September 2021: Ethiopia / Lalibela: The people, not just UNESCO

The fate of Lalibela : The people, not just UNESCO

It has been more than a month since Tigray militants took control of the Holy City of Lalibela. This occupation has devastated people’s lives in many ways:

Thousands of men and youth have left the city, mostly on foot, fleeing nearly 300 kilometres to Bahir dar, Dessie and Woldya, as well as Addis, nearly 700 km away. Some have not yet been heard from. Those who have reached these towns are housed in overcrowded camps lacking food and water.

The rest of the population, mainly women, children, the elderly, the sick and the disabled, are cut off from communication and their situation is unclear. The rebels have cut off the electricity supply to Lalibela, there is no telecommunications and no transport to and from Lalibela. Banks are not functioning, water supplies are cut off and there are no government offices providing services.

The militants have destroyed and looted public, private and government property, so it would take years to restore it. This includes hospitals, shops and other commercial establishments.

  • The fate of mothers with young children, the plight of the sick or people taking chronic medicines such as diabetes, blood pressure and HIV is unknown to us.
  • Lack of clean water, electricity, access to market, lack of fuel for lighting, cooking, grain processing….
  • Government food reserves are being looted, worsening the situation and leaving people without emergency food even after the fighters have left the city.

Food reserves: all government and individual family food reserves have been looted, leaving the people exposed to hunger.

We as PBF are very concerned about the people who depend on the basic monthly food that PBF provides to them on a regular basis.

When will Lalibela be free?

According to sparse media reports, Tigray forces have moved into nearby towns and villages, especially those on the way to Bahir Dar and Dessie, where they hope to maintain a safe corridor and replenish their own supplies. In recent days there have also been reports of government forces approaching some towns and Tigray forces fleeing.

We can only hope that Lalibela and the surrounding areas will also be free in the coming weeks.

The concern of the PBF: the fate of the people!

Lalibela is a place of pilgrimage, devotion and peace: it should not be a place where violence and conflict are instigated. Lalibela is a high point of the Ethiopian Renaissance, a living embodiment of our faith and a testimony to our perseverance.

PBF’s work in Lalibela is primarily focused on the welfare of the destitute who now bear the burden of this senseless war. Their vulnerability exposes them to risks that can hardly be imagined. They are too old to move, too sick to walk or too disabled to flee. They are prisoners of their fate!

Possibilities for intervention:
Collection of essential relief items. The young volunteers from the Amhara region who made the long and arduous journey to Addis have since organised relief efforts. They have conducted a collection of food and essential supplies in Addis and other major towns. Our PBF trustees Mesay and Sisay have been at the forefront of this campaign.

  • Food aid There are sad and grim reports that children, the sick, the disabled and the elderly are at risk of starvation and a significant proportion of the population needs immediate emergency food aid. The PBF must prepare to purchase, deliver and distribute cereals such as teff, wheat flour and other high-energy nutrients to those in need.
  • Medical facilities and supplies. We need medical supplies, medicines, medical professionals and volunteers.
  • Posho Mill (Grinding Mill).
  • As there has been no electricity for more than two months (the electricity had already been cut off before the Tigray militants showed up in Lalibela), our people are finding it difficult to prepare their normal food from teff, wheat, maize, barley, etc…. As a result, the situation has worsened and food is becoming scarce.

Emergency power
Diesel-powered electricity sources are needed immediately to run essential services such as medical facilities and mills for cereal products. Even if Lalibela were free in the coming weeks, the power cut would remain as the power plant in Alamata (240 kilometres from Lalibela) is still controlled by the Tigray militants and we have to get our electricity from there.

It is clear that we have stopped making maintenance payments to our beneficiaries for the last two months because of the takeover. Imagine what is happening to these needy people in this time of tragedy. The market is no longer functioning and food is becoming scarce. This situation will continue for some time after the liberation of Lalibela; the traders cannot move freely and bring more supplies.

Mesay Mekuanent, currently in Addis Ababa