Ethiopia and the United Nations have reached an agreement to channel desperately needed humanitarian aid to a northern region where a month of war has killed, wounded and uprooted large numbers of people.
The pact, announced by UN officials on Wednesday, will allow aid workers “unimpeded” access to government-controlled areas of Tigray, where federal troops have been battling the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and captured the regional capital.
The war is believed to have killed thousands, sent more than 45,000 refugees into Sudan, displaced many more within Tigray, and worsened suffering in a region where 600,000 people were already dependent on food aid even before the flare-up from November 4.
The deal will allow the first aid to the region of six million people cut off due to the fighting between the federal and Tigray regional governments, each regarding the other as illegal.
For weeks, the UN and others pleaded for aid access amid reports of food, medicines and other supplies running out.
A UN humanitarian spokesman said the first mission to carry out a needs assessment will begin on Wednesday.
“We are of course working to make sure assistance will be provided in the whole region and for every single person who needs it,” he said.
“The UN and humanitarian partners in Ethiopia are committed to engaging with the federal government of Ethiopia and all parties to the conflict to ensure that humanitarian action in Tigray, Amhara and Afar regions be strictly based on needs and carried out in compliance with the globally agreed upon principles of humanity, impartiality, independence and neutrality,” the spokesman added.
On Wednesday, Reuters news agency reported that four Ethiopian aid workers were killed in Tigray last month.
The circumstances of their deaths were unclear, but they took place in one of four camps for Eritrean refugees, diplomatic and humanitarian sources told Reuters.
There was no immediate comment from Ethiopia’s government or the TPLF.
Wednesday marks a month since Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced a military operation against forces loyal to the TPLF.
Abiy, last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, has rejected the idea of dialogue with the TPLF leaders, who are on the run but say they continue to fight even after the government over the weekend declared victory after announcing the seizure of the regional capital, Mekelle.
Hundreds, possibly thousands, of people have been killed so far, and the UN has warned of a humanitarian catastrophe as civilians flee the fighting.
The UN says some two million people in Tigray need assistance – a doubling from the number before the fighting – and some one million people are displaced.
Food, fuel and cash are in short supply, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), while the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says basic medical equipment is lacking.
On Tuesday, the UN sounded alarm over severe food shortages being faced by nearly 100,000 Eritrean refugees sheltering in Tigray’s camps, requesting “urgent access” to deliver aid.
Eritreans often leave to escape mandatory, indefinite military service and repression or search for better opportunities out of what has long been one of the world’s most isolated countries.