Repeated obstructions lead MSF to pull out from Fiiq, Somali Region of Ethiopia

Addis Ababa/Geneva - Unable to respond to medical needs of populations affected by the internal conflict in Ethiopia's Somali region, the Swiss section of Médecins Sans Frontières has decided to stop its activities and withdraw from the Fiiq area where it started an assistance program in December 2007. Since April, 2007, the increase of violence and economic blockade linked to the conflict between the Ethiopian authorities and opposition movements has had critical repercussions on civil populations. Their humanitarian and sanitary situation is further worsened by the drought. These mostly nomadic populations are faced with restrictions of movement that do not allow them to engage into their traditional survival mechanisms and restrict their access to health 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 the agreements signed with the federal authorities, MSF international staffs have not received the 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 Ethiopia program in Geneva. "It significantly reduces the medical impact of our action." Only 84 children suffering from malnutrition have been taken care of, when severe malnutrition rates are up to 9 percent in some villages, according to MSF's last quick 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 conditions of work applicable to humanitarian organizations in the Somali Region of Ethiopia. MSF Switzerland is working in Ethiopia since 1993 and has developed projects in South-Omo, Sekota, Damot Gale and Gambella as well as responding to epidemics and nutritional needs of the population in Wollyta, Gurage, and Hadiya Zones. In Fiiq, Somalia Region, MSF Switzerland is supporting since December 2007, the health center and organizes mobile clinics for the population of the area.