Senior Biden official Sarah Charles returns from Ethiopia, describes harrowing humanitarian catastrophe in Tigray

Tigray where hundreds of thousand of people remain at an increased risk of famine.

A senior U.S. official Sarah Charles has returned from a trip to Ethiopia where she witnessed a harrowing humanitarian catastrophe in Tigray, the country’s northern region.

The United States, the United Nations, the European Union and many others have called for an end to hostilities in Tigray where hundreds of thousands of people remain at an increased risk of famine. Instead, the almost one-year conflict has continued to worsen and Ethiopian troops have been carrying out a series of air strikes on Mekelle, the capital of Tigray in the past few days.

The have also been blocking humanitarian access into the region, prompting outrage from aid workers, human rights organizations and American officials.

Charles, who is an Assistant to the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), traveled to Ethiopia October 20-23, and met with humanitarian partners providing aid to northern Ethiopia, government officials, other humanitarian donors, and Ethiopians who have been affected by the nearly one-year conflict.

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed © Donat Sorokin/TASS Host Photo Agency 

Accompanying U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia Geeta Pasi, Charles traveled to Addis Ababa and Bahir Dar, “where she witnessed deteriorating conditions in what is one of the world’s worst humanitarian emergencies due to access challenges in Tigray, and renewed fighting in Amhara, Afar, and Tigray, where hundreds of thousands have been displaced in just the last several weeks,” USAID spokesperson Rebecca Chalif said in a statement.

Chalif added that Charles also met with USAID staff in Ethiopia, including the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) that has been deployed since March and has been leading the U.S. humanitarian response efforts to the conflict in northern Ethiopia. In addition, Charles met with leaders of non-governmental organizations to discuss the food security situation, protection programs that are helping keep the most vulnerable people safe from harm, and sexual and gender-based violence risks and prevention efforts.

They talked about the challenges that aid workers continue to face, including major supply shortages amid the months-long blockages imposed by the Government of Ethiopia, increasing risks for humanitarians, and harassment and intimidation of aid workers by various parties to the conflict.

Charles also met with UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Catherine Sozi and with other members of UN leadership and key donors to discuss the need for strong UN leadership, and how the United States can best support these efforts. She also reiterated U.S. condemnation of the recent expulsion of seven UN officials from Ethiopia.

Assistant to the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Sarah Charles 
Assistant to the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Sarah Charles

Chalif added, “While in Addis Ababa and in the Amhara Region, AtA Charles met with Ethiopian government officials to stress the urgent need for all parties to allow humanitarians to do their life-saving work. This includes the Government of Ethiopia immediately reestablishing communications, banking, and other vital services within Tigray, and fully permitting all humanitarian cargo to travel unimpeded via vital road transport corridors. Of particular concern are desperately needed fuel, cash, medicines, and medical supplies, all of which have been blocked or restricted by the Ethiopian government for months. As a result, humanitarian organizations are being forced to scale back or halt their programs, and hospitals and health centers have run out of medical supplies. AtA Charles also raised the possibility of augmenting road operations—which are failing to meet urgent humanitarian needs—by expanding air operations to deliver relief supplies directly to the region.

“AtA (Assistant to Administrator) Charles also met with people in Bahir Dar who have been forced to flee their homes because of this conflict. She talked to them about what their lives were like before the fighting began and heard about the loved ones they have lost, the hardships they have endured, and the immense difficulties they now face. Many of the people she met with were deeply concerned about family members living in areas of Amhara that are currently under control of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). All parties, including the Government of Ethiopia and the TPLF, must facilitate unhindered humanitarian access to allow aid organizations to help people in need.   

“AtA Charles’ trip further demonstrates the United States’ long-standing commitment to helping the people of Ethiopia. The United States is the largest donor of humanitarian assistance in Ethiopia, providing approximately $663 million since the crisis began. While humanitarian aid is vital for saving lives, an end to the conflict is needed to stop the suffering of millions of people.”

Chief White House Correspondent for

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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