The humanitarian situation is becoming dire for millions of people seeking safety amid the ongoing violence that has erupted in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region since early November.
A delegation of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Ethiopia traveled to Tigray, from 12 to 14 January, to meet in person with Bishop Tesfaselassie Medhin of the Eparchy of Adigrat and to assess the situation of the faithful and the local church.
The delegation reported on 21 January that the bishop was safe and in good health, after media reports earlier this month said he had gone missing. According to the delegation, the bishop and his priests had been shuttered since the end of November and have experienced “unspeakable intimidations, sufferings, refutations, frustrations and loneliness” during this period.
They also reported seeing destroyed weapons and vehicles abandoned along the side of the road that leads to Adigrat, especially near the towns of Wukro and Edaga Hamus, which had experienced heavy fighting over several days.
The towns along the way were mostly deserted, with homes, shops, banks and bars closed. Bank windows were broken; some buildings were burned or damaged by artillery, they said.
The people have mostly fled their homes for rural areas in search of safety, they said. However, media reports indicate the violence has flowed into the rural areas and some refugee camps have also become unsafe.
“Many people, in particular children, the elderly and women are in critical need of food supply, medicine, water, shelter and psychosocial support,” said Argaw Fantu, CNEWA’s regional director in Ethiopia, reporting the findings of the delegation.
The country was already grappling with rising food insecurity before the violence erupted. A lean agricultural year, followed by locust infestations, had devastated the local food supply. The global pandemic has further weakened the country’s fragile economy. The fighting in the Tigray region has only exacerbated the situation, threatening millions with malnutrition and hunger.
The delegation from the bishops’ conference reported extensive damage to infrastructure, including to church buildings. In Adigrat, the building and water tank of the minor seminary were damaged by explosives fragments, and the windows of the Tsinsetamariam Catholic Secondary School were broken by nearby blasts. In the town of Wukro, the administrative and classroom buildings of St. Mary’s College, which offers skills training to youth, were looted. These three institutions are funded in part through CNEWA.
In Edaga Hamus, the clinic and school run by the Daughters of St. Anne were sacked as well, including the clinic’s pharmacy and laboratory equipment, the school’s classroom benches and the sisters’ personal belongings. The parish rectory was also damaged and the priest’s belongings were stolen. Fourteen vehicles belonging to the eparchy and to the religious congregations in Adigrat were also taken.
Estimates indicate that some 4.5 million people in the Tigray region have been affected by the fighting, and that $37.6 million are needed to provide food, water, shelter and medical care. Estimates vary on damages to church infrastructure, although they are expected to run in the millions of dollars.
Following the delegation’s report, Cardinal Berhane Yesus Souraphiel of Addis Ababa, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Ethiopia, called for greater solidarity with the bishop of Adigrat and his faithful, and for a response “to the atrocities, at least to minimize further loss and human sufferings in the conflict-trodden area.”