Addis Ababa – Ethiopia on Thursday described fuel shortages in the war-wracked Tigray region as a “myth” and accused Tigrayan rebels of seeking to launch a new offensive.
Humanitarian agencies have said the fuel Addis Ababa is allowing them to deliver to the region was insufficient and warned that the shortages were crippling the distribution of emergency aid.
Tigrayans are in the grip of a humanitarian crisis, according to the UN, and have for months been without access to basic services such as electricity, telecommunications, internet and banking.
After a visit to Tigray’s capital Mekele, the European commissioner for crisis management Janez Lenarcic on Tuesday urged the government to lift “without delay” the restrictions on Tigray, particularly on the supply of fuel.
On Thursday, Ethiopia’s government communications service said three tankers carrying more than 137 000 litres of fuel had arrived in Mekele last week.
The total amount of fuel sent to the region stood at 920 309 litres since aid convoys resumed in April, it said on Twitter.
“The myth of fuel shortage is a TPLF hidden agenda to enhance mobility of its army in preparation for another round of conflict,” it said, referring to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.
The 19-month conflict between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government and the TPLF has driven hundreds of thousands of people to the brink of famine and left more than nine million in need of food aid, according to the United Nations.
After a three-month hiatus, the government in April authorised the delivery of desperately needed aid by land to Tigray, which has long been under what the UN has described as a de facto blockade.
“Humanitarian supplies have been flowing into Tigray since the government’s humanitarian truce was announced… but less than half the fuel needed has entered the region in recent weeks,” the WFP said on Thursday.
Claire Nevill, a WFP spokesperson in Ethiopia, told AFP that humanitarian operations in Tigray required two million litres of fuel each month, while one million litres had entered the region through WFP-led convoys.
“Now we have a situation where humanitarian warehouses in Mekele are full, but people out there in the countryside are still hungry,” Lenarcic said on Tuesday.
The situation in hospitals was especially critical, the EU envoy added, pointing to both the absence of electricity and the lack of fuel.
The conflict began in November 2020 when the government sent federal troops into Tigray to topple the TPLF, the region’s former ruling party, saying it was in response to rebel attacks on army camps.
After the TPLF mounted a shock comeback, retaking Tigray and then expanding into the neighbouring regions of Afar and Amhara, fighting intensified in the second half of 2021, before reaching a stalemate.