By Cecilia Ologunagba
UN Secretary General António Guterres says a military confrontation that started 10 months ago in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region is spreading with serious implications for the country and the region.
Guterres told the UN Security Council on Thursday in New York that Ethiopia’s unity and the region’s stability were at stake.
“A humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding before our eyes,” he warned, calling for an immediate ceasefire and the launch of a national political dialogue.
Outlining the severity of the situation, the UN chief said the military frontlines in Tigray had reached the neighbouring Amhara and Afar regions.
The Ethiopian government’s 28 June declaration of a unilateral ceasefire and withdrawal of the National Defence Forces from Mekelle have not led to a comprehensive ceasefire.
Tigray remains under a de-facto humanitarian blockade and cut off from electricity and communications, the UN chief informed the council members.
Guterres said that actors in Ethiopia had entered the fight through mass mobilisation and the activation of regional and armed groups.
“Inflammatory rhetoric and ethnic profiling are tearing apart the social fabric of the country,” he emphasised.
According to him, the human price of the war is mounting by the day as more than two million people have been displaced and millions more are in immediate need of food, water, shelter and health care.
At least 400,000 people are living in famine-like conditions, with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warning that 100,000 face severe acute malnutrition within the year.
Amid reports of sexual and gender-based violence, refugee camps have been destroyed and hospitals looted.
“I condemn these atrocious acts in the strongest possible terms. There must be accountability,’’ the secretary-general said.
While the Organisation and its partners have mobilised to reach five million people with food, Guterres said that the response was severely constrained by insecurity, delays and a host of arbitrary restrictions on the work of humanitarian agencies.
Overland access into Tigray now depends on a single route, through Afar, which involves passing through numerous checkpoints.
At the same time, although agencies require roughly 100 trucks worth of assistance to reach Mekelle every day, no trucks have arrived for over a week.
“Warehouses are now empty”, the UN chief lamented.
Beyond Tigray, the conflict in Afar and Amhara has displaced reportedly 300,000 more people, he said, events that have unfolded alongside efforts to maintain broader support across Ethiopia in response to inter-communal violence, flooding and locust infestation.
Guterres said the fighting had drained one billion dollars from Ethiopia’s coffers, while noting that debt is mounting.
Credit access is drying up, inflation is on the rise and the country is suffering from the fifth highest incidence of COVID-19 cases on the continent.
Against that backdrop, the secretary general repeated his call on parties to immediately end hostilities, without preconditions, and to negotiate a lasting ceasefire.