Canadian aid agencies suspend activities in Ethiopia

Winnipeg-based international relief agencies are concerned about escalating humanitarian needs as the conflict in Ethiopia escalates.

Mennonite Central Committee Canada, Canadian Lutheran World Relief and Canadian Foodgrains Bank have suspended their programs and are monitoring Ethiopia due to the unpredictable situation.

“Millions of people are at risk of going hungry,” said Tyler Braun, program manager at Lutheran World Relief. “Food insecurity is enormous.

The food crisis is the result of fighting last year between the Ethiopian government and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray, which rules the northern region of that country.

The conflict has affected the food situation in Tigray and the neighboring regions of Afar and Amhara.

Initially, the conflict was limited to the north, but the Trigrean forces have recently started to move closer to the capital Addis Ababa, located in the central part of Ethiopia.

More than 100,000 people are estimated to have died amid reports of massacres, sexual violence and other atrocities committed by all sides. The Ethiopian government declared a state of emergency on November 2.

Lutheran food programs in Amhara and Tigray regions have been suspended due to the fighting, Braun said, adding that there were no Canadian staff in the country.

“We will go back when it is safe to do so,” he said, adding that local staff were expressing fear and uncertainty.

“The situation is highly unpredictable,” he said, noting that rebel forces are moving so quickly that plans change daily.

“It’s hard to know now what is safe and what is not.”

Laura Kalmar of MCC said instability, closed roads and blocked communications make operations in Ethiopia difficult.

“We have suspended activities in the affected areas,” she said of the emergency response the organization had planned.

The situation underlines the negative effect of the conflict on food security, she said.

“It makes vulnerable people even more vulnerable,” Kalmar said.

Although the MCC has no Canadian personnel in the country, the situation underscores the risks humanitarian organizations face when fighting breaks out.

“We are constantly assessing the security situation in places like Ethiopia,” she said.

Grant Hillier of the Food Grain Bank said two food projects supported by the organization in areas affected by the fighting had recently been completed.

Until the situation calms down, no new projects are planned, Hillier said.

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“We are taking a wait-and-see approach,” he said, adding that his organization had no staff in Ethiopia.

“The needs are enormous,” he said, adding that it is difficult to get good information because aid organizations cannot reach the areas most in need.

“We hope that food aid will not end up being used as a tool in the crisis by any of the parties to the conflict.”

The three organizations are calling on Canadians to pray for an end to the conflict and to donate money to help those affected by the crisis.

“Donations given now will help us when we can respond again,” Braun said.

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John longhurst
faith reporter

John Longhurst has written for the Winnipeg religious pages since 2003. He also writes for the Religion News Service in the United States and blogs on media, marketing and communications at Making the News.

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