Ethiopia: WFP Says Almost Half of People in Tigray in Need of Food Aid

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia — The World Food Program says that half the population of Ethiopia's Tigray region need food aid after nearly two years of civil war. Aid agencies say Ethiopia's federal authorities are limiting aid to the region, which the head of the World Health Organization calls the worst humanitarian disaster in the world.

On Friday, the U.N.'s World Food Program (WFP) said nearly half of Tigray's estimated seven million people are in need of food aid. It also said that a fuel embargo on the region is hampering distribution of the aid that gets in.

The news comes after Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the U.N.'s World Health Organization (WHO) and an ethnic Tigrayan, made international headlines asserting that the humanitarian crisis taking place in the region is the worst in the world.

The crisis in Tigray, he said, is worse than Ukraine "without any exaggeration," and suggested the neglect may have to do with the color of Tigrayan people's skin.

Aside from claims of neglect internationally, the Ethiopian government has been accused of imposing a humanitarian blockade on Tigray, where pro-government forces have been fighting the rebel Tigrayan People's Liberation Front, the TPLF, since November of 2020.

William Davison is an analyst for The International Crisis Group, a research organization based in Belgium.

"The federal government clearly needs to take action urgently to restore the services and if there needs to be discussions with the authorities in Tigray about the logistics and the legalities of how that's done, then those talks should be held, but this dispute should in no way prevent the convening of peace talks to try and reach a permanent cease-fire," said Davison.

At a news conference Thursday, Billene Seyoum, an Ethiopian federal government representative, said some aid is reaching the Tigray region's capital.

"Thus far, for the Tigray region, above 29,000 or close to 30,000 metric tons of food, 31,940 metric tons of nonfood items, 300,000,000 Birr [Ethiopian currency], above 66,000 liters of fuel, 23.63 metric tons of medicine, 2,096 metric tons of fertilizer have reached Mekelle, for distribution to beneficiaries throughout the region," said Seyoum.

Humanitarian organizations say this aid is not enough to prevent famine-like conditions in some parts of the region.

The national government has said it is ready for unconditional peace talks with the TPLF, which could lead to restoration of aid and services.

However, a TPLF representative, Fesseha Asghedom Tessema, says the government is using the prospect of restored aid to force an end to hostilities.

He told VOA, "The Abiy government in Addis, its latest position, as you know, is that direct negotiations has to come first. That is, we have to have a direct negotiation and then agree on a cease-fire. Of course, if that materializes, if there is a positive outcome, they will resume the services. That is as conditional as you can get."

On Thursday, the TPLF reported that the government attacked its troops in Tigray, in violation of a humanitarian cease-fire which has been in place since March. The government denied the accusation.

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