The United Nations says it has signed a deal with Ethiopia’s government to allow “unimpeded” humanitarian access to the embattled Tigray region, at least the parts under federal government control, the Associated Press news agency reported on Wednesday.
This will allow the first aid to the region of six million people that has been cut off during fighting that began a month ago between the federal and Tigray regional governments, each regarding the other as illegal.
For weeks, the UN and others have pleaded for aid access amid reports of food, medicines and other supplies running out.
A UN humanitarian spokesman said the first mission to carry out a needs assessment will begin on Wednesday.
“We are of course working to make sure assistance will be provided in the whole region and for every single person who needs it,” he said.
“The UN and humanitarian partners in Ethiopia are committed to engaging with the federal government of Ethiopia and all parties to the conflict to ensure that humanitarian action in Tigray, Amhara and Afar regions be strictly based on needs and carried out in compliance with the globally agreed upon principles of humanity, impartiality, independence and neutrality,” the spokesman added.
Ethiopian refugees who fled the Tigray conflict build temporary huts at Um Raquba camp in Sudan [Ashraf Shazly/AFP] Month-long conflict
Wednesday marks a month since Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced a military operation against forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
Abiy, last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, has rejected the idea of dialogue with the TPLF leaders, who are on the run but say they continue to fight even after the government over the weekend declared victory after announcing the seizure of the regional capital, Mekelle.
Hundreds, possibly thousands, of people have been killed so far, and the UN has warned of a humanitarian catastrophe as civilians flee the fighting.
The UN says some two million people in Tigray need assistance – a doubling from the number before the fighting – and some one million people are displaced, including more than 45,000 Ethiopians who have fled into neighbouring Sudan as refugees.
Food, fuel and cash are in short supply, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), while the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says basic medical equipment is lacking.
On Tuesday, the UN sounded alarm over severe food shortages being faced by nearly 100,000 Eritrean refugees sheltering in Tigray’s camps, requesting “urgent access” to deliver aid.
Eritreans often leave to escape mandatory, indefinite military service and repression or search for better opportunities out of what has long been one of the world’s most isolated countries.