Fuel and cash shortages have forced humanitarian operations to a virtual standstill in Ethiopia’s war-hit Tigray region, the UN’s emergency response agency OCHA said Thursday.
The grinding 15-month conflict between Ethiopian government forces and Tigrayan rebels has left thousands dead and, according to the United Nations, driven hundreds of thousands to the brink of starvation.
Tigray itself has for months been subject to what the UN says is a de-facto blockade, and the United States has accused the Ethiopian government of blocking aid, which in turn has blamed the rebels for the obstructions.
In a briefing note released Thursday, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that aid deliveries in Tigray had been “largely reduced or suspended including critical distributions of food, water, health and nutrition services.”
It said that no fuel had been allowed into the region since August 2 last year, excepting two trucks in November, while a cash crunch has left local non-profits deeply in debt and struggling to pay salaries since June.
Fresh fighting in the neighboring region of Afar has also disrupted access to emergency supplies, with no deliveries since December 15 along the main aid corridor running from Afar’s capital Semera to Mekele, Tigray’s capital.
“Overall, 1,339 trucks have entered the Tigray region from Semera since July 12, which represents about nine per cent of the required supplies needed to meet the vast scale of humanitarian needs in Tigray,” OCHA said.
Although aid workers have been able to airlift life-saving medical supplies to Tigray, the supplies have fallen far short of what is required, the UN agency said, with residents resorting to desperate measures including using bed sheets to make gauze.
Malnutrition continues to soar in Tigray, OCHA said, with 6.4 percent of screened children diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition between February 1-7, warning that the supplies used to treat such cases were “completely depleted or almost entirely exhausted.”
Last month, the UN’s World Food Program said that nearly 40 percent of people in Tigray were suffering “an extreme lack of food”, with fuel shortages forcing aid workers to deliver medicines and other crucial supplies by foot.
Since the war broke out in November 2020, the battlefield has expanded from Tigray into the Amhara and Afar regions.
Ongoing fighting in Afar has forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes, driving up the need for emergency aid there, OCHA said.