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UN working at ‘full speed’ to prepare for humanitarian mission to Ethiopia’s Tigray

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The Tigray region faces some of the toughest development challenges in Ethiopia. © UNICEF/Zerihun Sewunet

The UN’s humanitarian coordination office, said on Friday that it was doing its utmost to secure aid access to Ethiopia’s Tigray region, after a deal was struck to reach displaced civilians, following weeks of fighting between federal and regional forces.

“There are still operational issues of a logistical nature, some of them are of a security nature, that are being worked out, so that we can proceed with the missions”, said Jens Laerke, spokesperson,  for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), adding that “everyone of course (is) working full speed to make that happen.”

On Wednesday, the UN announced that agreement had been reached with the Ethiopian Government to allow “unimpeded, sustained and secure access” for humanitarian supplies to reach those in need across areas now under its control in the northeastern area.

At a scheduled press conference in Geneva, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCRsaid that it was “poised” to resume full humanitarian activities in the Tigray region “as soon as the situation allows” following the agreement to restore access.

Exodus continues

More than 47,000 Ethiopian refugees have now reached Sudan, UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch told journalists.

More than 1,000 had arrived on Thursday, he said, reporting that more were on the move behind them in search of safety, including “a small number” of Eritrean refugees.

To date, 11,150 refugees have been transferred from Hamdayet and Abderafi border points to Sudan’s Um Rakuba camp, some 70 kilometres from the Ethiopian border.

In the town of Shire in Tigray, UNHCR and partners “have already distributed water, high energy biscuits, clothes, mattresses, sleeping mats and blankets to an estimated 5,000 internally displaced people”, Mr. Baloch said.

But he added that discussions were still ongoing “with the federal government’s refugee agency on logistics arrangements, and the need to assess the security situation before the resumption of humanitarian activities”.

Disease threat

Responding to concerns about the impact of the conflict on civilians, World Health Organization (WHO) spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic, said that the worsening of the COVID-19 pandemic in the region was to be expected, along with “injuries, malnutrition, communicable diseases such as malaria, as well as increased needs for non-communicable diseases drugs”.

On behalf of the World Food Programme (WFP), spokesperson Tomson Phiri said the agency welcomed the signing of the agreement to enable access to areas under the Federal Government’s control in Tigray and the bordering areas of Amhara and Afar regions.

The agency’s priority “is to locate some of the 50,000 Eritrean refugees who before the conflict, received food assistance in four camps in Tigray” he added, although it was possible “that some may have fled by now in search of safety”.

Speeding up delivery

WFP will continue to seek ways to “speed up delivery of food supplies to refugee camps in Tigray as well as to reach people in need elsewhere”, Mr Phiri insisted, noting that the agency has provided supplementary food assistance to 42,000 people in Tigray.

Overall, some one million people received humanitarian support before the fighting began in early November, according to WFP.

Ahead of assessment missions by the UN and its partners, the UN agency provisionally estimated that up to two million people from Tigray Region would need assistance, it said in a statement.

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Mali transition presents opportunity to break ‘vicious circle of political crises’

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UN peacekeepers patrol the Menaka region in northeast Mali. MINUSMA/Harandane Dicko

The current political transition period in Mali offers an opportunity to “break out of the vicious circle of political crises followed by coups d’état”, the UN envoy in the country told the Security Council on Wednesday.  

Following the 18 August mutiny that ousted President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, Special Representative and Head of the UN Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) Mahamat Saleh Annadif, said the country was now four months in, to a planned 18-month transition period, leading to presidential and legislative elections. 

“However, it is never too late to reach a minimum consensus on the essentials of peace and stability, because the future of Mali is at stake”, he stated. 

‘Positive dynamics’ 

Against this backdrop, Mr. Annadif said the UN, African Union, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and others have always stood ready to support Mali’s institutional transitions. 

He said that several missions and meetings had taken place in Bamako since the August coup and described consultations between the Government and the signatories of the 2015 Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation “encouraging”. 

The Malian Government has been seeking to restore stability and rebuild following a series of setbacks since early 2012 that fractured the country, including a failed coup d’état, renewed fighting between Government forces and Tuareg rebels, and the seizure of its northern territory by radical extremists. The weakening of central institutions, loss of confidence in political actors and the rise of religious leaders demanding change, were among the factors leading up to last August’s events. 

As one positive example of political progress being made, the UN envoy drew particular attention to the “positive dynamics” of key officials who visited the restive city of Kidal to organize a “solemn swearing-in hearing of the new Governor” on 31 December, flagging that “such an event has not taken place in Kidal for almost ten years”. 

Interim parliament at helm 

Mr. Annadif said that despite a hold up in State appointments, the National Transitional Council (CNT) had been established on 3 December, with Transitional President Bah N’Daou having appointed 121 members who are now acting as a de facto government towards restoring full constitutional order. 

Serving as an interim parliament that will vote on political, institutional, electoral and administrative reforms, the UN envoy called their role “crucial for the consolidation of democracy and the success of credible elections allowing a return to constitutional order, as provided for in the Transition Charter”. 

Successes and challenges 

While pointing to “successes” of the international force, the MINUSMA chief acknowledged that security in border areas of Mali – which remains the deadliest UN peacekeeping mission of all – and in the country’s centre, remains “worrying and unpredictable”. 

However, he said that MINUSMA continues to “adapt” to these multifaceted challenges and “strengthen its capacity” to better respond. 

Moreover, the missions “adaptation plan” to better protect civilians and promote community reconciliation in central Mali is producing “significant results” with additional temporary bases and the intensification of dedicated joint patrols “to advance the reconciliation processes between communities in local conflict zones”, said Mr. Annadif. 

Foundation laid 

The MINUSMA head lauded the efforts of Malian forces to improve their rights performance and underscored that reforms are a key dimension in ensuring the legitimacy of the next elected government. 

He reassured the Ambassadors that the foundation has been laid for a successful political transition in the country as well as reliable security arrangements for its diverse regions. 

However, he stressed that the transition’s success depends upon “the successful completion of political, institutional, electoral and administrative reforms with the aim of inclusive, credible elections, the results of which will be accepted by the majority of Malians and Malians”.

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Humanitarian crisis looms in Madagascar amid drought and pandemic

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A child undergoes a malnutrition test in Madagascar. WFP/Tsiory Andriantsoarana

In southern Madagascar, “famine-like conditions” have doubled the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance compared with last year, to more than 1.3 million. Successive droughts and a lack of jobs linked to COVID-19 restrictions are to blame, the World Food Programme (WFP) said on Tuesday.

“We have seen the doubling of the numbers of food-insecure between the data we had in July 2020 and November 2020; we moved from 700,000 people food-insecure in the Grand South or Grand Sud of Madagascar, to 1.3 million”, said Lola Castro, WFP Regional director for Southern Africa and Indian Ocean States.

Speaking by video link to journalists during a scheduled briefing in Geneva, Ms. Castro appealed for $35 million.

She insisted that urgent action was needed to stave off a humanitarian crisis, with a third of those in Southern Madagascar struggling to put food on the table.

Climate vulnerable

Part of the current crisis is linked to Madagascar’s vulnerability to climate shocks, a problem it shares with the southern African region, the WFP official said.

“The rains that normally come November-December, we only had one day of rain in December in the whole region. And the thunderstorms have been blasting…and destroying and burying the crops that were there”, she added. “The result is famine-like conditions”, with 1.3 million people food insecure, 135,000 children moderately, severely or acutely malnourished.

With markets closed because of COVID-19 restrictions and people forced to sell their possessions to survive, the UN agency warned that drought conditions are set to persist well into 2021, with many forced to leave their homes in search of food and work. 

“In 2020 the population of the South relies on casual labour and goes to urban areas or to the fields to really have additional funds that will allow them to survive during the lean season, that is normally between November and April every year”, Ms. Castro explained. “But this year there was no labour, they moved around without finding any labour anywhere, both in urban areas or in the rural areas, due to the drought and due to the COVID lockdown.” 

Eating mud, roots and leaves

The situation has forced people to eat “whatever they can find”, Ms. Castro continued. “Cactus mixed with mud, roots, whatever they can find, leaves, seeds, whatever is available. And the situation really is more dramatic because this year also the funds have not arrived enough on time to really be able to procure food or to provide cash transfers to these people.” 

Children have been worst affected by the food crisis, WFP warned, with global acute malnutrition (GAM) in children under five, in the three most affected regions (Androy, Anôsy and Atsimo Andrefana), faced by 10.7 per cent of youngsters.

“This is the second highest rate in the East and Southern Africa region. The most recent projections put the number of children likely to suffer from acute malnutrition at more than 135,000, with more than 27,000 of these classified as severe”, the agency said in a statement.

75 per cent ‘foraging for food’

“Children have abandoned schools. 75 per cent of the children in this area are either begging or foraging for food”, Ms. Castro said, before highlighting the extraordinary nature of the current emergency.

“What we are saying here is that the situation we’re facing in southern Madagascar is not normal. It’s very different to any normal year of crisis and that we really need to act immediately; 300,000 people need at the moment safe-living support.” 

In a bid to promote resilience among the most vulnerable communities, WFP and partners have worked with women’s groups “to change, diversify the food they produce, try to produce different type of nutrients for the children”, Ms. Castro said, noting that it cost around $45 a month to feed a family of five. “But we haven’t reach everybody and it’s not enough.” 

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Food for Mozambicans struggling amidst violence and COVID-19

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Displaced people queue for water at Metuge, Cabo Delgado Province, Mozambique. UNICEF/Mauricio Bisol

Despite increased insecurity and limited funding, the UN food relief agency is continuing to supply food for hundreds of thousands of people affected by conflict in northern Mozambique.

Since 2017, some half a million people have fled the gas and mineral rich province of Cabo Delgado, as violence and COVID-19 continue to increase.  

The World Food Programme (WFP) is currently assisting up to 400,000 people in Cabo Delgado, Nampula and Niassa provinces, with a monthly family food basket of cereals, oil, dried beans and lentils, according to a statement released on Wednesday. 

The baskets provide least 81 per cent of the daily kilocalorie needs of displaced families and contribute to preventing already traumatized and vulnerable families from falling victim to exploitation or employing negative coping mechanisms for survival.  

WFP is also providing cash-based assistance for families to shop for basic items in local markets by redeeming vouchers equivalent to about $50 per month.  

Survival under threat 

Citing resource shortages, the UN agency noted that over the next three months, it may be forced to reduce or halt vital assistance to conflict-affected people, raising concerns over food and health supplies, as well as tensions within host communities. 

“Internally displaced persons are especially vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19 because they are crowded together in camps, host families’ backyards and outdoors with no or inadequate shelter, health services and access to clean water and sanitation”, said Antonella D’Aprile, WFP Country Representative in Mozambique. 

“Thousands of children and adolescents who lost their parents and close family need our protection and care”, she added. 

Resources run short 

The Government pointed out that thousands in Cabo Delgado alone risk serious hunger and malnutrition.  

And as some 565,000 people have fled their homes, humanitarian operations face shortages amounting to $108 million. 

WFP currently requires $10.5 million each month to provide food assistance to 500,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) and 250,000 to host communities affected by the conflict in northern Mozambique.  

While WFP needs $132.4 million to ensure humanitarian food assistance for the next 12 months, as of late December, only $24.4 million has been secured.  

“Without sufficient funding, the food supply will be compromised”, the UN food relief agency spelled out. 

Against this backdrop, Ms. D’Aprile said that “it is incredibly timely to join efforts now and protect the food and nutrition security and livelihood of Mozambicans…impacted by armed attacks, Cyclone Kenneth and the COVID-19 pandemic”. 

Bringing relief 

With sufficient resources and access, WFP would be able to deploy humanitarian aid by road, sea and air, to deliver life-saving assistance assist each month to some 750,000 IDPs and people in the host community. 

WFP is the world’s largest humanitarian organization and was awarded the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize for its role in saving lives during emergencies and using food assistance to build a pathway to peace, stability and prosperity for people recovering from conflict and disasters.

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