‘Narrow window to prevent genocide in Tigray’ warns WHO chief

Archbishop Jerome Lloyd OSJVPosted by

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who hails from the region, said the almost two-year conflict has ripped apart the social fabric

‘Narrow window to prevent genocide in Tigray’ warns WHO chief
People stand in line to receive food donations, at the Tsehaye primary school, which was turned into a temporary shelter for people displaced by conflict, in the town of Shire, Tigray region, Ethiopia
It is thought that tens if not hundreds of thousands of people have now died in the conflict CREDIT: Baz Ratner/REUTERS

The World Health Organization chief has said that there is a “very narrow window now to prevent genocide” in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.

“I’m running out of diplomatic language for the deliberate targeting of civilians,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters from WHO headquarters in Geneva. “The social fabric is being ripped apart and civilians are paying a horrific price.” 

Dr Ghebreyesus, who hails from the embattled region, said there was no other situation on earth where “six million people have been kept under siege for almost two years”.

“Even people who have money are starving because they can’t access their bank for two years,” he added. “Children are dying every day from malnutrition…There are no services for tuberculosis, HIV, diabetes, hypertension and more.”

Ethiopian federal forces, Eritrean soldiers and allied ethnic militias have been battling Tigrayan rebels in a desperate infantry war on four fronts across the region’s mountainous terrain since a fragile ceasefire shattered in late August.

A woman stands in line to receive food donations, at the Tsehaye primary school, which was turned into a temporary shelter for people displaced by conflict, in the town of Shire, Tigray region, Ethiopia
Civilians are paying a horrific price for the conflict CREDIT: Baz Ratner/REUTERS

The conflict now involves hundreds of thousands of troops, with both sides claiming the other is using “human wave” tactics to take positions and is likely the “deadliest war in the world”, according to analysts.

It is thought that tens if not hundreds of thousands of people have now died in the conflict, which is largely hidden by a government-led information blackout.

Recent reports suggest that Tigrayan forces have suffered heavy losses around the major town of Shire, some 90 miles from the regional capital of Mekelle.

‘This affects me personally’

The latest mass offensive is part of a horrific civil war which erupted across the northern stretch of Africa’s second most populous nation in late 2020 when the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed attacked a dissident local government in the Tigray region.

“Yes, I’m from Tigray. And yes, this affects me personally…I don’t pretend it doesn’t,” said Dr Ghebreyesus, stressing his personal relationship to the conflict.

“Most of my relatives are in the most affected areas, more than 90 per cent of them. But my job is to draw the world’s attention to crisis that threatens the health of people wherever they are.”

Separately, the UK announced on Wednesday that it was going to provide an additional £14m of humanitarian assistance for 150,000 women and children suffering drought and conflict in Ethiopia.

Medhin Gereziher, one, is treated for malnutrition at the Ayder Referral Hospital in Mekele, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia
Babies are dying in their first month of life at four times the rate they did before the war in Ethiopia’s Tigray region CREDIT: AP

Minister for Development Vicky Ford, who is currently in Ethiopia, and urged the country’s deputy prime minister to cease hostilities, join African Union-led peace talks and allow humanitarian access. Ms Ford also said Eritrean troops should withdraw.

It is unlikely that the UK’s words will have any influence at this stage of the war. The UK has been losing influence across much of Africa for years due to Foreign Office budget cuts and lack of attention from successive prime ministers.

Ethiopia is backed by China and Russia, as well as a rafter of African allies, who have blocked or stymied meaningful attempts to address the horrific civil war at the United Nations or the African Union.

The US, which still holds considerable sway in the region, seem to have ruled out imposing an arms embargo on Ethiopia out of fear it could lead to a Tigrayan victory and a wider destabilisation of the Horn of Africa.

Earlier this month, the Telegraph reported from Mekelle’s main hospital where child cancer victims and diabetes patients were waiting to die after medication ran out.

“Our patients come here only for us to watch them die,” said Dr Kibrom Gebresilasie, the hospital’s Chief Medical Director, at the time. “A piece of the doctors is dying every day.”

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