WHO urges ‘immediate’ food, medical aid for Tigray

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – The World Health Organization on Wednesday called for a massive influx of food and medicine to Ethiopia’s Tigray region, saying desperately needed aid had not yet been allowed in after the ceasefire fighters reached last week.

WHO said people in Tigray needed urgent help after two years of bloody conflict, with access to the region severely restricted.

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The conflict between government forces and Tigrayan rebels has plunged Ethiopia’s northernmost region into a severe humanitarian crisis, with only a trickle of relief emerging.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus welcomed the breakthrough ceasefire agreement reached on November 2 but warned that it was already a week in “and nothing is moving in terms of food aid or medicines.”

“Many people are dying of treatable diseases. Many people are dying of starvation,” he told a news conference. “Even in the midst of fighting, civilians need food, need medicine. It can’t be a condition.

“Especially after the cease-fire agreement, I expected food and medicine to just flow directly. It’s not happening.”

“Let us give peace a chance,” he added. “But we would also call for the immediate delivery of food and medicine.”

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is from Tigray.

He called for the resumption of basic services such as banking and telecoms and for journalists to enter the region, “because everything that has happened in the last two years has been done in total darkness, and 6 million people have been completely separated, cut off from the rest of the world as if they didn’t exist.”

Calls with unlimited access

The government in Addis Ababa and Tigrayan rebels reached an agreement after nine days of talks under the auspices of the African Union in Pretoria, South Africa, less than 48 hours before the second anniversary of the outbreak of the war.

The two sides indicated in a joint statement that they would immediately cease hostilities, disarm the rebels, allow the resumption of aid deliveries and restore basic services.

WHO emergency chief Michael Ryan welcomed the idea of ​​a humanitarian corridor to Tigray, but said experience from other crises shows it is important that the corridor remains open “and unrestricted”.

“The people of Tigray need immediate, massive, overwhelming aid now,” Ryan said, including not only food and health care but also goods and raw materials, plus the free movement of personnel to deliver the aid.

Ryan said a “drip-drip” flow of aid, or aid being turned on and off, “is not going to work.”

A week after the ceasefire, “we still remain ready to take advantage of every opportunity to provide life-saving assistance to the people there right now,” he said.

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