Ethiopia’s Tigray region on the brink of famine, UN says

UN agency says roadblocks are making the transport of food and supplies to the area ‘extremely difficult’


Tigray region

Nairobi (Business Live) — A de facto blockade on aid to Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region is bringing millions of people to the brink of famine, the UN humanitarian agency said on Thursday, warning of “looming catastrophe”.

The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) called on all parties in the 10-month-old war in Tigray to allow the movement of aid into the region where it said 5.2-million people, or 90% of the population, urgently need humanitarian assistance. Those include 400,000 people who are already facing famine conditions, it said.

War broke out in November between Ethiopia’s federal troops and forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which controls the Tigray region. Thousands have died and more than 2-million people have been forced to flee their homes.

The agency called on the Ethiopian government in particular to allow aid supplies and personnel to move into and within the country by “lifting bureaucratic impediments” and clearing other hurdles to aid getting through.

There is only one road into Tigray that the UN and aid groups can now use, and logistical and bureaucratic obstacles make passage “extremely difficult”, the OCHA said, adding that 172 trucks are stranded in the town of Semera near Tigray.

At a news conference on Thursday, the prime minister’s spokesperson Billene Seyoum once again dismissed allegations that the Ethiopian government is blocking aid. She said trucks were “en route” to Tigray, adding that the number of checkpoints on the road referred to by the UN had been reduced to three from seven.

She did not immediately respond to a request for additional comment.

At a press briefing in August, Billene dismissed what she referred to as allegations that the government is “purposely blocking humanitarian assistance”, saying the government is concerned about security.

A spokesperson for the TPLF did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The OCHA also said in its statement that, though the UN estimates a minimum of 100 trucks of food, non-food items and fuel must enter Tigray each day to sustain the population in the region, not a single truck has entered since August 22. “Food stocks already ran out on  August 20,” it read.

It also urged the Ethiopian government to restore electricity, communications and banking services in the region, which were shut down after the TPLF recaptured the regional capital, Mekelle, from federal forces in late June.

The UN children’s agency said in July that more than 100,000 children in Tigray could suffer life-threatening malnutrition in the next 12 months.

On Tuesday, USAID mission director in Ethiopia Sean Jones said TPLF forces had looted warehouses belonging to the US government’s humanitarian agency in the Amhara region in recent weeks.


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