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Ethiopia denies blocking aid to Tigray

July 2, 2021

The World Food Programme faces damaged transport and communication links while delivering aid to Tigray. But Ethiopia denied it was "trying to suffocate the Tigrayan people."

Destroyed bridge at the Tekeze River in northern Ethiopia
The Ethiopian government has denied intentionally destroying bridges to prevent aid from reaching the embattled Tigray regionImage: Roger Sandberg/AP/picture alliance

The Ethiopian government on Friday denied hindering humanitarian aid aimed at helping people affected by conflict and famine in the northern Tigray region.

The UN has warned that "the blackout of electricity, telecommunications, and internet throughout Tigray region will only exacerbate the already dire humanitarian situation." Transport and communications links remained severed.

However, Ethiopia's Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen has refuted suggestions that the central government was to blame.

He told diplomats in Addis Ababa: "The allegation that we are trying to suffocate the Tigrayan people by denying humanitarian access and using hunger as weapon of war is beyond the pale."

"We have been exerting every possible effort to rebuild damaged infrastructure and restore electricity, telecoms, internet and banking services."

Up to 1 million face famine

The United Nations said in early June at least 350,000 people in Tigray were in danger of famine but the US Agency for International Development last week estimated the true figure to be almost triple that.

The UN's World Food Programme (WFP) has resumed deliveries in Tigray, but faces ongoing access issues and is "way behind" in bringing life-saving supplies to people facing starvation, WFP emergency coordinator, Tommy Thompson, said on Friday.

Speaking by satellite phone from the Tigrayan capital of Mekelle, he saidthat fighting continued  in some "hot zones" causing 35 of the agency's employees to become "trapped."

"WFP suspended its operations for only about 48 hours and we began operating in the northwest fairly quickly thereafter, managing to reach probably by the end of this weekend probably about 40,000 people," he told a news conference in Geneva.

"We hope to start dispatching in central zones that were extremely hard hit ... later today," he added.

Thompson also said he was "cautiously optimistic" an air bridge could be set up in the coming days.

"The fact is that people have died, people are dying and more people will die if we are not allowed the ability to prevent it from happening and provide assistance," he said.

jsi/dj (Reuters, AP)