The UN’s humanitarian chief has warned that some 90 percent of people in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia are in desperate need of food aid, with hundreds of thousands living in ‘famine conditions’. And yet members of the UN Security Council have failed to agree on meeting to discuss the situation. As he prepares to leave his post, Mark Lowcock told RFI why it’s time for the international community to step up.
No one knows how many thousands of civilians or combatants have been killed since political tensions between Ethiopian President Abiy Ahmed’s government and the Tigray leaders who used to dominate Ethiopia’s government exploded into war last November.
But the UN has a clearer picture of the misery it has caused, with an estimated two million people displaced, civilians killed and injured, rapes and other forms of sexual violence becoming widespread and systematic. Public and private infrastructure, essential for civilians, has also been destroyed, including hospitals and agricultural land.
The result is a food security situation bordering on famine, explains Mark Lowcock, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator since 2017. What’s more, as he wrote in a recent briefing, “there have been deliberate, repeated, sustained attempts to prevent [people in places controlled by Tigrayan opposition forces] from getting food”.
“It is a very alarming situation, it’s the worst food insecurity problem I’ve seen for many years now, possibly the worst since the terrible famine that took the lives of quarter of a million Somalis 10 years ago. Hundreds of thousands of people in northern Ethiopia are, in my own assessment, now living in effectively famine conditions,” he told RFI.
850 million dollars needed
Getting food aid to these people is vital, but while the UN and the Ethiopian government have helped about two million people in recent months, mainly in government-controlled areas, Lowcock says it is much harder accessing people in places controlled by Tigrayan opposition forces, by the Eritreans and other places controlled by militia groups.
There has to be a “dramatic reduction in hostilities, and a removal of all of the blockages in the way of aid agencies, men on check-points and so on,” he insists. They also need “a lot more international aid workers because the government does not have full control of Tigray – there are some places where there are huge numbers of people needing help, where government institutions aren’t there any more.”
The UN released $65M for the humanitarian response in Ethiopia, where more than 16 million people need humanitarian assistance, including at least 4.5 million in Tigray.