UN fears sectarian violence that could ‘smash’ Ethiopia
Geneva – Ethiopia is at risk of sinking into sectarian violence and a chaotic exodus to Kabul if the year-long conflict spreads to the capital Addis Ababa, the UN aid chief has warned.
In an interview with AFP, Martin Griffiths expressed his deep concern for the stability of a nation of 115 million people made up of more than 80 ethnic groups.
Griffiths, the UN’s Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs, said the conflict in Ethiopia had perhaps sparked the world’s most serious humanitarian crisis.
He warned that a battle in the capital Addis Ababa and increased community violence could worsen the situation “exponentially”.
Humanitarian organizations have worked to meet growing needs in Ethiopia and to put in place contingency plans in case the crisis worsens.
“I think the worst from a humanitarian standpoint (would be) if there was a battle for Addis or unrest around there, leading to increased community violence across the country,” Griffiths said. .
“If that were to happen, we would be facing something that I don’t think we have faced for many years: We are facing a fracture… of the Ethiopian fabric. “
The chaos resulting from such a situation would be much worse than what has happened in the past 13 months.
Thousands of people have been killed, two million displaced and hundreds of thousands plunged into near starvation conditions since conflict erupted in November 2020, according to UN estimates.
The conflict began when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops to the northernmost region of Tigray to overthrow the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray (TPLF) – a move he said came in response to rebel attacks against the army camps.
The rebels made a comeback, recapturing most of Tigray in June before expanding into neighboring areas of Amhara and Afar.
The conflict took a brutal turn about a month ago when the TPLF claimed to have captured strategic towns on a key highway in the capital.
But last week, Abiy deployed himself to the conflict zone, and the government has since claimed to have regained control of several towns, including Lalibela, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Griffiths called for an end to the violence.
Even as the fighting approaches the Ethiopian capital, he insisted that “major targets must be avoided”, including the airport and the city itself, with a population of over five million, “where it is unimaginable to think of a battle like this”.
He said: “The real basic worry is that the conflict will turn into communal violence in different parts of the country, as opposed to conflict between the government and specific groups… That would make everything exponentially worse.”
While the UN intended to stay on to provide aid regardless, he said expats like diplomats and others in Addis fear the country could witness scenes reminiscent of the chaotic evacuation of the country. airport after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August.
They fear that “the same will happen in Kabul,” he said.
When asked if he believed it could really happen, he replied, “I think it might, but I hope it won’t.”
Speaking to AFP ahead of the launch of the international humanitarian community’s annual global appeal, Griffiths stressed that the nearly $ 3 billion requested to meet Ethiopia’s aid needs next year was considerably more higher than in previous calls “because of the likelihood that those needs will increase.” . “
The UN World Food Program said last week that the number of people in need of food aid in war-ravaged northern Ethiopia had climbed to more than nine million, as drought also exacerbated the food insecurity in other regions.
The UN has warned that 400,000 people in the north of the country are at risk of starvation, but Griffiths said a lack of fuel and access to assess the situation on the ground meant widespread famine had failed. yet been confirmed.
With improved access and more fuel available, UN agencies are now aiming to do the assessment within weeks.
When asked if there was a risk of a repeat of the devastating famine conditions that killed more than a million people in Ethiopia in the mid-1980s, Griffiths replied that he hoped not.
“I just hope before God that we are not going to see this kind of misery.”
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