Addis Ababa – Foreign aid groups operating in Ethiopia’s war-battered Tigray region are out of fuel and have been forced to deliver assistance to malnourished civilians on foot, the UN said on Friday.
“All international NGOs operating in Tigray reported on 24 January that they have depleted their fuel stock with their staff delivering the little remaining humanitarian supplies and services on foot, where possible,” the UN’s humanitarian coordination office said in an update on the situation in northern Ethiopia, where war has raged for nearly 15 months.
Local groups are also struggling to reach people in need because of fuel and cash shortages, the UN said.
Last week, it said food distribution in Tigray had reached an all-time low.
Fighting in the neighbouring Afar region has impeded fresh deliveries along the only operational road route into Tigray, which has not received an aid convoy since December 14.
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) rebel group announced this week it had launched “robust” military operations in Afar, describing the move as a response to attacks by pro-government forces on its positions.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said it did manage to operate two flights carrying medical supplies into Mekele this week.
But a TPLF spokesperson said the effort was “a far cry from the massive intervention required in the face of the crisis that Tigray is currently facing”.
Fighting broke out in Tigray in November 2020 after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops to topple the TPLF, the region’s former ruling party, saying the move came in response to TPLF attacks on army camps.
The region of six million people has been subject to what the UN describes as a de facto blockade for months.
Washington accuses Abiy’s government of blocking aid, while Addis Ababa blames rebel incursions.
Last year the UN said hundreds of thousands of people in Tigray faced what it termed “famine-like conditions”.
Malnutrition continues to soar, the UN said Friday, with 4.2% of screened children diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition during the latest week for which data is available – “a seriously alarming level”.
Tigray’s pre-war government said this week it had recorded 369 deaths of children under five that it attributed to the blockade, up from nearly 200 in November.
That figure could not be independently verified.
“In the absence of intervention by the international community, millions of Tigrayans will continue to face the risk of death due to hunger and lack of critical medical supplies,” Dr Hagos Godefay, head of Tigray’s pre-war health bureau, said in a report published Wednesday by the Ethiopia Insight website.