Ethiopia is facing an ‘immense humanitarian crisis’, UN chief warns

Ethiopia is facing an ‘immense humanitarian crisis’, UN chief warns

The UN estimates conflict has driven 400,000 into famine-like conditions in northern Ethiopia with up to seven million people in need of food assistance

An aid worker screens a child for malnutrition in Adikeh, in the Wajirat district of the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia on 19 July, 2021. Photograph: Christine Nesbitt/AP

(Theguardian)  Ethiopia is facing an “immense humanitarian crisis” amid civil war and famine, United Nations secretary general António Guterres has warned. The UN chief made the comments during an emergency meeting of the security council on Wednesday, calling for Addis Ababa to grant “unhindered” aid access, a week after the country expelled seven UN officials. It is the second emergency meeting in a week to address the expulsion of seven UN officials from Ethiopia as conflict and famine-like conditions plague the north of the country. The UN estimates conflict has driven 400,000 into famine-like conditions with up to seven million people in need of food assistance in regions such as Tigray, Amhara and Afar.

Last year, long-running tensions between prime minister Abiy Ahmed and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) erupted into fighting.

“The country is facing an immense humanitarian crisis that demands immediate attention,” Guterres said. “All efforts should be squarely focused on saving lives and avoiding a massive human tragedy.”

The secretary general described the decision by the Ethiopian government to expel seven senior UN officials – most of them humanitarian staff – as “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,” Guterres added.

He urged Ethiopian authorities to allow the UN to deliver humanitarian aid “without hindrance and to facilitate and enable our work with the urgency that this situation demands” and criticised the country for not following the procedures in place in case of problems with UN officials within countries.

US ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, also called on the Ethiopian government, the TPLF, and regional militias to “end the fighting now, allow humanitarian access, and move toward a negotiated ceasefire immediately” in a series of tweets on Thursday.

The explusions of Unicef, UNOCHA, and UN human rights staff were “an affront to the security council, she said. “There is no justification for the Ethiopian government’s actions. None at all,” she added.

Officials from Ethiopia were due to take part in the UN meeting.

On Friday, the security council met to discuss the expulsion of officials who were accused of “meddling” in Ethiopia’s internal affairs and of political manipulation of humanitarian aid.

Following the 30 September decision, the UN wrote to the Ethiopian government, stating that declaring a staff member persona non grata, and demanding they leave the territory, is inconsistent with a country’s obligation under the UN charter.

In a letter seen by Agence France-Presse, the UN says it has not been given “any information” on the officials’ alleged actions.

A UN spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said on Tuesday that Ethiopia has not provided any additional information.

The meeting on Wednesday was requested by the United States, Ireland, Estonia, Norway, Britain and France.

On Friday, the security council could not agree on a statement proposed by Ireland due to opposition from China and Russia.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an ambassador of a security council member state told AFP that “we should move on to political negotiations.”

The expulsions sent shockwaves through the UN, where such moves are rare.

The UN’s humanitarian chief, Martin Griffiths, whose recent statements about the “blocking” of humanitarian aid and a growing risk of famine could be behind the decision, dismissed the allegations against the UN as false at the security council meeting on Friday, but did not say what they were, another ambassador of a council member told AFP.

The ambassador also said that the expulsions in Ethiopia could set a dangerous precedent for conflicts in Myanmar or Afghanistan.

“If we don’t resolve the situation in Ethiopia, it could create a snowball effect,” the ambassador added.

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