A blockade preventing medicines and other life-saving supplies reaching Ethiopia’s Tigray has created “hell” in the war-ravaged region, and is “an insult to our humanity”, said the World Health Organization’s chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“Nowhere in the world are we witnessing hell like in Tigray,” said on Wednesday Ghebreyesus – himself from the northern Ethiopian region.
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It is “so dreadful and unimaginable during this time, the 21st century, when a government is denying its own people for more than a year food and medicine and the rest to survive,” he told reporters.
The fighting between forces loyal to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and their allies has killed thousands of people and forced several million from their homes since it erupted in November 2020.
Tigray is under what the United Nations calls a de facto blockade that is preventing life-saving medicine and food from reaching millions, including hundreds of thousands in famine-like conditions.
Tedros said the situation was “desperate”.
“I’m from that region,” he said, adding though that “I am saying this without bias. The situation is serious … Imagine a complete blockade of seven million people for more than a year. And there is no food. There is no medication, no medicine. No electricity. No telecom. No media,” he said.
He also highlighted that there were now nearly daily deadly drone raids on the war-stricken region.
He added that while WHO had been permitted to send medicine and medication to other regions of Ethiopia, it had not been allowed to send any into Tigray since last July.
Doctors in the region were being forced to use expired drugs – and even those were running out, he said.
“Humanitarian access must be allowed at all times, even during conflict. Conflict cannot be an excuse,” he insisted, pointing out that even at the height of the devastating conflicts in Syria and Yemen, the UN health agency had always been able to send in assistance to those in need.
WHO emergencies chief Michael Ryan also decried the dire situation, saying it had left many with “no access to the very basic life-saving interventions”.
Basic insulin and other diabetes treatments had not been permitted into Tigray since the middle of last year, he said, warning this had left medical workers unable to “manage the most severe complications” of the disease, with potential “catastrophic, imminent health consequences”.
“From my perspective, it is an insult to our humanity to allow a situation like this to continue, to allow no access,” he told reporters.