense due to challenging security environments.

Although African countries are making it through the pandemic better than expected, the health and economic consequences are immense. Hopes for a vaccine are high, but Africa is not yet ready for “the largest vaccination campaign ever,” Matshidiso Moeti of the World Health Organization (WHO) said recently. Experts don’t expect vaccination to begin until mid-2021 due to logistical difficulties.

One consequence of the coronavirus pandemic won’t simply disappear even after vaccinations are rolled out: Some African countries are facing state bankruptcy. Although the G20 initiated debt relief at the onset of the outbreak, NGOs are now calling for a comprehensive debt cut to mitigate the humanitarian consequences of COVID-19.

Droughts, locust plagues, floods: No continent is suffering so acutely from the climate crisis as Africa. But young activists like Vanessa Nakate from Uganda no longer want the lip service of the Global North. She is fighting for Africa to be heard on the global stage and will be one of the continent’s most vocal representatives the at the UN Climate Change Conference in November 2021.

Author: Jan Philipp Wilhelm

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The EU is withholding millions of euros in budget support to Ethiopia because of the Tigray conflict. Humanitarian organizations are increasingly worried about living conditions for the survivors of the conflict.

The UN has called the situation in Tigray “worrying and volatile” amid reports of continued fighting in the region. The Ethiopian government has rejected appeals for outside groups to investigate the conflict.


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