November 26, 2022

Tigrayans “starving to death” in Ethiopia and “giving them food is more important than medicine”, laments WHO chief Tedros

World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks at a special session of the World Health Assembly on Monday, November 29, 2021.
World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks at a special session of the World Health Assembly on Monday, November 29, 2021.

The World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus lamented on Wednesday that people in the Tigray region of Ethiopia are “starving to death” and are now in need of food more than medicine.

Speaking at a press briefing in Geneva, Switzerland, Dr. Ghebreyesus called for an end to the humanitarian blockade in the region, 500 days since the siege on Tigray began, warning that the situation is so bad that “people are starving to death” and “giving them food is more important than medicine.”

The WHO chief said the Ethiopian government has granted access into the region, but much more is needed. He said only 4 percent of Tigray’s medical needs have been supplied so far.

“Although Ukraine is rightly the focus of the world’s attention, it’s important that we don’t lose sight of the many other crises in which people are suffering,” he said. “Last week, I spoke about the humanitarian disaster in Tigray, and that WHO was still waiting for permission to send an additional 95 metric tonnes of medical supplies. Since then, permission has been granted. If we can deliver these supplies safely, they will help people in desperate need, but much more is needed. So far, only 4% of the needs for health supplies have been delivered to Tigray. That is insignificant.”

The WHO chief added that “the region has been under siege for almost 500 days, with dire shortages of fuel and food. People are starving to death. Actually, giving them food is more important than medicine. We continue to call on Ethiopia and Eritrea to end the blockade.”

Dr. Michael J. Ryan, an Irish doctor and Chief Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program called for an “unfettered access” into Tigray and Ukraine.

The conflict in Ethiopia seems to have taken a back seat in U.S. foreign policy agenda as the war in Ukraine rages on.

Peace has remained elusive in Ethiopia since a conflict between Ethiopian federal forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) exploded on November 4, 2020. Thousands of people have been killed and hundreds of thousands remain at an increased risk of famine.

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At some point, it appeared as though both sides were ready for negotiations, but as months went by and a new U.S. envoy was appointed, hope has continued to fade.

This week, the United States Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa David Satterfield visited Ethiopia March 21-22 to meet the Ethiopian government, African Union (AU), and United Nations officials, as well as representatives of humanitarian organizations.

On Monday, Satterfield met with AU High Representative for the Horn of Africa and former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and AU Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security Bankole Adeoye to discuss engagement on regional affairs, including Sudan and Ethiopia, the State Department said in a statement.

W.H.O. calls for help for Ukraine

Ukrainians fleeing Ukraine following Russia’s invasion © WHO / Kasia Strek

Dr. Ghebreyesus also called for help for Ukraine, saying that almost 10 million people have been forcibly displaced from Ukraine and the humanitarian situation continues to worsen.

He said, “It’s now one month since the Russian Federation invasion of Ukraine began. Almost 10 million people, nearly a quarter of Ukraine’s population, have now been forcibly displaced.

“The humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate in many parts of the country, and is critical in the Mariupol and Bucha districts.

“The disruption to services and supplies throughout Ukraine is posing an extreme risk to people with cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, HIV and TB, which are among the country’s leading causes of mortality. 

“Displacement, poor shelter, and overcrowded living conditions caused by the conflict are also increasing the risk of diseases such as measles, pneumonia and polio, as well as COVID-19. 

“So far, WHO has delivered about 150 metric tonnes of medical supplies.

“We have established supply lines from our warehouse in Lviv to many cities in Ukraine, but access to many parts of the country remains blocked.

“A humanitarian convoy to Mariupol was not able to be dispatched due to insecurity.

“We continue facing serious cash-flow constraints in our ability to deliver life-saving support.

“So far, WHO has received just 9.6 million US dollars against our appeal for 57.5 million dollars over the next three months.

“We thank Norway, Switzerland and the UN Central Emergency Response Fund for their generosity, but we continue to face a huge funding gap that prevents us from delivering urgently needed medical supplies.

“We call on donors to quickly address these urgent needs.

“WHO has now verified 64 attacks on health care since the start of the war, and we are in the process of verifying further attacks.

“Attacks on health must stop. Health systems, facilities and health workers are not – and should never be – a target. 

“We also have concerns around the integrity and safe operation of nuclear and chemical facilities.

“WHO is working with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and we continue to call on all sides to minimise the risk of a nuclear or chemical accident, which could have catastrophic consequences for human health.

“We continue to call on the Russian Federation to stop the war.”

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