The UN has released $36.6 million for civilians caught up in the conflict that has roiled Ethiopia's Tigray region since early last month, in order to secure water, sanitation and lifesaving medical supplies.
Weeks of fighting in the northern region have reportedly left hundreds dead, thousands displaced, and millions in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. More than 50,000 people, almost half of them children, have fled across the border into Sudan.
The UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, said that after six weeks of conflict, "the civilian toll is mounting. Women and children arrive in Sudan with disturbing stories of violence, deprivation and abuse. Many have not made it out.
'Unfettered access, now'
"Conflicts like this are hard to stop once they get out of control, the lives they extinguish cannot be brought back, and the grievances they create are long lasting. Right now, children are cut off from help. We need unfettered access, now."
A Government offensive reportedly began to wrest control of the region following a 4 November attack on the national army's headquarters there, by forces loyal to the dominant local party, the TPLF. Federal forces retook the capital Mekelle at the end of November, but local resistance has reportedly continued.
Communications and transportation links to much of the region have been cut off for weeks, making it hard to verify information, and the UN and partners have been calling for access for days, while standing by ready to provide vital supplies and other assistance.
The UN's emergency funds will help health facilities get medicines, gloves and other supplies to care for the sick and injured, and fund nutrition, drinking water and shelter. In Sudan, the funding will prioritize life-saving assistance to refugees, including shelter, health care and drinking water.
Relief chief Lowcock has released $13 million from the UN's Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to help people inside Ethiopia, with a further $5 million allocated for refugees newly arrived in Sudan. On top of this funding, $12 million has been released from the UN's Humanitarian Fund in Ethiopia and $5.6 million from the UN's Sudan Humanitarian Fund.
Women, children, older people and disabled people will be prioritized as the funding is disbursed, the UN said.
COVID cases rising in Africa
Meanwhile, in the battle against the spread of COVID-19 across the continent overall, cases have risen steadily over the past two months, underscoring the need for reinforced public health measures to avert a surge in infections, particularly as people gather or travel for end-of-year celebrations, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Since mid-October, an average of 46.000 cases per week have been recorded in the 47 countries in the World Health Organization (WHO) African region compared with about 29,000 per week between early September and early October.
Ten countries in the region have reported the highest number of cases, accounting for 88% of new cases in the past month. However, seven countries have also recorded a steady decline in cases over the past four weeks.
Increased movement and interactions as well as slack observance of public health measures such as physical distancing and wearing of masks are some of the factors behind the upsurge in cases. Gatherings such as political rallies or in close settings have also contributed to the rise in infections.
"The rising COVID-19 infections and the holiday season present a worrying mix," said Dr Richard Mihigo, the Immunization and Vaccine Development Programme Coordinator at WHO Regional Office for Africa. "Preventive measures must be tightened up to not only limit the risks of infections during the festive season but stand as permanent barriers against the spread of COVID-19. Complacency has no place in the fight against this pandemic."