The head of the World Health Organization said that racism is the reason Ukrainians are receiving more humanitarian assistance and media attention than war victims in countries such as Ethiopia or Yemen.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is an Ethiopian public health researcher and former foreign minister under the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) government. As WHO director-general since 2017, he has criticized the global community for not giving equal consideration to people affected by conflicts in places including Tigray, Yemen, and Syria.
Ghebreyesus questioned whether “the world really gives equal attention to Black and white lives,” given the “ongoing emergencies.”
“All attention to Ukraine is very important, of course, because it impacts the whole world. But even a fraction of it is not being given to Tigray, Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria, and the rest,” Ghebreyesus said during a WHO press briefing in Geneva on April 14.
“And I need to be blunt and honest that the world is not treating the human race the same way.”
The main role of the WHO is to direct international health within the United Nations’ system and to lead partners in global health responses.
Ghebreyesus also echoed others who have criticized the media for failing to document the ongoing atrocities in Ethiopia and other regions. He made reference to reports of a video that appeared on social media showing uniformed men burning civilians alive in Ethiopia.
There has been little humanitarian support for Ethiopians affected by violence despite international appeals for assistance from aid organizations like the WHO, Ghebreyesus said.
Ethnic violence for more than a year has claimed the lives of hundreds of civilians in Ethiopia’s Benishangul-Gumuz region, which is home to several ethnic groups. This is separate from the war in the northern Tigray that started in November 2020 between Ethiopian federal forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
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A three-week-old humanitarian ceasefire in the Tigray region failed to stop widespread starvation, according to the head of WHO.
Some 2,000 trucks were needed to supply millions in the region with food and medicine, but only about 20 trucks had arrived by the time of the briefing, Ghebreyesus said.
By contrast, the World Food Program (WFP) mobilized more than 60,000 tons of food for Ukraine, enough for 2 million people for two months, less than seven weeks into the war.
The contrast in humanitarian assistance to Europeans and Black people was evident when thousands of Africans, many of them students, found themselves stuck in Ukraine at the beginning of the Russian invasion. They were asked to wait until Europeans crossed the border to Poland before they could leave.
The question of racism has also been raised regarding how Syrian refugees seeking asylum in Europe were massively rejected yet those fleeing Ukraine have been received with open arms.
Photo: People are seen in front of clouds of black smoke from fires in the aftermath at the scene of an airstrike in Mekele, the capital of the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia on Oct. 20, 2021. (AP Photo, File)