Addis Abeba — Mark Lowcock, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, has today delivered a grim assessment on the humanitarian crisis in Tigray to members of the UN Security Council at a closed door meeting requested by the US under Any other Business (AOB).
In his remarks seen by Addis Standard, Mr. Lowcock revealed that since he last briefed the Council “just over a month ago, the humanitarian situation in Tigray has deteriorated.”
“To be very clear: the conflict is not over and things are not improving. Without a ceasefire, this already-grave humanitarian crisis is only going to get a lot worse,” he said.
His office has received the first report this week of four internally displaced people dying from hunger, he said. “I then received a report just this morning of 150 people dying from hunger in Ofla woreda- just south of Mekelle. This should alarm us all. It is a sign of what lies ahead if more action is not taken. Starvation as a weapon of war is a violation.”
Despite hopes that “things would improve after Prime Minister Abiy’s announcement in late March that Eritrean Defense Force soldiers would leave Tigray… neither the UN nor any of the humanitarian agencies we work with have seen proof of Eritrean withdrawal.”
The announcement “was a positive step towards reducing humanitarian suffering and winding down the conflict, given widespread and corroborated reports of Eritrean culpability in massacres and killings, including some committed in churches,”
Instead, he said, they have “heard some reports of Eritrean soldiers now wearing Ethiopian Defense Force uniforms.” And “regardless of uniform or insignia, humanitarian staff continue to report new atrocities which they say are being committed by Eritrean Defense Forces.”
The main access challenge now is “fighting and associated denial of access. Active hostilities are making the delivery of the response unpredictable.”
Mr Lowcock cited as example the crucial road running west from Adigrat to Shire, and it “has become nearly impassable in the last two weeks due to fighting and blockages.” Similarly, the main road connecting Mekelle to Adigrat “has been inaccessible in recent days due to active conflict. Transport of humanitarian relief between Mekelle and Shire, now hosting many IDPs, has therefore not been possible.
There is an alternative route between Mekelle and Shire, he said “but in the last few days, Eritrean forces have also blocked the movement of humanitarian staff on that road trying to deliver urgent support to children with severe acute malnutrition. We suspect the reason for the denial of access is that the children are in an area currently controlled by the TPLF. Again, preventing them from receiving help is a violation.”
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But the Eritreans are not the sole actors,according to the top There are reports of civilians being attacked and driven from their homes in western Tigray by Amhara militias, and Amhara authorities are restricting access to those people.
“In Western Tigray, Amhara authorities are blocking humanitarian access to the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing.”
Mr Lowcock’s briefing also contains atrocious accounts of sexual violence against women mentioning one such specific account of a survivor’s story. “An internally displaced woman who recently arrived in Shire explained that when conflict began in her town, she fled and hid in the forest for six days with her family. While hiding, she gave birth. Her baby died a few days later -at the same time that her husband was also killed. When she resumed her journey, she met four Eritrean soldiers who raped her in front of the rest of her children throughout the night and into the following day.” AS