First aid convoy in three months reaches Ethiopia’s Tigray
The first aid convoy in three months reached Ethiopia’s war-stricken Tigray region on Friday, the UN said, a week after the government and Tigrayan rebels agreed to a conditional truce.
The UN’s World Food Programme said on Twitter that 13 trucks had “arrived safely” in the Tigrayan capital Mekele, adding: “More trucks & fuel will follow in the morning.”
The 17-month war has created a humanitarian crisis in northern Ethiopia, with the UN saying hundreds of thousands of people were on the brink of famine in Tigray.
It is the first such convoy to reach Tigray since December and follows the declaration last week by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government of an indefinite humanitarian truce, while the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) agreed to a “cessation of hostilities” if aid arrived.
Earlier, the UN agency had announced the convoy was on its way to Tigray from the neighbouring Afar region carrying more than 500 tonnes of food “for communities on (the) edge of starvation”.
“Good progress, much more needed — we need daily convoys flowing in safely to meet the needs of 5 million people,” it said.
The arrival of the aid could help shore up the shaky truce between the government and the TPLF.
“This is one good step in the right direction,” TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda said on Twitter, announcing that 20 WFP trucks had made it to the rebel-controlled territory.
“The bottom line, though, isn’t about how many trucks are allowed but whether there is a system in place to ensure unfettered humanitarian access for the needy!”
– ‘Extreme lack of food‘ –
Friday’s development comes just days after both sides accused each other of blocking an aid convoy headed for Tigray, which has not seen any humanitarian supplies arrive by road since December 15.
The government had announced on Thursday that 21 vehicles carrying relief supplies had started moving through Afar towards Tigray.
“The government of Ethiopia reaffirms its commitment to work closely with stakeholders to ensure the full delivery of humanitarian assistance to those in need,” it said.
A humanitarian source said the convoy had been blocked on Thursday evening by regional forces in Afar but was able to resume its journey on Friday.
The WFP on Twitter thanked the federal government and Afar authorities for the convoy’s safe passage, which also comes after the US charge d’affaires in Ethiopia, Tracey Jacobson, travelled to Afar this week and met regional president Awol Arba.
Nearly 40 percent of Tigray’s six million inhabitants face “an extreme lack of food”, the UN said in January, with fuel shortages forcing aid workers to deliver medicines and other crucial supplies sometimes by foot.
Since mid-February, humanitarian operations in the northern region have been virtually halted due to local shortages of fuel, food and cash, according to the UN.
Tigray has also been subject to what the UN says is a de-facto blockade and is without electricity or communications.
The United States has accused Abiy’s government of preventing aid from reaching those in need, while the authorities in turn have blamed the rebels for the obstruction.
Both sides have issued demands in connection with the truce.
The government has called on the rebels to “desist from all acts of further aggression and withdraw from areas they have occupied in” the neighbouring regions of Afar and Amhara.
The rebels have in turn urged the Ethiopian authorities “to go beyond empty promises and take concrete steps to facilitate unfettered humanitarian access” to Tigray.
The government previously declared a “unilateral ceasefire” in Tigray in June last year, after the TPLF mounted a shock comeback and retook the region from federal forces before expanding into Amhara and Afar.
The fighting intensified in the second half of 2021 before reaching a stalemate. The rebels at one point claimed to be within 200 kilometres (125 miles) of the capital Addis Ababa.
According to the UN, the war has displaced more than two million people, driven hundreds of thousands to the brink of famine and left more than nine million in need of food aid.
The conflict erupted in November 2020 when Abiy sent troops into Tigray to topple the TPLF, the region’s former ruling party, saying the move came in response to rebel attacks on army camps.
Thousands of people have died as fighting has dragged on, while accounts have emerged of massacres and mass rapes, with both sides accused of human rights violations.