By Joyce Mukucha
As part of his first official meeting since he assumed office in mid-July this year, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator , Martin Griffiths, on Tuesday concluded his six-day visit to Ethiopia with a fresh push to get badly needed food and other supplies into the embattled Tigray region.
This follows the increasing of conflict and increasing difficulty getting aid into northern Ethiopia associated with disruption of essential services, including access to communication, fuel and the banking system compounding the dire situation.
While in Ethiopia, the humanitarian chief who also heads the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) held constructive meetings with the Federal Government, the Amhara regional president, the African Union, and the humanitarian and diplomatic community to discuss the country’s downward spiraling situation.
During his meetings with the Prime Minister and other key interlocutors, including the Deputy Prime Minister/Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Peace, Griffiths had the opportunity to discuss the humanitarian situation in the country and the challenges aid organizations face in getting assistance to Ethiopians.
Griffiths also spent two days in the Tigray region, where he saw first-hand the dire humanitarian situation, meeting with civilians whose lives had been upended by the conflict including a couple whose house was destroyed in Hawzen.
“I met with people in Tigray who lost everything they had after they had to flee their villages or towns, leaving behind their houses and farms. In Hawzen, I visited a family whose house was burned and crops were looted. It was heart-breaking to see the scale of devastation and families who, to this day, do not have a place to live or food to put on their table,” Griffiths said.
During his visit to Tigray, Mr. Griffiths also met with civilians who had suffered horrific violence and saw first-hand the systematic destruction of civilian infrastructure, including schools, hospitals and water systems.
In Mekelle and Freweyni, the humanitarian chief engaged with women who had endured unimaginable violence, including some who said they had been raped for weeks.
Although these women need comprehensive and holistic services, Mr. Griffiths lamented that this is unavailable as most health centres are not functional.
“This is happening at a moment where most health centres are not functional, like the hospital I visited in Hawzen, where almost nothing but the walls were left untouched; all equipment and medicines have to be replaced these women need access to comprehensive and holistic services. We need to change the circumstances that have led to the slow movement of aid, we need the conflict to stop,” he said.
According to OCHA, more than 5.2 million people across Tigray, amounting to more than 90 per cent of the region’s population including nearly 400,000 people already facing famine-like conditions now require life-saving assistance.
Beyond Tigray, humanitarian organizations are assisting millions of people in Ethiopia facing conflict, displacement, and drought, and are now scaling up response efforts in Amhara and Afar, in light of significant conflict-related displacement and humanitarian needs are also surging in neighbouring Amhara and Afar to curb conflict spills over into these regions.
The humanitarian chief said: “It is my highest priority that every Ethiopian in humanitarian need be they in Tigray, in Amhara, in Afar, or indeed in every region of this country receive assistance.”
And across the Amhara-Tigray regional border there are an estimated 100,000 internally displaced people in various pockets.
Meanwhile, there are dangerous accusations circulating about aid workers which were denounced by the UN humanitarian chief.
According to news reports, the humanitarian chief denounced accusations by Ethiopian Government officials saying that aid workers were biased in favour of the rebels in Tigray.
“Blanket accusations of humanitarian aid workers need to stop, they need to be backed up by evidence if there is any and, frankly, it’s dangerous,” said Griffiths.
As hundreds of thousands suffer from famine, Mr. Griffiths also called for desperately needed aid to be allowed into the mountainous region .
“We need 100 trucks a day going into Tigray to meet humanitarian needs”, he said, adding that the number was a “calculated need” and not “over-estimated”.
He also reported that in recent days, 122 trucks made it into the fragile region.
OCHA warned that the limited humanitarian presence in the region has rendered the response insufficient and that emergency shelter, food and non-food items remain key priorities along with the pre-positioning of health, nutrition, shelter, and supplies.
Last week the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned that more than 100,000 children in Tigray could suffer life-threatening malnutrition in the next 12 months, a 10-fold increase over normal numbers.
By Joyce Mukucha