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World Food Program Resumes Life-Saving Operation in Ethiopia’s Tigray Province

Members of Amhara special forces stand guard on the Tekeze river bridge near Ethiopia-Eritrean border near the town of Humera, Ethiopia, July 1, 2021.
Members of Amhara special forces stand guard on the Tekeze river bridge near Ethiopia-Eritrean border near the town of Humera, Ethiopia, July 1, 2021.

The World Food Organization reports it has resumed its humanitarian operation in northern Ethiopia’s Tigray province but says lack of security and other impediments are threatening its ability to reach millions of people in need.

Humanitarian agencies were taken by surprise by the Ethiopian government’s declaration Monday of a unilateral cease fire in Tigray and by the speed with which Tigrayan forces retook the regional capital, Mekelle.

World Food Program emergency coordinator Tommy Thompson says 35 WFP staff on the ground were trapped and operations were suspended for about 48 hours. He says things have been moving quickly since the resumption of operations. He says the WFP has reached 40,000 people with food aid.

However, he notes conditions on the ground are very difficult. Speaking on a telephone line from Mekelle, Thompson says WFP staff cannot move freely and do not have access to all areas in the region.

He says electricity and phone networks have been cut off since Monday and all commercial and humanitarian flights have stopped.

"We have no incoming fuel supplies. We have no incoming food supplies to feed the people in Tigray," Thompson said. "At this point, we are only operating with what we have had prepositioned. The banks are all closed and currently are without money even if they were open. So, funding operations are becoming critical at this time.”

Thompson says several non-governmental organizations are considering suspending operations because they have run out of fuel and money. He adds WFP only has enough fuel left to run its fleet of trucks in northwest Tigray for two weeks. Thereafter, the driving will stop.

The situation became even more difficult on Thursday when a bridge over the Tekeze River was destroyed, cutting a main supply route between western Tigray and the rest of the region.

Despite these obstacles, Thompson says he believes conditions for the distribution of aid will shortly improve. He says high level discussions on all sides of the conflict are taking place to agree on designating corridors for aid delivery, including an air bridge.

"I am cautiously optimistic that at least an air bridge might be available in the coming days," Thompson said. "If it is, that would be absolutely enormous assistance to us to move staff in an out, to move cash to operational areas, and to have assistance in a great number of ways.”

WFP aims to scale-up its humanitarian operation in Tigray to reach 2.1 million people, among them 350,000 on the verge of famine. To reach this goal, it says it needs unfettered access to all affected areas and $176 million to run its life-saving operation through to the end of this year.