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News: UN OCHA chief affirms solidarity with Ethiopia, discusses humanitarian operations, warns against attacking aid workers

Martin Griffiths, New UN OCHA Chief

By Etenesh Abera @EtenehsAb 

Addis Abeba, August 04/2021 – Martin Griffiths, the newly appointed UN OCHA chief yesterday in a press briefing concluding his six day visit to Ethiopia, where he affirmed the solidarity of OCHA with the people of Ethiopia, discussed the status of humanitarian work in war torn Tigray and warned against the endangerment of the lives of humanitarian aid workers.  

The chief said, “Ethiopia needs a lot of humanitarian aid across the country especially in Tigray, Afar and Amhara regions.” According to the chief he raised the issue with PM Abiy Ahmed, Deputy PM and Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonen as well as the Minister of Peace Muferiat Kamil. He stressed on the importance of meeting all stakeholders including the African Union. 

The humanitarian chief who travelled to Tigray on a two day visit, complained of  some difficulties. On his visit to the war torn region, he disclosed that he visited the capital Mekele and traveled around the region to oversee the humanitarian operation. ‘’My conclusion from a wide range of meetings with women’s groups, internally displaced people, teachers, local community and health workers. I can say the humanitarian needs in Tigray were not exaggerated,” he continued while stressing on the importance of a swift response, ”They are of utmost urgency and importance and now the need is growing in Amhara and Afar as a result of the conflict ’’ Martin Griffiths said at the press briefing held in the capital Addis Abeba.

On his trip he disclosed that he saw first-hand the dire humanitarian situation, meeting with civilians whose lives had been upended by the conflict. “I met with people in Tigray who lost everything they had after they had to flee their villages or towns, leaving behind their houses and farms. In Hawzen, I visited a family whose house was burned and crops were looted. It was heart-breaking to see the scale of devastation and families who, to this day, do not have a place to live or food to put on their table,” said the humanitarian chief.

The chief highlighted the visit by Catherine Sozi, the OCHA Ethiopia representative to the Amhara region and the meeting with the regional president Agegnehu Teshager about OCHA’s intent to provide assistance to the Amhara region as humanitarian needs grow due to the conflict in the country.  Likewise he highlighted the damage done to the humanitarian operation due to the conflict spreading into Afar region. 

Highlighting the important steps for the humanitarian operation to succeed, the chief said, “We need an end to the conflict and a safe place for people in that particular region in Northern Ethiopia to receive the aid that they deserve and for facilities to be ready for them. This needs to happen according to the principles of neutrality and impartiality which are the bases for humanitarian work.”  

Answering questions about the difficulty faced by humanitarian organizations operating in Tigray, he said, “The importance of cash money in Tigray is not different from other parts of the world in regard to humanitarian operations. The banking system is no longer functional and while the government has introduced a system to allow a cash system which is very welcome but they need to improve it,” he continued, “The biggest challenge for us is to enable humanitarian workers on the frontline to do their job.” 

The humanitarian chief commented on accusations of collusion made by the federal government against humanitarian workers by explaining that working with the local communities and local administration is a must to achieve optimal results. “There is nothing controversial about this. It is not supporting TPLF who are in conflict with the federal government of Ethiopia.  If there are instances where humanitarian individuals have broken the rule of neutrality we should be informed and that will be investigated by every respective humanitarian organization,” he added, “Blanket accusations of humanitarian aid workers need to stop’’ 

He explained that such blanket accusations could endanger the safety of humanitarian aid workers.  The chief also addressed the status of local and international humanitarian organizations workers. ‘’They need every support and sympathy. They are working in hard and difficult circumstances,’’ 

The UN humanitarian chief disclosed that at least 100 trucks per day are needed to fulfill the humanitarian need in Tigray region. He also disclosed that there are an estimated 80,000 IDPs in Afar region and 100,000 in Amhara region due to the ongoing conflict. According to a press release by OCHA more than 5.2 million people in Tigray region still require assistance while 400,000 people are already facing famine-like conditions. AS 

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