Addis Ababa/Geneva, July 10, 2008 — Unable to respond to the medical needs of populations affected by internal conflict in Ethiopia’s Somali Region, the Swiss section of the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has decided to stop its activities and withdraw from the Fiiq area where it began an assistance program in December 2007.
Since April 2007, increasing violence and an economic blockade linked to the conflict between Ethiopian authorities and opposition movements has had critical repercussions on civilian populations, with the humanitarian and sanitary situation further worsened by drought. The mostly nomadic populations are faced with restrictions of movement that prevent them from relying on their traditional survival mechanisms and restrict their access to health care and food assistance.
Repeated administrative hurdles and intimidations towards MSF staff in the Fiiq area have prevented the organization from bringing urgently needed medical care to vulnerable populations. Despite agreements signed with federal authorities, MSF international staff members have not received necessary work permits and could only be on site for short periods.
“Over the six months of our intervention, our medical teams could only work for ten weeks in Fiiq town and five in the periphery of the town where the most important needs are,” said Hugues Robert, in charge of the MSF Ethiopia program in Geneva. “It significantly reduces the medical impact of our action.”
Only 84 children suffering from malnutrition have been taken care of, while severe malnutrition rates are up to 9 percent in some villages, according to MSF’s last rapid assessment in May. In addition, over the past six months, MSF mobile teams have only been able to give medical consultations to 677 patients in the most affected rural area around Fiiq, while many more patients would have been expected.
The authorities’ attitude towards humanitarian organizations has translated into recurrent arrests of MSF Switzerland staff without charge or explanation.
“We are unable to consistently carry out independent needs assessments and implement our activities where the needs are greatest,” said Hugues Robert. “Despite continuous attempts to improve the working relations with the authorities, our organization can only regret the absence of any room to bring independent and impartial assistance.”
At a time when there is an urgent need to increase the level of response, MSF Switzerland appeals to the Government of Ethiopia for a change in the general work conditions applicable to humanitarian organizations in the Somali Region of Ethiopia.
MSF-Switzerland has been working in Ethiopia since 1993 and has developed projects in South-Omo, Sekota, Damot Gale, and Gambella as well as responded to epidemics and nutritional needs of populations in Wollyta, Gurage, and Hadiya Zones.
Since December 2007, MSF-Switzerland has been supporting the health center in Fiiq and has been operating mobile clinics in the area.