UNITED NATIONS (AP) – Ethiopia’s crisis is “defiled our conscience,” says a United Nations humanitarian official, as children and others starve to death in Tigray region Under the UN resolution the de facto government is banning food, medicine and oil.
In an interview with The Associated Press Tuesday, Martin Griffiths strongly condemned what has been happening around the world almost a decade after the war. The commemoration of the famine in 1980 in Ethiopia, which killed at least 1 million people and whose images shocked the world, is vivid in his mind, “and we hope this doesn’t happen right now,” he said.
“That’s what keeps people awake at night,” says Griffiths, “worrying if that’s what is expected, and I’m looking forward to it soon.”
He also described poverty within the Tigray, where the incidence of malnutrition has now exceeded 22% – “almost the same as we saw in Somalia in 2011 at the beginning of the Somali famine,” which killed more than a quarter of a million people.
The war in Ethiopia began last November at the end of the Tigray harvest, with the UN saying half of the coming harvest will fail. Witnesses say Ethiopian and allied forces have destroyed or seized food supplies.
So far 10% of essential supplies are coming to Tigray in recent weeks, Griffiths said.
“As a result people have been eating roots and flowers and plants instead of regular food,” he said.
Lack of food will mean the death of people. ”
Last week, the AP, based on witness accounts and internal documents, said the first to starve as the Ethiopian government ordered that 6 million people be besieged to help reach the Tigray forces.
But hunger is not just a problem.
A UN humanitarian official, who visited Tigray recently, noted the lack of medication and said that at-risk children and pregnant or breastfeeding women are often the first to die of the disease. About 200,000 children across the country have been vaccinated since the war began.
And the shortage of oil – “to zero now,” says Griffiths – means that the UN and other aid agencies feel it is impossible to reach people all over Tigray or determine the extent of the need.
Telephone, internet and banking services have also been cut.
Billene Seyoum, a spokesman for Ethiopia’s Nobel Peace Prize winner Abiy Ahmed, did not respond. The government has blamed the government for bringing aid to the Tigray army, which had already ruled before Abiy took over. The Abiy government has also threatened UN officials and others for criticizing humanitarian workers in support of Tigray fighters.
Mr Griffiths said the allegations were baseless and unfair. He also told the government to share any inaccurate evidence of humanitarian workers for the UN to investigate, but “as far as I know, we have not been charged with such crimes.”
Workers heading to Tigray are instructed not to bring any products including multivitamins, preservatives and prescriptions, even their own. A UN humanitarian official said he had also been investigated after visiting Tigray, with officials checking all the contents of his wallet and asking why he was carrying headphones.
Ethiopian crisis has prompted the UN, the United States and others to urge militants to abandon the war and pursue peace, but Griffiths warned that “the war does not seem to be coming to an end any time soon.”
Instead, in recent weeks it has spread to the surrounding area of Amhara. Griffiths says the military forces involved are making it difficult to get help from hundreds of people.
Ethiopia will see the formation of a new government next week and serve a five-year term in office of the Prime Minister. Griffiths, who said he last spoke to Abiy three or four weeks ago, expressed hope he would change course.
“We all want to see that I open the election, to see the new leadership lead Ethiopia from the abyss that is currently under scrutiny, that the negotiations he had with me in the past, and the second one he talked to me last week, should happen,” Griffiths said.
“It has to be cohesive, it needs to be integrated and it needs to be done soon.”
Anna quotes from Nairobi, Kenya.