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People waiting  for food rations at the Tsehaye primary school in Shire, Tigray region, Ethiopia. People waiting for food rations at the Tsehaye primary school in Shire, Tigray region, Ethiopia. 

WFP: Tigray aid operations ‘about to grind to a halt’

With food, fuel and funding at an all-time low, the United Nations World Food Programme warns that millions in Ethiopia’s war-torn Tigray region will starve.

By Vatican News staff reporter

The United Nations has sounded an alarm that its life-saving food assistance operations in northern Ethiopia are “about to grind to a halt”. The escalation of conflict across the northern Tigray region means that no WFP convoy has reached the regional capital Mekelle since mid-December, WFP, the UN’s World Food Programme said on Friday.  

More worrying still, stocks of nutritionally fortified food to treat malnourished women and children have now been exhausted and the last of WFP’s cereals, pulses, and oil will be distributed next week in Tigray, where millions are estimated to be in need of food assistance.

“Because of fighting, food distributions are at an all-time low,” WFP spokesperson, Tomson Phiri told reporters in Geneva. “WFP aid workers on the ground tell me that warehouses are completely empty…. In my experience that’s a very dire sign, it almost never happens”, he added.

Looming humanitarian disaster

Another WFP official warned, “We’re on the edge of a humanitarian disaster.”

“We’re now having to choose who goes hungry to prevent another from starving,” said Michael Dunford, WFP’s Regional Director for Eastern Africa, calling for immediate guarantees from all parties to the conflict for safe and secure humanitarian corridors, via all routes, across northern Ethiopia.  

He lamented that “humanitarian supplies are simply not flowing at the pace and scale needed,” adding, “The lack of both food and fuel means we’ve only been able to reach 20% of those we should have in this latest distribution in Tigray.”

Funding crunch

WFP also raised concern over an unprecedented lack of funding, saying it will likely mean millions of people will be left without food and nutrition across all of Ethiopia from next month. 

More than a year into the conflict in northern Ethiopia, an estimated 9.4 million people require humanitarian food assistance. This is an increase of 2.7 million from four months ago, “the highest number yet,” WFP said in a statement.

The UN agency plans to reach 2.1 million people with food assistance in Tigray, along with 650,000 in the neighbouring region of Amhara and 534,000 in Afar region.

WFP is thus appealing for an additional $337 million to deliver its emergency food assistance response in northern Ethiopia and $170 million to reach those affected by severe drought in the Somali region over the next six months.

Devastating airstrikes – war crimes

The worsening situation follows numerous airstrikes in Tigray since the year began, which the UN rights office, OHCHR, said have killed at least 108 civilians since the year began, and injured 75 others, allegedly the result of Ethiopian air force operations.

Issuing an alert in Geneva, OHCHR spokesperson Liz Throssell condemned “multiple, deeply disturbing reports” of civilian casualties and the destruction of civilian infrastructure. Targets have included camps for displaced people and refugees, a training college, a private minibus with people aboard, and a flour mill, killing many civilians.

But the deadliest strike so far has been on Dedebit camp on 7 January, which left at least 59 people dead and injured 30 others, which UN Secretary-General António Guterres said had left him “deeply saddened.”

Throssell called on “the Ethiopian authorities and their allies to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian objects, in line with their obligations under international law.” She warned the parties in conflict that “failure to respect the principles of distinction and proportionality could amount to war crimes.”

Ethiopians deserve peace

The UN Secretary-General is also calling on warring parties "to stop fighting in all its forms."

"All people who need humanitarian aid must receive it as quickly as possible,” Antonio Guterres urged in a tweet on Friday. “It’s time to start dialogue and reconciliation," he wrote, adding that he remains "heartbroken" by the suffering of the Ethiopian people. "I can testify that all Ethiopians have always been exemplary in their generosity and hospitality towards refugees. Ethiopians deserve peace," Guterres added.

(Source: UN)

15 January 2022, 13:56