‘Free, unfettered access’ needed to assist millions in war-torn Tigray
The World Food Programme (WFP) has resumed operations in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, after fighting halted the emergency response last week, although the agency warned on Friday that “serious challenges” continue to threaten the entire humanitarian response.
WFP on Thursday reached 10,000 people displaced by conflict with emergency food assistance and gave nutritionally fortified food to 3,000 women and children, many suffering from malnutrition. The agency hopes to reach 30,000 people in Northwest Tigray by the weekend.
“We have the teams on the ground, trucks loaded and ready to go to meet the catastrophic food needs in the region, said Tommy Thompson, WFP’s Emergency Coordinator based in regional capital Mekelle.
5.2 million people - 91% of #Tigray population - need emergency food assistance due to conflict. “We have teams on ground, trucks loaded & ready to go. What we need now is free, unfettered access & secure passage guaranteed by all parties so we can deliver food safely,” says @WFP pic.twitter.com/x6475YpbgtUNGeneva
‘Dramatic’ changes on the ground
Following a ceasefire declaration by the Ethiopian Government earlier this week, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a flash update on Friday that the political dynamics in the Tigray Region have changed “dramatically”.
Since Monday’s unilateral ceasefire, the Tigray Defense Forces have reportedly taken control, as Ethiopian and Eritrean forces withdrew from the capital, Mekelle, and other parts of the region.
At the same time, humanitarian operations in Tigray remain fluid.
Key bridges, including one over the Tekeze River, crucial to delivering life-saving food, have been destroyed – hampering assistance to a region in which 91 per cent of the population are in dire need, said OCHA.
Amidst obstacles, relief forthcoming
WFP is warning of serious challenges threatening the entire humanitarian response in the region.
As some of the last of WFP’s food stocks are now being delivered to families, the UN agency warned that lives would be lost if supply routes do not fully open, and combatants continue to disrupt or endanger the free movement of its humanitarian cargo.
“What we need now is free, unfettered access and secure passage guaranteed by all parties to the conflict so we can deliver food safely”, said WFP’s Mr. Thompson.
Hunger at a peak
While WFP is adjusting its supply lines and exploring alternative routes into Tigray, the destruction of bridges is further hampering the distribution of food into the region from Gondar, in the northwest.
“WFP requires safety and security for our staff, our partners, the people we serve and the assistance we provide, to reach millions of people in need of emergency food and nutrition support when hunger peaks in the coming months”, added the local emergency coordinator.
Banks have closed in Tigray and fuel and electricity are in short supply. Electricity and mobile networks have been cut, leaving communications possible only via satellite phones and ground stations with a dish antenna, available in only a few agency compounds, according to OCHA.
And shortages of cash and fuel in the region not only exacerbate the already dire humanitarian situation but also threaten to compromise aid workers on the ground.
At the same time, since 22 June, no WFP flights for UN and non-governmental organization (NGOs) humanitarian staff have been authorized and the Ethiopian aviation authority has halted civilian flights into the region.
This means that humanitarian staff cannot be rotated in and out of Tigray by air.
Despite the dynamic and uncertain situation, UN partners have reported over the past few days, that the general security situation has been calm, albeit with limited humanitarian activities around Mekelle and the town of Shire.