NAIROBI (Reuters) -Twenty trucks carrying food aid entered territory controlled by Ethiopia’s rebellious Tigrayan forces on Friday, the United Nations said, the first small but concrete demonstration that a unilateral truce the government declared last week has improved aid access.
It is unclear how much more aid might follow or how quickly. More than 90% of the 5.5 million people in the northern province of Tigray need food aid, according to the United Nations.
World Food Programme Ethiopia, a U.N. agency, said on Twitter that 13 of these trucks had arrived safely in Tigray’s capital Mekelle and that more of them and fuel were expected in the morning.
Around 100 trucks of aid per day need to enter to meet the population’s needs. No trucks have been able to enter since Dec. 15, due to a combination of bureaucratic problems and fighting.
“Just arrived in Erepti and will soon cross into Tigray, bringing in over 500 metric tonnes of urgently needed WFP/partner food and nutrition supplies for communities on edge of starvation,” WFP Ethiopia had said earlier on Friday.
It said another convoy with more than 1,000 metric tonnes of food would be sent to the neighbouring region of northern Afar on Friday afternoon to deliver “to communities in dire need”.
Erepti is one of six districts in Afar currently controlled by Tigrayan forces.
Tigray’s government welcomed the development.
“The bottom line, though, isn’t about how many trucks are allowed but whether there is a system in place to ensure unfettered humanitarian access for the needy!” Getachew Reda, Tigray regional government’s spokesperson, said on Twitter.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a statement commended the government of Ethiopia and regional authorities on the delivery of humanitarian assistance over recent days to Tigray and Afar.
“This is an important step toward implementing the cessation of hostilities and addressing the urgent humanitarian needs in both regions. Now, we urge all stakeholders to make every effort possible to sustain the delivery of life-saving assistance,” Blinken said.
Vicky Ford, Britain’s minister for Africa, also in a statement, hailed the convoy’s arrival to the region.
Malnutrition and food insecurity are rampant in northern Ethiopia, where an estimated 9 million people across the Tigray, Amhara and Afar regions need critical food assistance due to conflict, WFP says.
The U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a report on Thursday that food stocks in Tigray were “minimal” and as a result humanitarian workers had cut back or even halted their operations.
War broke out in the Tigray region in November 2020. It pits Ethiopia’s government and its allies against rebellious Tigrayan forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the political party that controls the Tigray region.
Last week, the federal government declared an immediate, unilateral truce to allow aid into Tigray.
Tigrayan forces said they would respect the ceasefire as long as sufficient aid was delivered “within reasonable time”.
While some aid was arriving in Mekelle by air, it was insufficient, the U.N. OCHA Ethiopia office said.
Tigrayan leaders have in the past accused federal authorities and regional governments in Afar and Amhara of blocking aid into Tigray, accusations they deny.
The United Nations has repeatedly called on Ethiopia’s government to get aid into the north, and has said that shortages there were “manmade”.
(Reporting by Nairobi newsroom; Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Louise Heavens and Marguerita Choy)