By Caroline Mwanga
The UN Security Council in its first open meeting on the conflict in the fidgety northern Ethiopian region has passionately called for immediate and unrestricted humanitarian access to Tigray—and for an end to deadly attacks on aid workers. Ramesh Rajasingham, Acting Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said: “One of the most distressing trends is an alarming rise in food insecurity and hunger due to conflict. More than 400,000 people are estimated to have crossed the threshold into famine and another 1.8 million people are on the brink of famine.
“Some are suggesting that the numbers are even higher. Thirty-three thousand children are severely malnourished and, moreover, the food insecurity crisis will continue to worsen during the impending rainy season, as food supplies are exhausted, and the risk of flooding and waterborne diseases, including cholera, increases. Considering where we already are, this means that more people will die certainly if we do not reach them with humanitarian assistance.”
Rosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, said earlier that nearly 1.7 million people have been displaced by fighting between Ethiopian troops and the Tigray Defence Force, with 60,000 refugees crossing the border into neighbouring Sudan, added
Besides, more than 1,200 incidents of serious sexual and gender-based violence have been reported—a number that is probably just a fraction of the real number of cases in a conflict that is particularly affecting women and children hard.
“The lives of many of these people (in Tigray) depend on our ability to reach them with food, medicine, nutrition supplies and other humanitarian assistance,” the acting relief chief told the 15-member Council.
“And we need to reach them now. Not next week. Now,” he added as he called for timely, unimpeded, safe and sustained humanitarian access—which, by international humanitarian law, must be guaranteed by all combatants.
It was the Council’s first public meeting on Tigray since the crisis erupted eight months ago, although it previously held a half-dozen briefings and discussions behind closed doors.
It came four days after Ethiopia announced a unilateral humanitarian ceasefire—one which the Tigray Defence Force, which now controls the Tigrayan capital Mekelle, and other cities and towns, has yet to agree to.
“All groups must stop fighting to allow humanitarian aid to get through unimpeded and to protect civilians…It is essential that we act fast and without any further obstruction,” Mr. Rajasingham said.
Both officials strongly condemned targeted attacks which have taken the lives of at least 12 humanitarian workers, including three from Médecins Sans Frontières staffers, just a week earlier.
One day before the Security Council’s open meeting, on July 1, International Rescue Committee (IRC) reported that a bridge on the Tekeze River, a key route for delivering humanitarian aid, was destroyed. The destruction of the bridge “means aid efforts will be even more severely hampered amid the ongoing conflict”, said the IRC in its Tweet, the Brussels-based EPA—Europe External Programme-Africa reported.
Up to 900,000 people are at risk of starvation by famine conditions that are “entirely man-made”, reported The Associated Press. Meanwhile, several international organisations have stated that while Tigray is in the midst of a power change the priority should be placed on the welfare of civilians and addressing acute shortages of food and humanitarian assistance.
Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for East Africa, said that “Amnesty International remains deeply concerned about the safety of civilians in Tigray, who have endured months of fighting and serious human rights abuses, including war crimes, by all sides […] protection of civilians must be paramount.”
These statements came after the Ethiopian government declared an unilateral ceasefire in Tigray on June 28. The Tigray government has stated that the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has retaken the city of Mekelle back from the control of Ethiopian forces. “In the midst of celebration there are fears of reprisal attacks against civilians in Tigray,” warned EPA.