Photo credit: UNESCAP - Photo: 2021

UN Concerned for the Safety of Staff Working on the Ground in Tigray

By Radwan Jakeem

NEW YORK (IDN) — UN has “serious concerns” for the safety of staff working on the ground in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. A UN humanitarian aid flight destined for the capital of the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia, was forced to return to Addis Ababa due to airstrikes on October 22, the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator said in a statement.

The raids in Tigray’s capital Mekelle, Tigray region, threatened the safety of UN staff who are simply there “working to help civilians in humanitarian need”, said relief chief Martin Griffiths, who heads up the humanitarian affairs office, OCHA. “The UN had not received any prior warning of the attacks on Mekelle and had received the necessary clearances for the flight,” he emphasized.

According to UN News, after heavy fighting erupted in November 2020 between Government troops and those loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), some 5.2 million people remain in need of assistance across the Ethiopian regions of Tigray, Amhara and Afar.

Amidst allegations of widespread human rights abuses on all sides, thousands are feared killed and more than two million have been forced to flee their homes. An even larger surge has been triggered over the past months, by killings, lootings and the destruction of health centres and farms, including irrigation systems that are vital to production.

“UN and non-Governmental organizations are making every effort to continue delivering assistance to millions of people in desperate need in Tigray, Amhara and Afar,” said Mr. Griffiths.

“Conflict dynamics make this increasingly difficult,” he added.

Meanwhile, as air strikes on Mekelle continued and humanitarian assistance into Tigray remains insufficient, Mr. Griffiths said he was “also increasingly alarmed about the impact of fighting in Amhara and Afar regions and the worsening toll on civilians”.

He underscored that “all precautions must be taken” to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure.

“Under international humanitarian law, all parties to the conflict must take constant care to spare civilians and civilian objects from harm, including humanitarian personnel and assets,” the Emergency Relief Coordinator explained.

According to the UN Spokesperson Mr. Stéphane Dujarric, Secretary-General António Guterres is stressing that all parties must avoid the targeting of civilians or civilian infrastructure and reiterated his call for all hostilities to stop.

“He urges the parties to prioritize the welfare of the people and to provide the necessary support for critical humanitarian assistance to flow, including facilitating the movement of fuel and medicines,” Mr. Dujarric said.

The lack of essential supplies, especially cash and fuel, is severely disrupting aid operations in Tigray, where at least 400,000 people are now facing famine-like conditions.

Civilians are being “caught up in the fighting and the fighting itself is forcing us to reduce life-saving operations when people need them most, including food distributions, water distribution and health services,” Mr. Dujarric said. [IDN-InDepthNews – 24 October 2021]

Photo: Food being unloaded from a truck at a WFP distribution site in Zelazle in the north of Tigray. © WFP/Claire Nevill

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