The US is breaking a “hideous trend” as the United Nations warned of a “relentless wave of attacks on humanitarian workers”
United Nations – Humanitarian workers – the people who risk their own health and bring food and shelter to women, children and families around the world – are under attack, the director-general of the International Red Cross told CBS News.
“Humanitarian aid is used as a bargaining chip, and we see this manifest in many, many conflicts in all regions of the world,” said Robert Mardini.
tried to get their jobs done, including three MSF workers killed in the war-torn region of Tigray in Ethiopia just last month. According to data compiled for a project funded by the US government’s international aid agency USAID, there have been the most major attacks on aid workers and most injuries in the past two years.
Mardini told the United Nations on Friday that nonprofit groups are coming under increasing pressure and that the manipulation of humanitarian aid is “keeping civilians at ransom”.
At a UN Security Council meeting Friday on the dangers facing humanitarian workers, President Joe Biden’s UN Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told diplomats: “A new and disgusting trend has emerged: targeting humanitarian workers. ”
In the case of Ethiopia, the United Nations has accused soldiers from Eritrea, who assisted the Ethiopian government in the recent conflict with regional Tigrayan forces, ofof war. But last week, Ethiopia went on the offensive. The government accused the aid workers of “playing a destructive role”, of putting them in the crosshairs and of threatening to stop their work.
At the Security Council meeting, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed warned of a “relentless wave of attacks on humanitarian workers” as diplomats led attacks on such workers in more than a dozen countries.
“In Ethiopia’s Tigray region – which is on the verge of a man-made famine – parties to the conflict are obstructing the delivery of aid, destroying civil infrastructure and targeting aid workers,” British ambassador Barbara Woodward told her diplomats on Friday.
Mardini told CBS News that Tigray is getting some help, but not enough to meet the need. He said the ICRC hopes to expand its activities in the region with other organizations, including the UN’s own World Food Program.
“It’s like giving an aspirin to a patient with a desperate fever,” Alex de Waal, executive director of the World Peace Foundation, affiliated with Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, told CBS News.
Below are excerpts from our interview with Mardini, who talks at length about what he believes should be done to increase aid deliveries around the world, and the “grim” conditions in and in Ethiopiaafter the assassination of the country’s president:
Director General, International Committee of the Red Cross, Robert Mardini: What is most urgently needed today, and what is very scarce, is political leadership to end these protracted conflicts that have spanned decades and decades. As humanitarian workers, we always try to do our best to support, but what we see is that there is this gap between humanitarian needs around the world: more displaced people, more people in acute malnutrition, with no access to health care, education, and are now being challenged by an additional deadly threat, which is COVID-19 in many places, the consequences of climate change, water scarcity and extreme weather events are also an additional stress factor for their lives and livelihoods.
Pamela Falk from CBS News: If I understand you correctly … do you see humanitarian aid as a goal?
Mardini: It is becoming more and more politicized due to a lack of political conflict solutions. Humanitarian aid is being used as a bargaining chip and we are seeing this manifest in many, many conflicts in all regions of the world, and we are seeing more of it and we have seen more conflicts arising in the wake of COVID-19.
Falk: Ethiopia accuses aid organizations of having “armed” the Tigray fighters. And it seems like a desperate accusation at a time when we see aid convoys pull in, but we don’t hear the situation improving. Tell us what’s going on.
Mardini: It’s gloomy. The situation on the ground is extremely disastrous for people who were forcibly displaced in the past month. Our teams are on site, working. The people of Tigray have shown extraordinary resilience and solidarity, but today they are reaching a breaking point. There has been an interruption in commercial activities for two weeks, which is of course a great challenge for the people. And to put things in context, Tigray is a place where the vast majority of hospitals are not running as they should today. There is no electricity. There is no water supply. Some hospitals run on generators. The fuel is not available in sufficient quantities and the basics in the market are lacking. People have lost their income generating activities. So the situation is extremely dire. There is acute malnutrition.
Falk: At the moment, do you have the feeling that as much help as possible is being received?
Mardini: The question is not ‘allowed’, the question is: is it enough? [people] at the speed we need? And this is the problem. As the ICRC, we have no explicit rejection or red light from either side. The challenge, however, is all of the logistical obstacles from point A to point B, from the suppliers of food, medicines and chemicals for water treatment to the places where they have to make a difference for people. … our challenge and we have to make this process as fast as possible.
Falk: Let’s turn to Haiti … the situation since the assassination and before that has been terrible. And you get the feeling that a lot of the aid money – all the dollars after the earthquake – didn’t reach the people. What do you see in Haiti?
Mardini: We are very concerned about the situation in Haiti, the people of Haiti are extremely concerned about the current dynamics, the unpredictability of security, let alone the interruption of important vital services. We support the Haitian Red Cross, we support some hospitals in Port-au-Prince, but we definitely need to consider increasing our support in the future because the situation is serious, it is dire and it is unfortunately deteriorating.
Falk: What needs to be done around the world? And a lot of people write to us saying that they care, they want, they want to change so that people can eat, so that people can live in peace. What do you think needs to be done?
Mardini: The humanitarian space … discussed in the Security Council is under severe pressure in almost all of the places where the ICRC works. In many places it is unfortunately shrinking, because of the erosion of respect for the basic rules of war, also because of the politicization of humanitarian aid.
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