U.N., Ethiopia reacha deal to aid Tigray
NAIROBI, Kenya— In a breakthrough amonth after deadly conflict cut off Ethiopia’s Tigray region from the world, the United Nations on Wednesday said it and the Ethiopian government had signed a deal to allow unimpeded humanitarian access, at least for areas under federal control after the prime minister’s declaration of victory over the weekend.
This will allow the first food, medicines and other aid into the region of 6 million that has seen rising hunger during the fighting between the federal and Tigray regional governments. Each regards the other as illegal in a power struggle that has been brewing for months.
For weeks, the U.N. and others have pleaded for access amid reports of supplies running desperately low for millions of people. A U.N. humanitarian spokesman, Saviano Abreu, said the first mission to carry out a needs assessment would begin Wednesday.
“We are, of course, working to make sure as
sistance will be provided in the whole region and for every single person who needs it,” he said. The U.N. and partners are committed to engaging with all parties to ensure that aid to Tigray and the neighboring Amhara and Afar regions is “strictly based on needs.”
The central government did not immediately comment.
For weeks, aid-laden trucks have been blocked at Tigray’s borders, and the U.N. and other humanitarian groups were increasingly eager to reach Tigray as hunger grows and hospitals run out of basic supplies like
gloves and body bags.
“We literally have staff reaching out to us to say they have no food for their children,” one humanitarian worker said. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
“We have been urging, waiting, begging for access,” said another aid official, Jan Egeland of the Norwegian Refugee Council. “We’re ready to go tomorrow. ... It has been heartbreaking to be forced to wait.”
More than 1million people in Tigray are now thought to be displaced, including over 45,000 who have fled into a remote area of neighboring Sudan. Humanitarians have struggled to feed them as they set up a crisis response from scratch.
Communications and transport links remain almost completely severed to Tigray, and the fugitive leader of the defiant regional government this week told the AP that fighting continues despite Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s declaration of victory.
It remains almost impossible to verify either side’s claims as the conflict threatens to destabilize both the country and the entire Horn of Africa.
For weeks, the U.N. and others have been increasingly insistent on the need to reach the 600,000 people in Tigray who already were dependent on food aid even before the conflict.
Now those needs have exploded, but Abiy has resisted international pressure for dialogue and de-escalation, saying his government will not “negotiate our sovereignty.”
His government regards the Tigray regional government, which dominated Ethiopia’s ruling coalition for more than a quarter-century, as illegitimate after months of growing friction as he sought to centralize power.
Amid the warring sides’ claims and counterclaims, one thing is clear: Civilians have suffered.
The U.N. says food has run out for the nearly 100,000 refugees from Eritrea whose camps close to the Tigray border with Eritrea have been in the line of fire as the fighting swept through. Reports that some refugees have been killed or abducted, if true, “would be major violations of international norms,” the U.N. refugee chief said over the weekend in an urgent appeal to Abiy.
With infrastructure there and elsewhere in Tigray damaged, the U.N. has said some people are now drinking untreated water, increasing the risk of diseases.
No one knows the true toll of the fighting. Human rights and humanitarian groups have reported several hundred people killed, including civilians, but many more deaths are feared.