UN Chief ‘Shocked’ as Ethiopia Expels 7 Aid Officials

The U.N. secretary-general expressed “shock” Thursday after the Ethiopian government announced the expulsion of seven senior U.N. humanitarian officials working in the country.“In Ethiopia, the U.N. is delivering lifesaving aid — including food, medici…

The U.N. secretary-general expressed “shock” Thursday after the Ethiopian government announced the expulsion of seven senior U.N. humanitarian officials working in the country.

“In Ethiopia, the U.N. is delivering lifesaving aid — including food, medicine, water, and sanitation supplies — to people in desperate need,” Antonio Guterres said in a statement. “I have full confidence in the U.N. staff who are in Ethiopia doing this work.”

He said the organization is engaging with the Ethiopian authorities “in the expectation that the concerned U.N. staff will be allowed to continue their important work.”

The seven officials have been given 72 hours to leave Ethiopia. They include the U.N.’s deputy humanitarian chief, the deputy humanitarian coordinator, and the U.N. Children’s Agency (UNICEF) representative.

In a tweet, the ministry of foreign affairs said the seven were “meddling in the internal affairs of the country.”

Conflict-induced hunger

The Ethiopian federal government has been engaged in an armed conflict with rebels in the northern Tigray region for nearly one year. The government declared a unilateral cease-fire and withdrew its forces in June, but the conflict has continued to spill into the neighboring regions of Amhara and Afar.

Of the 6 million people who live in Tigray, the U.N. says 5.2 million need some level of food assistance. Over 400,000 people are already living in famine-like conditions, and another 1.8 million people are on the brink of famine.

On Wednesday, U.N. Humanitarian Chief Martin Griffiths said that after 11 months of conflict and three months of a de facto government blockade, the humanitarian crisis in Tigray is spiraling out of control.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Griffiths said the humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia is a “stain on our conscience,” as civilians starve because aid workers are being blocked from getting enough supplies to them.

One hundred aid trucks are needed daily in the region, but in the past week, only 79 in total were allowed in, a U.N. spokesman said.

“Trucks carrying fuel and medical supplies still cannot enter into Tigray,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Wednesday. “Trucks are waiting in Semera, in Afar, to travel to Mekelle.”

The federal government headed by Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, blames the rebels for blocking the aid deliveries.

White House condemnation

“The U.S. government condemns in the strongest possible terms the government of Ethiopia’s unprecedented action to expel the leadership of all of the United Nations organizations involved in ongoing humanitarian operations,” White House spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters on Thursday.

Earlier this month, U.S. President Joe Biden signed an executive order allowing the government to impose financial sanctions on those who prolong the conflict.

“We will not hesitate to use this or any other tool at our disposal to respond quickly and decisively to those who obstruct humanitarian assistance to people of Ethiopia,” Psaki said.

Source: Voice of America

WHO: Most of Africa Has Missed 10 Percent COVID-19 Vaccination Goal

Fifteen African countries have succeeded in fully vaccinating at least 10 percent of their populations against COVID-19 by September 30, a goal set by the World Health Organization in May. However, that leaves two-thirds of the continent’s 54 nations e…

Fifteen African countries have succeeded in fully vaccinating at least 10 percent of their populations against COVID-19 by September 30, a goal set by the World Health Organization in May. However, that leaves two-thirds of the continent’s 54 nations extremely vulnerable to the deadly disease.

Several countries have performed extremely well. Seychelles and Mauritius have fully vaccinated more than 60 percent of their populations and Morocco has inoculated 48 percent against the coronavirus.

Richard Mihigo is coordinator of the Vaccine-preventable Diseases Department in the WHO’s regional office for Africa. He said those countries were able to achieve and even excede the 10 percent target because they had a steady vaccine supply available.

He said most had the money to strike bilateral deals to procure vaccine in addition to the supplies delivered through the COVAX facility.

“Unfortunately, 70 percent of African countries have missed this important milestone to protect their most vulnerable, with half of the 52 countries with COVID-19 vaccination programs in Africa having inoculated less than two percent of their populations,” said Mihigo.

That compares to an inoculation rate of 50 percent or higher in wealthier countries.

The WHO reports monthly vaccine deliveries to Africa have increased 10-fold since June. However, it notes more than double that amount is needed to reach the 40 percent immunization target of Africa’s 1.3 billion people by the end of the year.

Mihigo said COVAX is identifying countries that do not have the means to procure vaccines and put them in the front of the line to get enough doses to cover their most at-risk populations. However, he said pledges of doses by wealthier countries need to materialize soon.

“Starting next week, we are sending multi-disciplinary teams of international experts to countries that are struggling to scale up their operations so that we can drill down and identify the bottlenecks so that the local authorities and their partners can remedy them as they continue to rollout the vaccines,” said Mihigo.

On a more positive note, the World Health Organization says COVID-19 infections in Africa dropped by 35 percent to just over 74,000 last week, with more than 1,700 deaths reported in 34 countries.

Despite the declining numbers, the WHO warns people must remain vigilant and continue to adhere to proven public health measures to save lives. Those include the wearing of masks, regular hand washing, and physical distancing.

Source: Voice of America