The World Health Organization called Wednesday for a massive influx of food and medicines into Ethiopia’s Tigray region, saying desperately needed aid had not yet been allowed in following the cease-fire combatants reached last week.
WHO said people in Tigray needed urgent assistance after two years of bloody conflict, with access to the region severely restricted.
The conflict between government forces and Tigrayan rebels has plunged Ethiopia’s northernmost region into a severe humanitarian crisis, with only a trickle of relief having gotten through.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus welcomed the breakthrough cease-fire agreement reached November 2 but warned it was already a week on “and nothing is moving in terms of food aid or medicines.”
“Many people are dying from treatable diseases. Many people are dying from starvation,” he said at a press conference. “Even in the middle of fighting, civilians need food, need medicine. It cannot be a condition.
“Especially after the cease-fire agreement, I was expecting that food and medicine would just flow immediately. That’s not happening.”
“Let’s give a chance to peace,” he added. “But we would also urge the immediate delivery of food and medicine.”
Tedros is from Tigray and was Ethiopia’s health minister and foreign minister.
He called for reopening basic services such as banking and telecoms and allowing journalists into the region, “because everything that has happened in the last two years has been done in total darkness, and 6 million people have been completely separated, shut off from the rest of the world as if they don’t exist.”
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The government in Addis Ababa and the Tigrayan rebels reached an agreement after nine days of talks under the aegis of the African Union in Pretoria, South Africa, less than 48 hours before the second anniversary of the outbreak of the war.
The two parties indicated in a joint statement that they would cease hostilities immediately, disarm the rebels, allow the resumption of aid deliveries and restore basic services.
WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan welcomed the notion of a humanitarian corridor into Tigray but said experience in other crises showed it was vital that the corridor remain open “and unrestricted.”
“The people in Tigray need immediate, massive, overwhelming assistance now,” Ryan said, including not just food and health care but also goods and commodities, plus the free movement of staff to deliver the aid.
Ryan said a “drip-drip” flow of aid, or help being turned on and off, “is not going to work.”
A week on from the cease-fire, “we still remain on standby to take advantage of any opportunity to provide lifesaving assistance to the people there right now,” he said.