According to the head of the World Health Organization, which is from the region, the Tigray region, which has a conflict in Ethiopia, is facing a horrific situation with people starving to death, health services are destroyed and raped “unbridled.”
“The situation in Tigray, Ethiopia, is horrible if I use one word. Very horrible, ”WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Monday.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops to Tigray in November after accusing the once-dominant regional government party of orchestrating attacks on federal army camps.
Abiy, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, declared victory later that month when the army entered the regional capital Mekelle.
But fighting continues and the six-month conflict has sparked allegations of massacres and rapes by Ethiopian forces and troops in neighboring Eritrea.
Tedros noted that approximately five million people in the region need humanitarian and, most importantly, food aid.
“Many people have started dying, in fact, from starvation, and acute and severe malnutrition is spreading,” he said.
In addition, hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced from their homes, including more than 60,000 who fled to Sudan.
At the same time, health services have been looted and destroyed, he said, adding that “most do not work.”
Access to aid
The WHO chief also condemned indiscriminate killings and the widespread use of sexual violence in the conflict.
“The rape is rampant. I don’t really think there was such a scale anywhere else in the world, “he said.
Asked about the situation of COVID-19 in his home region, Tedros said there were no services to curb the disease, but said it is not a priority given the other crises.
“For most, we are not even in a position to debate COVID, to be honest, because there are more urgent issues.”
One of the most pressing issues to be addressed is to gain full access for humanitarian workers and to get help.
World leaders and aid agencies have repeatedly called for full humanitarian access to crisis-ravaged areas as fears of an impending disaster grow.
On Friday, the European Union condemned the continued blockade of aid to the region, denouncing “the use of humanitarian aid as a weapon of war.”
WHO emergency director Michael Ryan warned Monday that “access to casualties in Tigray remains highly unpredictable.”
He said this created “a huge barrier to access for populations that need our help”.
Risks of outbreaks
With most health facilities destroyed, the UN health agency was concerned about the increased risks of cholera, measles and other outbreaks, he said.
“We also have trouble continuing to take (cholera) vaccines,” he noted, stressing the need to “get those doses” and to plan vaccination campaigns “to prevent a cholera disaster”.
Ethiopia’s foreign ministry on Monday rejected concerns about access to aid.
“There were difficulties in accessing some pocket areas due to security issues, but this has already been resolved,” the ministry said in a statement.
“Therefore, it is absurd that some partners continue to lament the lack of access despite the real situation on the ground.”
The statement also indicated that the government was committed to investigating abuses of rights and denounced “unjust and unjustified accusations against Ethiopia,” without mentioning Tedros.