533 views | Akpan Akata | April 9, 2021
The humanitarian situation in Tigray, Ethiopia, remains “dire”, the Spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General has said.
This is even as the UN early last December announced that agreement has been reached with the Ethiopian Government to allow “unimpeded, sustained and secure access” for humanitarian supplies to reach those in need across areas now under its control in Tigray.
Confirming details of the deal at UN Headquarters in New York, Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said that the safe passage of aid supplies and staff also extends to the Ethiopian regions of Amhara and Afar, bordering Tigray, where fighting between federal and regional forces, has impacted hundreds of thousands amidst an overall population of six million in Tigray, during the past month of hostilities.
Until now, no supplies have been allowed into the conflict zone, which has displaced thousands, many across the border into Sudan.
UN humanitarian coordination office (OCHA) spokesperson based in Nairobi, Saviano Abreu, told local reporters earlier that the first mission to carry out a needs assessment would begin on Wednesday.
He added that the UN was committed to engaging with “all parties to the conflict” and ensuring that aid was distributed “strictly based on needs”.
Dujarric said that all aid distribution would be carried out “in compliance with the globally-agreed principles of humanity, impartiality, independence and neutrality. This includes working to ensure that people impacted by the conflict are assisted without distinction of any kind other than the urgency of their needs.”
Many Ethiopians have also been internally displaced from Tigray, seeking refuge in Afar and Amhara, and the UN needs assessment would aim to reach those affected by the conflict, added Mr. Dujarric.
On Monday, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) appealed to Ethiopia for urgent access to assist around 96,000 Eritrean refugees in Tigray camps, who it was estimated had essentially run out of food.
Spokesperson in Geneva, Babar Baloch, said concerns were growing “by the hour, with “hunger and malnutrition a real danger”.
Communications to the Tigray region continue to be severed, along with transportation routes, and the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, has reportedly rejected dialogue with Tigray’s regional leaders who are said to be on the run, after the regional capital was entered by federal forces last weekend.
The UN estimates that some two million are now in need of assistance in and around Tigray and some one million have been displaced by the fighting, including more than 45,000 who have fled across the border into Sudan.
“While there has been substantial improvement in humanitarian access, active hostilities have been reported in the north-western, central, eastern, south-eastern and southern zones”, Stéphane Dujarric told correspondents at a regular press briefing.
Following months of escalating tensions between the Ethiopian Government and the dominant regional force, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered a military offensive after rebels attacked a federal army base.
Within days, militias from the neighbouring Amhara region had joined the fray, reportedly followed by some troops from neighbouring Eritrea – a long-time rival of Tigray.
According to government forces, the region had been secured by the end of November, however TPLF resistance has continued amid accusations of extrajudicial killings and rights abuses on all sides.
The UN Spokesperson said that some humanitarian partners have accessed the towns of Gijet and Samre, in the southern and southeastern zones.
“They reported that most of the population in these towns has fled”, he said, adding that the Alamata-Mekelle-Adigrat-Shire road remains “partially accessible”.
Dujarric referenced the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in saying that an estimated 2.5 million people in rural Tigray, have not had access to essential services over the last five months.
Moreover, the conflict continues to drive massive displacement across the region, with tens of thousands of people moving towards urban areas, including to Mekelle and Shire.
“According to a recent assessment report, there could be as many as 450,000 people displaced in Shire”, he stated.
As UN humanitarian partners scale up the response, they are grappling with capacity and resource challenges, “which remains inadequate for the estimated 4.5 million people who need life-saving assistance”, said Dujarric.