A senior UN official said that over 400,000 people have “crossed the threshold into famine” inregion, appealing for urgent humanitarian action to help the millions affected by the brutal eight-month-long conflict. Fighting between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) was reignited last month when the rebels launched a major counter-offensive that saw them retake their regional capital of Mekele. Ethiopian forces destroyed two key bridges allowing desperately-needed aid into the region, prompting charges Addis Ababa was seeking to choke off humanitarian assistance.
Friday saw the UNhold its first public meeting on a conflict that has left thousands dead and plunged hundreds of thousands into hunger.
Ramesh Rajasingham, Acting Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that the situation had “worsened dramatically” as the conflict had reignited in recent weeks.
In thealone, the number of people suffering famine has increased by some 50,000 people.
“More than 400,000 people are estimated to have crossed the threshold into famine, and another 1.8 million people are on the brink of famine,” he said. “Some are suggesting that the numbers are even higher. Thirty-three thousand children are severely malnourished.”
“The(in Tigray) depend on our ability to reach them with food, medicine, nutrition supplies, and other humanitarian assistance,” he added. “We need to reach them now. Not . Now.”
Ethiopia has rejected charges that it planned to choke off aid to the region.
“The insinuation that we are planning to suffocate the Tigrayan people by denying humanitarian access and using hunger as a weapon of war is beyond the pale,”Demeke Mekonnen told diplomats gathered at a hotel in the capital Addis Ababa. Officials are “using every ounce of our strength to extricate” Tigrayan civilians “from the dire situation they find themselves in”, he added.
Ceasefire ‘a joke.’
Abiy Ahmed, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner, sent troops into Tigray last November to detain and disarm the regional ruling party leaders, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
He said the move responded to TPLF attacks on federal army camps andforces took the regional capital Mekele.
But after the rebels – having rebranded themselves the Tigray Defence Forces (TDF) – retook Mekele and asserted control over most of the region, thea unilateral ceasefire that the TDF has dismissed. As “a joke.”
Senior UN official Rosemary DiCarloFriday to “immediately and completely” endorse the ceasefire.
“A ceasefire observed by all parties would not only facilitate the provision of humanitarian aid but would also be a starting point for the necessary political efforts to chart a way out of the crisis,” DiCarlo said.
‘Lives will be lost.’
The war has already exerted a staggering humanitarian toll, with theestimating 900,000 civilians are “likely already experiencing famine conditions”.
The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP), or 91 percent of Tigray’s population, need emergency food assistance.
The WFP said it had resumed aid operations after a two-day pause but added that lives were still in the balance after the twointo Tigray were destroyed.
“Lives will be lost if supply routes into Tigray do not fully open, and parties to the conflict continue to disrupt or endanger free cargo movement for WFP and other emergency responders.”
The UN has said one of the bridges was “reportedly” blown up by security forces from the Amhara region, south of Tigray, but the government on Friday blamed Tigrayan forces.
In his comments to diplomats Friday, Demeke reiterated thethat the ceasefire was motivated by humanitarian concerns and facilitated farming.
But with electricity and telecommunications cut off, flights suspended, and most roads into the region now impassable, UN officials and diplomats fear the situation could deteriorate further.
“A credible ceasefire means doing everything possible so that aid reaches the millions of children, women, and men who urgently need it,” EUchief Josep Borrell said on Twitter.
Path to dialogue?
Demeke also said that following last month’s national elections, expected to give Abiy a new term, the government was preparing for an “inclusive dialogue” to resolve the crisis. The polls were postponed in Tigray.
Diplomats lobbying for a political resolution of the war have long sought such a dialogue.
But in a closed question-and-answer session with diplomats, officials indicated that dialogue with the TPLF leadership remained off the table.
In May, lawmakers designated the TPLF a terrorist organization.
When pressed by diplomats on how that might affect whatever dialogue takes place, Demeke said some TPLF members were “innocent” and could be included, according to three attendees.
But both Demeke and Redwan Hussein, spokesman for a governmenton the Tigray conflict, told diplomats that Addis Ababa was committed to “accountability” for TPLF leaders, the diplomats said.