Aid workers in Ethiopia’s Tigray area may run out of food this week for the first time in nine months of war, the head of the US government’s humanitarian organisation said, blaming the government for blocking access.
“USAID and its partners, as well as other humanitarian groups, have emptied their supplies of food products warehoused in Tigray,” Samantha Power, head of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), said late Thursday in a statement.
“People in Tigray are starving with up to 900,000 in famine conditions and more than five million in desperate need of humanitarian assistance,” Power said. “This shortage is not because food is unavailable, but because the Ethiopian Government is obstructing humanitarian aid and personnel, including land convoys and air access.”
War broke out in November between Ethiopian troops and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which controls the region. The conflict has killed thousands and sparked a humanitarian crisis in one of the world’s poorest regions.
Billene Seyoum, spokesperson for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, did not respond to a request for comment. At a news conference on Friday, she did not refer to Power’s statement but dismissed allegations that the Ethiopian government is “purposely blocking humanitarian assistance”, saying the government is concerned about security.
Sister Tsehaynesh Gebrehiwot attends to Aamanuel Merhawi, aged one year and eight months, who suffers from severe acute malnutrition, at the Wukro hospital, Tigray region, Ethiopia, July 11, 2021. Picture taken July 11, 2021. REUTERS/Giulia Paravicini/File Photo
“It is important to really address this continuing rhetoric because that is not the case,” Billene said. “Security is first and foremost a priority that cannot be compromised, it is a volatile area so in that regards there is going to be continuous checks and processes.”
On Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an immediate ceasefire and unrestricted aid access in Tigray. The U.N. warned last month that more than 100,000 children in Tigray could die of hunger.
According to Power’s statement, 100 trucks delivering food and life-saving supplies must arrive in Tigray every day to address the country’s humanitarian requirements. According to the report, only roughly 320 trucks had arrived as of a few days ago, accounting for less than 7% of the total necessary.
“Across all sectors, available aid supplies in Tigray are extremely depleted, and humanitarian operations may be forced to halt if more… aid convoys do not arrive imminently,” said Saviano Abreu, a spokesperson for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), to Reuters on Friday.
The Ethiopian government declared a unilateral ceasefire in June after Tigrayan forces recaptured the regional capital Mekelle and retook most of the region. The Tigrayan forces dismissed this as a “joke” and issued preconditions for truce talks.