Ten months since the start of Ethiopia’s Tigray war, the United Nations has warned that the humanitarian situation in the country’s northernmost region is set to “worsen dramatically”.
“Stocks of relief aid, cash and fuel are running very low or are completely depleted. Food stocks already ran out on 20 August,” Grant Leaity, the UN’s acting humanitarian coordinator for Ethiopia, said in a statement on Thursday.
“The region remains under a de facto humanitarian aid blockade, where access to bring life-saving humanitarian relief continues to be extremely restricted,” Leaity added, noting that no trucks had been able to enter Tigray since August 22.
Fighting broke out in November 2020 between Ethiopia’s federal troops and forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which controls the region of some six million people. Thousands have died and more than two million people have been forced to flee their homes.
The war has dragged on for months, triggering a humanitarian crisis in Tigray that has left 400,000 people facing famine-like conditions, according to the United Nations.
In his statement, Leaity said at least 100 trucks of food, non-food items and fuel must enter Tigray on a daily basis “to sustain an adequate response”.
“To date, and since 12 July, only 335 trucks have entered the region – or about 9 percent of the required 3,900 trucks,” he said.
“With the inability to bring in sufficient and sustained levels of humanitarian supplies, cash and fuel, the humanitarian situation in the north of Ethiopia is set to worsen dramatically, particularly in Tigray region.”
Since the conflict erupted, the Ethiopian authorities and the Tigrayan rebels have traded blame for the issue, with each side accusing the other of obstructing aid convoys and driving a desperate population into famine.
As the rebels have pushed into the neighbouring Afar and Amhara regions, the situation there has also worsened, with 1.7 million people “on the brink of famine”, Leaity said.
“The lives of millions of civilians … depend on our capacity to reach them with food, nutrition supplies, medicine and other critical assistance. We need to reach them immediately and without obstruction to avert famine and significant levels of mortality.”
Ethiopian troops and Tigrayan forces alike have also been accused of looting aid, with the US aid agency this week calling the alleged thefts a “great concern for humanitarians”.
“Throughout nine months of conflict all of the warring parties have been stealing aid,” Sean Jones, head of the USAID mission in Addis Ababa, told Ethiopian state broadcaster EBC on Tuesday, according to a transcript released by the American embassy.
TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda on Wednesday condemned the alleged looters for their “unacceptable behaviour”, but said that while the rebels could not “vouch for … off-grid fighters in such matters, we have evidence that such looting is mainly orchestrated by local individuals and groups.”
At a news conference on Thursday, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’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.
In a separate statement, the UN’s Leaity condemned the killings of aid workers in Tigray, saying another 11 deaths had been reported between January and July this year, bringing the total number slain to 23 since war erupted.
“Once again, we are shaken by this news. Violence against aid workers is intolerable,” he said.