WHO chief: World treats crises differently depending on race

Referencing the Tigray crisis in Ethiopia and the war in Ukraine, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says the world ‘is not treating the human race the same way’.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), speaks during a news conference in Geneva
World Health Organization chief Tedros speaks at a 2021 news conference in Geneva, Switzerland [File: Denis Balibouse/Reuters]

The world is treating humanitarian crises affecting Black and white lives unequally, with only a “fraction” of the attention on Ukraine given elsewhere, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) says.

Humanitarian crises are not being given equal consideration, possibly because those suffering are not white, said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

He questioned whether “the world really gives equal attention to Black and white lives” – given that the ongoing emergencies in Ethiopia, Yemen, Afghanistan and Syria have garnered only a “fraction” of the global concern for Ukraine.

Tedros acknowledged the war in Ukraine is globally significant, but asked if other crises are being accorded enough attention.

“I need to be blunt and honest that the world is not treating the human race the same way,” he said. “Some are more equal than others. And when I say this, it pains me. Because I see it. Very difficult to accept – but it’s happening.”

Last month, Tedros noted there is “nowhere on Earth where the health of millions of people is more under threat” than Ethiopia’s Tigray region.

‘Treat all human life equally’

Tedros, who is from Tigray, said since a truce was declared in the besieged northern region of Ethiopia three weeks ago, about 2,000 trucks should have been able to enter with food, medicine and other essentials.

Instead, only about 20 trucks have arrived, said Tedros, a former minister of health in Ethiopia.

“As we speak, people are dying of starvation,” he said. “This is one of the longest and worst sieges by both Eritrean and Ethiopian forces in modern history.”

Tedros described the situation in Tigray as “tragic” and said he “hopes the world comes back to its senses and treats all human life equally”.

He also critiqued the media for what he said is its failure to document the ongoing atrocities in Ethiopia, noting that people had been burned alive in the region. “I don’t even know if that was taken seriously by the media because of their ethnicity,” he said. “So we need to balance. We need to take every life seriously because every life is precious.”

The United Nations says hundreds of thousands of people are at risk of starvation in Tigray, where people have for months also faced fuel shortages and a lack of basic services such as electricity, telecommunications, internet access and banking capability.

Across northern Ethiopia, the 17-month conflict has driven more than two million people from their homes, according to the UN, and left more than nine million people in need of food aid.

World’s worst humanitarian crisis

Thursday marks 50 days since Russia invaded Ukraine. More than a quarter of the Ukrainian population has been forced from their homes.

Moscow – already accused by the West of widespread atrocities against civilians – appears to be readying a massive offensive across Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.

The UN calls Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The UN is also seeking its biggest-ever single-country appeal for funds for Afghanistan, which is on the brink of economic collapse with more than 24 million people needing humanitarian assistance to survive.

Civil war erupted in Syria in 2011 after the violent repression of protests demanding regime change. About half a million people have been killed and millions displaced in the conflict, which has battered the country’s economy.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies