Humanitarian workers must be allowed to help in Ethiopia without fear of attack
As I write, the conflict in and around Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region is well into its fifth week, with hundreds of people reportedly killed, tens of thousands displaced and millions enduring day after day without food, water and power.
Before this conflict, there were already nearly a million people in Tigray, including nearly 100,000 refugees from Eritrea and more than 100,000 people internally displaced by previous violence, who relied on aid to survive.
In the past five weeks, close to 50,000 refugees have arrived in Sudan, bringing with them heart-rending stories of suffering. Others have not made it. We’re receiving disturbing reports that some who are trying to seek safety in Sudan have been prevented from leaving.
We are also receiving disturbing reports of Tigrayans being identified and singled out in their jobs in other parts of the country.
The Red Cross has reported that the main hospital in Mekelle, the capital of Tigray, has no supplies, fuel or running water. Doctors and nurses have had to suspend intensive care services and are struggling with routine care, such as delivering babies or providing dialysis treatment. We have also received reports of women dying during childbirth — preventable deaths — due to the lack of adequate services and supplies.
So what can be done?
The United Nations and other humanitarian agencies need immediate and unfettered access so we can scale up urgently needed assistance and protection for vulnerable civilians, and get supplies to our teams on the ground. We’re talking to the federal government of Ethiopia and others on a daily basis to grant safe passage to humanitarian workers and supplies to the affected region, in line with the globally agreed principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and operational independence.
The government of Ethiopia has confirmed that a U.N. convoy was shot at on Dec. 6 as it carried out security assessments in Tigray.
What’s happening in Tigray right now is fundamentally a political problem. It won’t be resolved by violence. In the meantime, it is civilians who are bearing the brunt of the conflict. This must stop.
There’s a lot at stake. People should not be sanguine about the risks. Chaos in the Horn of Africa is in no one’s interest.
Conflicts like this are hard to stop once they get out of control — the lives they extinguish cannot be brought back, and the grievances they create are long-lasting.