Panafrican News Agency

Tigray military hostilities hampering aid distribution in northern Ethiopia

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (PANA) - Increasing levels of military hostilities in Tigray region, which include an airstrike reported on Atsbi town in Eastern Zone on 12 February killing and injuring a number of civilians, has made it impossible for humanitarian aid to reach civilians in the region, UN relief agencies said on Friday.

The UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) said partners had not yet been able to verify the number of casualties from the latest aerial strike in the Tigray region near the border with Eritrea.

In most of Amhara Region, the situation was relatively calm, while the situation in the areas of North Wollo bordering Tigray remained tense, the relief agencies said in their weekly report.  

"The hostilities continue to affect civilian lives, their safety and restricting their access to livelihoods, increasing the humanitarian needs notably with a continuing and growing number of displaced people and hindering humanitarian access and delivery of aid to affected areas," the UN agencies said.

In Tigray, the most northern parts along the Eritrean border including some settlements in Rama in Central Zone, Erob in Eastern Zone, and Zala Anbessa town in Eastern Zone were still inaccessible for partners with tens of thousands of people in those areas who have not received any assistance for the past few months.

The situation in northern Ethiopia continues to be tense and volatile. Active hostilities reported in multiple locations in Afar Region, along the main corridor (A1) linking Samera in Afar and Mekelle in Tigray and along the bordering areas with Tigray, including in Erbeti town, Berhale and Megale woredas, and Uruh and Wahdis kebeles, all in Kilbeti Zone.

The humanitarian situation in Afar, in particular, continues to deteriorate with reported continuous and large-scale displacement leading to increased needs.

According to official sources in Afar, the conflict has so far displaced a few hundred thousand people in the region, the majority of whom are sheltering in IDP sites in Megale, Berhale, Koneba, Erebti, and Dalol woredas.

Several of those sites are not accessible to humanitarian partners due to road conditions and security concerns, while some other displaced people are reportedly trapped behind the lines of contact or took refuge in remote areas.  

In Amhara, some areas bordering Tigray are still inaccessible including parts in North Gondar, Wag Hemera and North Wollo zones due to security concerns and a volatile situation depriving the population of humanitarian assistance, including critical food distribution.  

Hostilities and insecurity continued to block the delivery of humanitarian supplies into Tigray by road, via Semera-Abala-Mekelle, which has not been accessible since 15 December.

The current blockage of this route has further exacerbated the flow of humanitarian supplies into Tigray, as the level of the supplies that was allowed before mid-December has been far below what is needed mainly due to bureaucratic impediments.

Overall, 1,339 trucks have entered the Tigray region from Semera since 12 July, which represents only 8 per cent of the required supplies needed to meet the vast scale of humanitarian needs in Tigray.  

An additional 17 trucks of supplies entered from Kombolcha, Amahara, to Tigray last November.  On 11 February, the World Health Organization airlifted 10 metric tons (MT) of medical supplies to Mekelle, Tigray, for the first time since July, 2021.

The supplies included essential medical and personal protective equipment, antibiotics, medicines for malaria and diabetes, including insulin, and medicines and supplies for reproductive health.

This shipment is part of a planned 33.5 MT to be shipped to Tigray this week. While the medical supplies are arriving at Mekelle, partners are not able to dispatch and distribute them to health facilities across the region due to lack of fuel, especially to North-Western Zone, where more than 800,000 displaced people are estimated to be sheltering or 44 per cent of the total 1.8 million internally displaced people in Tigray. 

The supplies also remain very limited and are far from meeting the health and nutrition requirements in the region. It is currently not possible to lift more than 5MT on the UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) flights due to cargo capacity. 

Scabies and malaria cases have been significantly increasing in displacement sites in North-Western Zone with more than 1,100 scabies cases registered in 22 sites, and more than 1,800 malaria cases recorded in the zone since the beginning of the year.

The infected people with scabies are treated with expired medications, while there are no sufficient resources available for the required comprehensive response including the provision of non-food items and hygiene.

Lack of supplies, medications and fuel are restricting health partners from mitigating the spread of diseases.  Fuel, cash and supplies available for humanitarian partners in Tigray are at near exhaustion level, thus largely reducing humanitarian operations including critical distributions of food, water, health and nutrition services. 

Food partners, for instance, reported that as of 14 February, they had less than 2,000 litres of fuel left (excluding contingency stock) in Tigray. Consequently, partners are forced to suspend food dispatch and distribute reduced rations of food. 

It is also reported that school feeding by several partners will cease as of next week due to cash and fuel shortages. Some 345,000 children in the region are targeted for school feeding, but only about 1,800 children were reached during the week with meals.  

In Amhara, new displacements were reported in North Gondar, Wag Hemra, and North Wollo zones. The situation in Sekota district  (Wag Hemra) and Raya Kobo district (North Wollo) is particularly dire with several people having been displaced multiple times, deteriorating security situation in border areas, and receiving very little humanitarian assistance.

According to official records, there are currently more than 30,000 IDPs in Wag Hermra Zone mainly in Zequala and Sekota districts. It is also estimated that more than 12,000 people have arrived in Raya Kobo in Amhara in the last few weeks seeking humanitarian assistance. 

A limited humanitarian assistance was provided to the newly displaced people in Amhara and there is a need to scale up the response.  Also in Amhara, and according to a preliminary damage and loss assessment report, more than 21,000 returnees in North Wello Zone need emergency shelter assistance, including support with rehabilitation or reconstruction of their homes.

More than 4,000 houses and a significant number of public institutions, including hospitals and schools, are reportedly damaged in the zone. 

-0- PANA AO/RA 18Feb2022