U.N. warns catastrophe looms in Ethiopia's north, urges government to end de facto aid blockade

·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: Ethiopian porters unload food aid bound for victims of war after a checkpoint leading to Tigray in Mai Tsebri town

NAIROBI (Reuters) - A de facto blockade on aid to the Tigray region in Ethiopia's north is bringing millions of people to the brink of famine, the United Nations humanitarian agency said on Thursday, warning of "looming catastrophe".

The U.N. agency OCHA called on all parties in a 10-month-old war in Tigray to allow the movement of aid into the region where it said 5.2 million people, or 90% of the population, urgently need humanitarian assistance. Those include 400,000 people who are already facing famine conditions, it said.

War broke out in November between Ethiopia's federal troops and forces loyal to the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), which controls the Tigray region. Thousands have died and more than two million people have been forced to flee their homes.

The agency called on the Ethiopian government in particular to allow aid supplies and personnel to move into and within the country by "lifting bureaucratic impediments" and clearing other hurdles to aid getting through.

There is only one road into Tigray that the U.N. and aid groups can currently use, and logistical and bureaucratic obstacles make passage "extremely difficult", OCHA said, adding that 172 trucks are stranded in the town of Semera near Tigray.

At a news conference on Thursday, the Prime Minister's spokesperson Billene Seyoum once again dismissed allegations that the Ethiopian government is blocking aid. She said trucks were "en route" to Tigray, adding that the number of checkpoints on the road referred to by the U.N. had been reduced to three from seven.

She did not immediately respond to a request for additional comment.

At a press briefing last month, Billene dismissed what she referred to as allegations that the government is “purposely blocking humanitarian assistance”, saying the government is concerned about security.

A spokesperson for the TPLF did not immediately respond to a request for comment

OCHA also said in its statement that, although the U.N. estimates a minimum of 100 trucks of food, non-food items, and fuel must enter Tigray each day to sustain the population in the region, not a single truck has entered since Aug. 22. "Food stocks already ran out on 20 August," it read.

It also urged the Ethiopian government to restore electricity, communications and banking services in the region, which were shut down after the TPLF recaptured the regional capital, Mekelle, from federal forces in late June.

The U.N. children's agency said in July https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/100000-children-tigray-risk-death-malnutrition-unicef-2021-07-30 that more than 100,000 children in Tigray could suffer life-threatening malnutrition in the next 12 months.

(Reporting by Nairobi newsroom; Writing by Giulia Paravicini; Editing by Maggie Fick and Frances Kerry)

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