The head of the World Health Organization on Wednesday condemned the dire situation in Ethiopia’s conflict-torn Tigray region and warned that urgent action was needed to avert “genocide”.
“The world is not paying enough attention,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters from WHO headquarters in Geneva, stressing “there is now a very narrow window to prevent the Tigray genocide.”
Addis Ababa said on Tuesday it had captured three cities in the northern region where fighting between pro-government forces and rebels has raged since August after a ceasefire collapsed.
International concern is growing for those caught in the crossfire in Tigray, where Ethiopian forces and troops from neighboring Eritrea have stepped up their offensive.
The UN has described the situation as spiraling out of control and inflicted an “absolutely staggering” toll on civilians.
Tedros, who is himself from the northern region and has repeatedly denounced the situation there, said he was “running out of diplomatic language for targeting civilians in Tigray.
– “Random Attacks” –
“The social fabric is being torn apart and civilians are paying a terrible price,” he said, stressing that “hostilities in Tigray must end now, including the immediate withdrawal and disengagement of Eritrean forces from Ethiopia.”
Tedros stressed that “indiscriminate attacks or attacks intentionally aimed at civilians or civilian objects constitute war crimes.”
The WHO chief said the people of Tigray have been essentially barred from essential services since the conflict erupted in November 2020.
“There is no other situation in the world where six million people are under siege for almost two years,” he said.
“Banks, food, electricity and health care are being used as weapons of war,” he lamented.
“Even people who have money are starving because they don’t have access to their bank for two years,” he said, adding that “every day children die of malnutrition.”
Tedros acknowledged that he was personally affected by the situation in Tigray.
“Most of my relatives live in the hardest-hit areas,” he said, but insisted “my job is to draw the world’s attention to crises that are threatening people’s health, wherever they are.”
“This is a health crisis for six million people,” he said.
“The world is not paying enough attention.”