WHO chief says his relatives are 'starving' in Tigray

"I have many relatives there. I want to send them money. I cannot send them money. They're starving, I know, I cannot help them," Tedros told reporters from the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva.

WHO chief says his relatives are 'starving' in Tigray
FILE: This handout picture made available by the World Health Organization (WHO) shows WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus delivering remarks following the speech of US President's chief medical adviser during a World Health Organization (WHO) executive board meeting on 21 January 2021 in Geneva. Picture: AFP

GENEVA, Switzerland - WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus voiced his personal pain Thursday over the situation in Ethiopia's Tigray region, lamenting that he could not reach or help his relatives who were suffering and starving.

"I have many relatives there. I want to send them money. I cannot send them money. They're starving, I know, I cannot help them," Tedros told reporters from the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva.

"I cannot help them, I cannot help them ... They are completely sealed off," he said.

"I don't know even who is dead or who is alive."

The UN health agency chief, himself from Tigray, has slammed the "unimaginable cruelty" inflicted on the northern region's six million inhabitants, effectively cut off from basic services for nearly two years.

He decried Thursday the "suffocating siege that has killed people not only with bullets or bombs, but by weaponising banking, fuel, food, electricity and health care."

His comments came a day after fighting resumed between Ethiopian government forces and Tigray rebels, scuppering a five-month truce and casting a shadow over hopes for peace.

"It's tragic to see the resumption of active conflict, but in reality, the war had never stopped," he said.

Tedros pointed out that even during the truce, the region had remained sealed off and there had barely been access to food and medicines, and reiterated his call for "the resumption of essential services, and an end to the blockade."

NO CONFLICT OF INTEREST

The WHO chief meanwhile rejected charges that he had abused his platform to make repeated appeals for humanitarian access to his home region.

Ethiopia's former health and foreign minister insisted that it was his job to raise concerns about any country with concerning health situations.

"I did it for Yemen. I have travelled there. I did it for Syria and am doing it for Ukraine," he said.

"Asking for unfettered access, for the opening of basic services, and also asking the Ethiopian government and the Eritrean government who are enforcing the siege systematically to end the siege is part of my job."

His advocacy for the international community to step up and help resolve the Tigray situation, he insisted, was "about humanity. Nothing else."

"I am one of the six million people. That's personally hurtful, very painful," he acknowledged, insisting that that did not mean he should refrain from addressing the crisis.

"I'm doing it because six million people are human beings."

Tedros has suggested that racism might be why the Tigray situation ranked far behind Ukraine in terms of international attention.

He hailed the massive international efforts to get war-ravaged Ukraine's grain exports moving again, but asked "why can't we also push as a global community so that the six million people (in Tigray) can get food to eat, medicines to be treated."

Soce Fall, the WHO's assistant director-general for emergency response, agreed that far too little had been done to address the "extreme situation".

"There's been no progress for 21 months and this blockade situation has created inhumane conditions," he told reporters.