UN anxious for unfettered aid access to Tigray

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A convoy of trucks carrying food aid on June 9, 2022 on their way to Tigray. The Ethiopian government said on November 11, 2022 that aid was being sent into Tigray, claims swiftly denied by Tigrayan rebels. AFP

NAIROBI, Kenya - The United Nations still cannot get unfettered access to bring humanitarian aid into Ethiopia's war-torn northern Tigray region, one month after the ceasefire, the World Health Organization said Friday.

The UN's health agency said just a trickle of aid had managed to get into Tigray, which is in the grip of a humanitarian crisis after a two-year conflict.

Restoring aid deliveries to Tigray was a key part of an agreement signed on November 2 to end a war that has killed untold numbers of people.

"That peace process has not yet resulted in the kinds of full access, unfettered access, and the massive scale-up of medical and health assistance that the people of Tigray need," WHO emergencies chief Michael Ryan told a press conference.

"I remain cynical on that front because we've been a long time waiting to get access to these desperate people."

Tigray was isolated from the world for over a year and faced severe shortages of medicines and limited access to electricity, banking, and communications -- services that need restoring for relief logistics operations to function.

"It's really hard to plan a scale-up when at every moment you can have your ambitions curtailed," Ryan lamented.

"The UN system is really anxious to scale up our operations.

"We welcome any cessation of violence, any access that's given.

"But the people in Tigray are desperate. They've been years now without access to proper healthcare and nutrition and they need our help now. Not next week, not next month. Now."

He said some WHO staff had been able to go in, while a small fuel allocation might allow the organization to serve a tiny percentage of the needs in the region.

'Massive' needs'

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus welcomed the ceasefire, deemed a vital prerequisite for health, but urged that it be implemented in full.

"The need is massive," said Tedros, who is himself from Tigray.

He insisted that food aid and medical supplies should be delivered to civilians at all times during conflicts.

Tedros and Ryan both raised concerns for areas that are still under the control of troops from neighbouring Eritrea.

The ceasefire makes no mention of the presence on Ethiopian soil or any possible withdrawal of Eritrean troops, who have backed Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's forces and been accused of atrocities.

Last week the UN's World Food Programme said aid deliveries into Tigray were "not matching the needs" of the stricken region.

WFP said an estimated 13.6 million people across Tigray and its neighbouring regions of Amhara and Afar were dependent on humanitarian aid as a result of the war, which broke out in November 2020.

Tigray's authorities had been resisting central rule for months when Abiy accused their leadership of attacking federal army camps and sending troops into the region.

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