WHO chief says 'systematic blockade' of Tigray killing people

WHO chief says 'systematic blockade' of Tigray killing people
WHO chief says 'systematic blockade' of Tigray killing people
2 min read
12 November, 2021
The Tigray conflict continues [Getty]

Ethiopia's conflict-torn Tigray region is under "effective blockade", the World Health Organization chief said Friday, warning that people were starving to death and dying from lack of access to medicines.

"People are dying because of lack of supplies," Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, himself a from Ethiopia's northern Tigray region, told reporters from the UN health agency's Geneva headquarters.

WHO, he said, "cannot send supplies and medicines to Tigray because it's under blockade, and the blockade is systematic".

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government has been locked in a year-long war with the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), which has pushed south in recent months and has not ruled out a possible march on the capital Addis Ababa.

The TPLF is demanding an end to what the UN describes as a de facto humanitarian blockade on Tigray, where hundreds of thousands of people are believed to be living in famine-like conditions.

No aid has gone into the region by road since October 18, and 364 trucks are stuck in the capital of Afar "pending authorisation from the authorities to proceed", the UN said Thursday in a weekly report on the humanitarian situation.

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In the current situation, Tedros said, assistance from WHO and other aid organisations to the region had shrivelled to "almost nothing".

"So no medicine. People are dying. No food. People are starving. No telecommunication. They are isolated from the rest of the world. No fuel. No cash."

The WHO chief also lamented how Tigrayans across the country were "being profiled and arrested en mass, by the thousands".

"This is blatant and open."

Last week the government imposed a nationwide state of emergency, triggering a fresh wave of mass arrests that has further hobbled the aid response.

Some 22 UN staffers have been detained in the raids that rights groups say target ethnic Tigrayans, and the UN has also sounded the alarm about 72 drivers contracted by the World Food Programme who have been detained in Afar.

The government describes such arrests as part of a legitimate effort to stamp out the TPLF.