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As major media outlets, world governments and aid groups remain laser focused on Russia’s war on Ukraine, the first Black director of the World Health Organization hinted that racism is playing a role in the lack of concern for the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia.
Since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an attack on neighboring Ukraine on Feb. 24, the Western world has remained focused on a battle that many fear could lead to nuclear war. Most recently, the United Nations has called for a demilitarized zone around a Ukrainian nuclear power plant, according to Reuters.
Months after Russia took control over the Zaporizhzhia power plant in March, shelling near Europe’s largest power plant has the world concerned of another Chernobyl-style nuclear catastrophe. Both Russia and Ukraine have blamed each other for the continued shelling.
Yet, this week WHO Director Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned the world to pay attention to another humanitarian crisis over 4,000 miles away in Ethiopia.
Since November 2020, a Civil War in Ethiopia between ethnic Tigrayan forces and federal Ethiopian forces has led to a humanitarian crisis impacting more than 6 million people.
WHO Director Ghebreyesus has accused the Western world of turning a blind eye due to “the colour of the skin of the people,” The Guardian reported on Thursday.
Background on Ethiopian Civil War
Back in November 2020, Ethiopia began military operations in the Tigray region against the regional ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which used to rule the country. According to Human Rights Watch, the Ethiopian federal forces attacked civilian structures in Tigrayan towns, “including hospitals, schools, factories and businesses.”
The conflict forced over 2 million people to flee their homes and left over 2 million more in need of humanitarian assistance.
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was once celebrated by the outside world as a peacemaker for bringing an end to the 20-year stalemate between neighboring country Eritrea. But worldwide support for his leadership has soured after his invasion of the Tigrayan region, which has created one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.
Now, Tigrayan forces, Eritrean forces, and Ethiopian federal forces continue to battle as millions of civilian lives hang in the balance.
WHO director calls out color bias in humanitarian aid
Decades before Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus became the first African leader of the World Health Organization, the ethnic Tigrayan was himself a child of war growing up in Ethiopia.
“The sound of gunfire and shells whistling through the air; the smell of smoke after they struck; tracer bullets in the night sky; the fear; the pain; the loss – these things have stayed with me throughout my life, “ he told the World Health Assembly this year.
Now, he’s blasting countries for not doing more to address humanitarian crises in African and Middle Eastern countries, such as Yemen, Syria Afghanistan and Ethiopia.
For instance, while the United States under the Biden Administration has sent more than $54 billion in aid and military equipment to Ukraine to push back against Russia, the US has sent roughly $488 million to Ethiopia, according to a July press release from USAID.
To put it plainly, that means compared to the aid sent to Ukraine, only 1% of that amount has been sent to Ethiopia.
WHO director asks world to “uphold humanity” amid humanitarian crisis
“I haven’t heard in the last few months any head of state talking about the Tigray situation anywhere in the developed world. Anywhere. Why?” Tedros asked. “Maybe the reason is the colour of the skin of the people in Tigray.”
Meanwhile, throughout the conflict in Ethiopia, journalists have not been allowed to report inside the country, and for months little humanitarian relief reached the people in need.
While Ghebreyesus acknowledged the global risk of nuclear war in the Russian conflict with Ukraine, he made it clear his belief that racism is playing a role in which countries receive global support and resources amid a humanitarian crisis.
“Nowhere in the world you would see this level of cruelty, where it’s a government [that] punishes 6 million of its people for more than 21 months,” the WHO chief said. “The only thing we ask is: ‘Can the world come back to its senses and uphold humanity?’”
On Wednesday, Ethiopia’s foreign ministry announced a proposal for peace that would “lead to the conclusion of ceasefire.” The proposal would be shared with African Union envoy working on mediation. Yet, the proposal was dismissed by the Tigrayan leadership.
“If anything, the Abiy Ahmed regime has made it abundantly clear that it has no appetite for peaceful negotiations except as delaying tactics,” Tigray forces spokesperson Getachew Reda responded as both sides continue battling amid the humanitarian crisis.