YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – Catholic aid agencies are doing what the can to help with the “major humanitarian crisis” taking place in the conflict-ridden Tigray region of Ethiopia.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched a military offensive against forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) on November 4.
The TPLF is the governing party in the northern Ethiopian region of Tigray and wielded significant influence at the national level until Ahmed instituted a series of reform of the government that sidelined the ethnic group.
The prime minister said he launched the offensive after the TPLF of attacked a major base of the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) in Tigray that killed non-Tigrayrian soldiers.
The United Nations on Wednesday said it and the Ethiopian government have signed a deal to allow “unimpeded” humanitarian access, at least for areas under federal government control after the prime minister’s declaration of victory over the weekend.
This will allow the first food, medicines and other aid into the region of 6 million people that has seen rising hunger during the fighting between the federal and Tigray regional governments.
More than 1 million people in Tigray are now thought to be displaced, including over 45,000 who have fled into a remote area of neighboring Sudan. Humanitarians have struggled to feed them as they set up a crisis response from scratch.
For weeks, aid-laden trucks have been blocked at Tigray’s borders, and the U.N. and other humanitarian groups were increasingly anxious to reach Tigray as hunger grows and hospitals run out of basic supplies like gloves and body bags.
In a tweet Wednesday, the Catholic aid group Caritas said it was on the ground “helping the population and fighting against injustice” during the “major humanitarian crisis is taking place in Tigray region, Ethiopia.”
Catholic Relief Services, the development arm of the U.S. bishops, said it was also helping the local population.
“Catholic Relief Services and its partners have purchased food and relief supplies and transported them to storage locations close to the Tigray border,” CRS country representative John Shumlansky told Crux.
“As areas in Tigray become accessible and safe for travel, the food and supplies will be distributed to groups of people displaced by the conflict,” he said.
Local Catholic Church leaders have also appealed for peace in the country.
“We, the Catholic Bishops of Ethiopia urge both parties to immediately stop the armed conflict and start peaceful dialogue for the benefit of the people and resolve their differences in the spirit of understanding, mutual respect and trust,” Cardinal Berhaneyesus Souraphiel of Addis Ababa, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Ethiopia, said in a statement.
“Conflict between brotherly people does not help anyone. Instead, it destroys lives of innocent people and it is an act that will turn our country into a failure and (create) extreme poverty,” the statement said.
In neighboring Eritrea, a country with a long-complicated history with Ethiopia, the bishops have also expressed concern about what is going on in Ethiopia.
They said in a statement that war “is anti-life and anti-development…it kills, maims, destroys, displaces and sows lasting grievances and hatred among people.”
“It also destroys the four pillars of peace: truth, justice, love and freedom/liberty. Once a war starts, no one knows when and where it ends,” they said.
The bishops noted that “all the parties are losers and there is no winner” in war.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis has offered his prayers for the people of Ethiopia.
During his Sunday Angelus address Nov. 8, Francis called for the Ethiopian government and TFLP leaders to “reject the temptation of armed conflict” and appealed for “prayer and fraternal respect, dialogue and the peaceful resolution of discord.”
He later renewed his calls for peace through his spokesperson.
“The Holy Father, in calling for prayer for this country, appeals to the sides in the conflict to stop the violence, to safeguard lives, especially those of civilians, and to restore peace to the people,” Matteo Bruni, Vatican spokesman, said in a statement Nov. 27.
This report incorporated material from the Associated Press.