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Antonio Guterres paints bleak picture of an Ethiopia on the brink of calamity

Up to 7 million people in Tigray, Amhara and Afar are now in need of food assistance

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Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. government, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. and New York City.

Ethiopia is facing an immense humanitarian crisis and the world must act together immediately to save lives and avoid a massive human tragedy, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday.

In remarks to the UN Security Council on Ethiopia, Guterres noted that his warning to the Council in August that “a humanitarian catastrophe was unfolding before our eyes in Ethiopia” has become a reality, and even worsened. 

“Up to 7 million people in Tigray, Amhara and Afar are now in need of food assistance and other emergency support. This includes more than 5 million people in Tigray where an estimated 400,000 are living in famine-like conditions,” Guterres said.

He added that humanitarian aid was “still not reaching the area at anywhere close to the levels needed.”

“The only option for road transportation into Tigray is along the Afar corridor where movements are being severely restricted by official and unofficial checkpoints, insecurity and other obstacles and challenges,” he said.

The Secretary General added, “Some minor improvements – that are welcome – did not change the fundamental nature of the problem.  

“Vital fuel supplies continue to be blocked, as are essential medicines and equipment.  

“Humanitarian organizations continue to lack the cash they need to operate and to pay their staff. 

“Access to electricity remains precarious.  Millions of people are cut off from communications networks and vital services such as health care.   

“Fighting in Amhara is another serious impediment to humanitarian access. As a result of all these facts, life-saving humanitarian operations are being crippled.”

Read his full remarks below

Mr. President, excellencies, 

I welcome this opportunity to brief you concerning the situation in Ethiopia.  

In August, I warned the Council that a humanitarian catastrophe was unfolding before our eyes in Ethiopia.  Since then, the crisis has worsened. 

Up to 7 million people in Tigray, Amhara and Afar are now in need of food assistance and other emergency support.  This includes more than 5 million people in Tigray where an estimated 400,000 are living in famine-like conditions.   

Humanitarian aid is still not reaching the area at anywhere close to the levels needed.  

The only option for road transportation into Tigray is along the Afar corridor where movements are being severely restricted by official and unofficial checkpoints, insecurity and other obstacles and challenges.  

Some minor improvements – that are welcome – did not change the fundamental nature of the problem.  

Vital fuel supplies continue to be blocked, as are essential medicines and equipment.  

Humanitarian organizations continue to lack the cash they need to operate and to pay their staff. 

Access to electricity remains precarious.  Millions of people are cut off from communications networks and vital services such as health care.   

Fighting in Amhara is another serious impediment to humanitarian access. As a result of all these facts, life-saving humanitarian operations are being crippled.  

Our colleagues on the ground are sharing increasingly alarming eye-witness testimony of the suffering – including growing accounts of hunger-related deaths.   

And in locations where screening has been possible, we are seeing acute malnutrition rates that remind us of the onset of the 2011 Somalia famine.  

We are also seeing deeply worrying reports of violations of human rights abuses perpetrated by all sides.

I am particularly concerned about chilling accounts of violence against women and children, including sexual and gender-based violence.   

Mr. President,  

The UN is also actively engaged in humanitarian support to other regions of Ethiopia with pressing needs. 

The country is facing an immense humanitarian crisis that demands immediate attention. 

All efforts should be squarely focused on saving lives and avoiding a massive human tragedy. 

This makes last Thursday’s announcement by the Government of Ethiopia to expel seven senior UN officials – most of them humanitarian staff – particularly disturbing.   

This unprecedented expulsion should be a matter of deep concern for us all as it relates to the core of relations between the UN and Member States.   

As expressed in the Note Verbale to the Mission of Ethiopia from the Office of Legal Affairs and shared with the Council a few days ago – and I quote: “A Declaration by a State that an official of the United Nations is persona non grata accompanied by a request or demand that the Secretary-General consequently relocate that official out of its territory is not consistent with [the] Charter obligation and is inconsistent with the fundamental principles of the international civil service enshrined in the Charter.” 

The procedure on such matters is clear.   

As the Note Verbale states: “…if the Government has any specific issues concerning any…individuals…the relevant information should be brought to the attention of the United Nations to enable the Secretary-General to make a decision as to whether any appropriate actions should be taken.” 

In other words, there is a proper, formal procedure – and that procedure was not followed.   

The United Nations will continue to play its mandated role and work with the Government of Ethiopia and with local and international partners to support millions of people in need of humanitarian assistance in Tigray, Amhara and Afar, and across the country, in full accordance with the UN Charter and General Assembly resolution 46/182.  

I now call on Ethiopian authorities to allow us to do this without hindrance and to facilitate and enable our work with the urgency that this situation demands.   

This means ensuring that visas for incoming personnel – from UN entities and from our partners – are issued quickly so that we can augment our capacity.   

The delays we have witnessed in the recent past are another obstacle to effective humanitarian aid. 

It also means that personnel inside the country are treated with dignity and respect as they carry out their vital work. 

Our focus remains on ensuring humanitarian assistance to every Ethiopian who needs it. 

We must save lives and restore livelihoods.  

I urge the Government to allow the unrestricted movement of desperately needed fuel, cash, communications equipment, and humanitarian supplies into all the regions in need.  

I appeal to all members of the Security Council to do all they can to support these calls and to unify behind the efforts of the United Nations and its partners in Ethiopia.  

Last August, in this Council, I called for action on several fronts. 

As I said then, and I quote: “All parties must immediately end hostilities without preconditions and seize that opportunity to negotiate a lasting ceasefire.  Foreign forces should leave the country. Unrestricted humanitarian access to all areas in need must be guaranteed and humanitarian workers must be respected.  Public services must be re-established.” 

This appeal is even more pressing today.  Any further escalation of the conflict would only make the situation more tragic.   

Mr. President, 

Important political events have taken place in Ethiopia since my last Security Council briefing in August. 

Just two days ago, a new Government of Ethiopia, led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, was inaugurated. 

The mandate conferred by the election carries a responsibility – a responsibility to unite all Ethiopians. 

To focus on the future.  To return Ethiopia to its place as a strong, unified, stable leader among the nations of the world.  

I encourage the newly inaugurated Government to use this mandate and work with renewed determination to be a Government for all.

I welcome the Prime Minister’s inauguration remarks prioritizing an inclusive political dialogue involving all segments of the community to resolve the ongoing challenges facing the country.  

I also note the many messages from African Heads of State emphasizing the need for harmony, national unity, development and peace. 

I urge all sides to grasp the peace initiative from the AU and its High Representative for the Horn of Africa, H.E. Olusegun Obasanjo. 

Without peace, the challenges facing Ethiopia will intensify and further destabilize the broader Horn of Africa region and beyond. 

We have an obligation to avoid such a dire outcome at all costs.  

Mr. President, 

Dialogue is the foundation for peace.  

Peace is the foundation for a stable and prosperous future. 

Let us all work to help secure that future for all Ethiopians and for the peoples of the region.  

Simon Ateba

Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. government, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. and New York City.

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