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Ethiopians line up to receive aid
An increasing number of Ethiopians rely on aid amid the ongoing conflict between the government and Tigrayan rebelsImage: Mulugeta Ayene/AP/picture alliance

Millions in Ethiopia face aid shortage, warns UN

Isaac Kaledzi
December 10, 2021

The United Nations has warned of increasing food insecurity for people living in northern Ethiopia after its warehouses, stocked with vital supplies, were ransacked.


An estimated 9.4 million people are currently in dire need of food aid in northern Ethiopia, according to the United Nations (UN), as the ongoing Tigray conflict shows no signs of abating.

The humanitarian situation is most acute in the Tigray Region, where 5.2 million are at risk, along with another 534,000 in Afar and 3.3 million in Amhara.

However, there is still no indication as to when help will arrive after the UN announced on Wednesday that it was forced to suspend aid distribution in the northern Ethiopian town of Kombolcha after gunmen looted its warehouses.

UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric said there was "mass looting of warehouses across Kombolcha in recent days, reportedly by elements of the Tigrayan forces and some members of the local population."

"Large quantities of humanitarian food supplies, including nutritional items for malnourished children, have been stolen," he added.

A Cargo Plane belonging to an International Relief group called Samaritan's Purse unloads supplied at Mekele Airport in Ethiopia
Millions of displaced Ethiopians require everything from food to emergency sheltersImage: AA/picture alliance

Warring factions frustrating humanitarian efforts

Foreign policy and security analyst Adib Saani told DW from Accra, Ghana, that the UN's best efforts to address the humanitarian crisis are futile in such a chaotic environment, blaming both the Tigrayan forces and the federal government for hampering their work.

"The UN and other agencies have tried the best they can, but they have come under the line of fire from both the fighters and of course the government," he said.

Saani said attacks from both sides of the ongoing conflict is, "making it extremely difficult for them to be able to do their work and for relief to reach those who need it most."

Fighting in northern Ethiopia between government forces and Tigrayan fighters has continued for over a year now, triggered by a political fallout between the two factions.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed since November 2020, with more than 2 million people now displaced, according to the UN. Observers have accused both sides of committing human rights abuses

Saani believes ordinary Ethiopians have borne the brunt of the violence and are now unfairly paying the price.

"What is happening in [Ethiopia] is a humanitarian crisis," he stressed. "There are a lot of refugees who have fled from the fighting [and are] living in displacement camps both in and outside of Ethiopia with no access to food, healthcare, water and even sanitation."

An aid truck belonging to the World Food Program in Ethiopia's Wollo Zone
Aid delivery in Ethiopia's northern region has been hampered by ongoing fighting and road closuresImage: Alemenew Mekonnen/DW

Global efforts to end conflict continue

The international community has continued to condemn the crisis, with US State Department spokesperson Ned Price saying that the humanitarian catastrophe in Ethiopia's north remains an "absolute priority" for the US, while repeating calls for the warring parties to engage in peaceful dialogue.

"On the one hand we are encouraging, but also on the other hand we do have a set of sticks," said Price, referring to the potential use of sanctions.

Saani said major powers, including the US and Germany among others, must put more pressure on both the Ethiopian federal government and Tigray forces if a cease-fire is to be achieved. Still, he noted that strings being pulled behind the scenes are further complicating the conflict.

"The only way out is a concerted international effort led by world powers," he said, "Because it appears all parties in the conflict are getting support from other players outside of Ethiopia."

One year into Ethiopia's Tigray conflict

Edited by: Ineke Mules

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