Senior U.N. officials warned on Friday that more than 400,000 people are fighting to stay alive in the face of famine in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, and 1.8 million more are on the verge of having almost nothing to eat.
The officials provided the grim assessment to the United Nations Security Council’s first open meeting on the conflict in Tigray, which erupted in November after an attack on a military base that prompted Ethiopia’s government to seize control of several towns and a humanitarian base with nearly 100,000 Eritrean refugees.
Their reports noted at least least 1,200 sexual and gender-based attacks and an appeal for the 15-nation council based in New York to ensure humanitarian workers have unrestricted access to the region. At least 12 humanitarian workers, including three from Geneva-based Médecins Sans Frontières, have been killed in attacks there.
Ramesh Rajasingham, the U.N.’s acting undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, said 400,000 people have “crossed the threshold into famine” with 1.8 million more close behind them in the northern Ethiopia region, where many of the farms also suffered from swarms of locusts.
“The lives of many of these people depend on our ability to reach them with food, medicine, nutrition supplies and other humanitarian assistance,” he told the council, which met four days after Ethiopia’s government announced a unilateral humanitarian ceasefire. The Tigray Defense Force, which controls the region’s capital Mekelle, have not yet agreed to it. “And we need to reach them now. Not next week. Now.”
In Tigray, Ethiopia, there must be:
•Adherence by all parties to a ceasefire
•Restoration of national unity through inclusive dialogue and reconciliation
•Unhindered humanitarian access, assistance
•Accountability for human rights violations. https://t.co/FOmbW05lS7
— Rosemary A. DiCarlo (@DicarloRosemary) July 2, 2021
Though the council did not act or issue a statement after the meeting, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the council is watching the region closely due to its many reported atrocities.
“We’ve heard from NGOs and U.N. agencies about vast displacements, countless human rights abuses, hundreds of thousands of people facing famine, the bombing of civilians, the killing and intimidation of humanitarian workers, the systematic rape of women and girls and unspeakable acts of sexual violence, the purposeful obstruction of humanitarian aid, the deliberate destruction of U.N. communications equipment,” Thomas-Greenfield said.
“We know that millions of civilians in the region are desperately suffering, and we called for today’s briefing because the conflict needs to end,” she said. “We need to marshal more funding and scale up the U.N. response, we need to ensure respect for international humanitarian law and humanitarian access, and we need public accountability for the atrocities that have been committed.”