Rebuilding schools and hospitals is the "number one priority" in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region after two years of brutal conflict, Janti Soeripto, head of the US-based charity Save the Children told AFP on Friday.
Four months since the federal government and the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) signed a peace deal, medicine and food supplies were still insufficient, Soeripto said after a trip to the region, which remained largely cut off from the world during the fighting marked by numerous atrocities that spilled over into neighbouring Afar and Amhara regions.
- How would you describe the situation there? -
I expected the situation to be dire and that's essentially what we've seen and heard.
In Mekelle you see a resumption of normal life: there are restaurants, there is business, there is a market, there are commercial activities, shops are open. I'm sure supplies are not completely fulfilled but in the cities you certainly see that resumption, which is good, but as I said, if 80 to 90 percent of the healthcare infrastructure and schools are damaged or completely destroyed, that is problematic.
The fact that teachers and doctors are still not paid prevents resumption of that kind of public service that I think we do need in order to really get back to normal, so to speak.
- What are the main needs in the region? -
It's everything. Absolutely, physical infrastructures need to be rebuilt: from water systems, boreholes, water pumps... a lot of it was literally destroyed. I have seen pictures of healthcare facilities that were completely ripped apart, completely. Not only were stuff taken, but X-ray machines were smashed, all the equipment was taken, fridges are gone, the building is completely unusable. So physical infrastructures, rebuilding of school and healthcare facilities: absolutely number one priority. But then there's the stuff that is invisible... how do we make sure they get access to the mental health and psychosocial support they need?
It's taking us a long time to get the right level of medicine in that we need... we're very reliant on imports there.
We don't have enough food, we're still hand-carrying cash into the region for our basic operations because the banking system hasn't been fully re-established, certainly not in the rural areas.
- What is the state of the education system? -
If you don't have education, it's very hard to sustain a peace process, we must get kids back into school as soon as possible to restart that and to make sure they overcome the gap... They haven't been in their schools for three years in Tigray. So even that, overcoming that gap, making sure people accelerate their learning or get back to the level where they should have been, that in of itself is a massive undertaking.