Returning to the issue of the humanitarian crisis in Tigre, World Health Organization (WHO) DirectorGeneral Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus suggested that racism would explain the international community’s lack of interest in the region of northern Ethiopia, the scene of violent conflicts since almost two years.
Tedros, who is from Tigré, said in a speech to journalists last Wednesday (08/17) that the siege of 6 million people in the region lasted 21 months and was “the worst disaster on the planet”.
“The humanitarian crisis in Tigre is bigger than in Ukraine. Without exaggeration. And that’s what I said many months ago: maybe it’s because of the skin color of the people of Tigre,” he said.
“I haven’t even heard a head of state anywhere speak about the situation in Tigre in the last few months or many months. Especially not in industrialized countries. Why? I think we know.”
According to the head of the WHO, the population in the region does not have access to basic services, food, medicine and communications and is prevented from leaving the area.
“It is the worst humanitarian crisis. I say: nowhere in the world are 6 million people under siege. Nowhere,” said Tedros. “The only thing we ask is: Can the world come to its senses and defend humanity?”
The line came as he was commenting on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Tedros said the world could be headed for a nuclear war that threatens to be “the mother of all problems,” but added that the situation in Tigre is currently worse in terms of the humanitarian crisis.
In this regard, he called on the Ethiopian and Russian governments to end the two crises. “If you want peace, you can make it happen, and I appeal to you both to resolve these issues.”
As early as April this year, the WHO chief had questioned whether the world’s overfocus on the Russianled war was racially motivated, but acknowledged that the conflict in Ukraine had global ramifications.
Regarding his country, Tedros has repeatedly criticized the war and the humanitarian crisis in Tigre. Earlier this year, the Ethiopian government even sent a letter to the WHO accusing its boss of wrongdoing over the criticism.
According to the African nation’s authorities, Tedros would use the position to gain political profile at Ethiopia’s expense and would be a member of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Tedros, who was foreign and health minister when the TPLF led Ethiopia’s ruling coalition, denies the charges.
In November 2020, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent army troops to drive out rebel authorities from Tigray with the help of Eritrean forces. Initially defeated, the rebels regained control of the region in June 2021.
Since then, the conflict has received little international humanitarian assistance. Helpers, doctors and nurses report that people are dying of hunger and that there is a lack of basic services to treat the sick.
Aid has been stepped up in recent months but has been deemed insufficient to meet the needs of the struggling population. According to humanitarian groups, the region continues to suffer from fuel shortages that prevent goods from being transported.
As a symbol of the region’s isolation, the vaccination campaign against Covid19 was only launched in July this year still a step forward compared to the difficult months during which the wounded were treated with warm water and salt.
The return of basic services and banking remains one of the main demands of the Tigré leadership. Journalists are prohibited from entering the region.
The conflict in Ethiopia has serious repercussions beyond the country’s borders and could contribute to destabilizing the region the country borders Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Somalia, Djibouti and Eritrea.
Both sides of the conflict have been accused of abuse by the United Nations (UN).
The Ethiopian government spokeswoman responded to Tedros’ remarks, calling them unethical. She also accused the leaders in Tigré of looking for excuses to prevent a peace deal.
On Wednesday, Ethiopia’s foreign minister announced there was a proposal that would result in a ceasefire and the resumption of essential services.
In response, spokesman for the rebel forces in Tigray, Getachew Reda, wrote on Twitter that “Abiy Ahmed’s regime has made it very clear that it is not ready to enter into peace talks”.
The Ethiopian government has insisted that the peace talks be chaired by the African Union envoy. The gesture is taken as a sign of rejection of other peace efforts being led by Kenya with US backing.