This speech is taken from “WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 – 13 October 2021” After his opening remarks, the Director General spoke about the escalating crisis in northern Ethiopia.
As an Ethiopian from Tigray, this crisis affects me personally. But today I am speaking as the Director-General of the World Health Organization.
After 11 months of conflict, the humanitarian crisis in northern Ethiopia is growing worse by the day.
Up to 7 million people are in urgent need of food and other aid across Tigray, Amhara and Afar.
Tigray, with an estimated population of 6 million people, has now been under a de-facto blockade for almost a year. Humanitarian aid is not arriving at anywhere close to the levels needed, and basic services remain cut off, including electricity, banking and telecommunications.
The spread of the conflict into Amhara and Afar is further increasing needs and complicating response efforts.
In Tigray, more than 90 percent of the population needs food aid, and an estimated 400,000 people are living in famine-like conditions, based on the latest UN analysis.
Fuel shortages, a continuing communications black-out and other challenges make it difficult to assess the exact extent of the need.
But we are seeing acute malnutrition rates, at levels comparable to those we saw at the onset of the 2011 Somalia famine.
The de-facto blockade of Tigray is preventing us from getting aid to people in desperate need.
Since the end of June, we have only had access to Tigray via one road through the neighbouring Afar region, where movements are being severely restricted by official and unofficial checkpoints and roadblocks, insecurity and other obstacles.
The UN estimates that we need to bring in roughly 100 trucks of aid a day to meet basic needs in Tigray. But since July, the UN has only been able to move 10 percent of this.
The conflict has devastated Tigray’s healthcare system and no supplies of medicine have been allowed into the region since July.
Just a fraction of health facilities in Tigray remain operational due to a lack of fuel and supplies. People with chronic illnesses are dying due to lack of both food and medicine.
Nearly 200,000 children have gone without critical vaccinations. When people do not have enough food, they are more susceptible to deadly diseases, as well as the threat of starvation, and that’s what we’re now seeing in Tigray.
WHO will continue to do everything we can to provide essential life-saving support to all those affected by this crisis.
WHO and our partners ask for unfettered access to the affected regions. The lives of millions of people are at stake.