First foreign aid convoy reaches Tigray

ADDIS ABABA (AFP) -The first international aid convoy arrived yesterday in the capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray region since fighting broke out more than a month ago, triggering a refugee crisis and humanitarian disaster.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said seven trucks brought medicines and medical equipment for 400 wounded as well as relief supplies to Mekele, a city of half a million which had been all-but cut off to foreign aid since the conflict began on November 4.

“It is the first international aid to arrive in Mekele since fighting erupted in Tigray more than one month ago,” the Geneva-based ICRC said, describing health care facilities in the city as “paralysed”.

Regional Director Patrick Youssef, said the supplies would “reduce those impossible life-or-death triage decisions” for doctors and nurses in Mekele who had endured for weeks without running water and electricity, let alone essential medicines.

The convoy arrived as the United Nations (UN) expressed growing alarm over the plight of nearly 100,000 Eritrean refugees in Tigray and appealed for urgent access to assist them and 600,000 others who were dependent on food rations before the conflict even began.

Ethiopia had restricted access to Tigray, and a communications blackout has made it difficult to evaluate the true extent of the humanitarian situation on the ground. But aid groups have been warning for weeks of a looming hunger crisis as food rations dwindled, and efforts to send life-saving relief were repeatedly delayed.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the winner of last year’s Nobel Peace Prize, on Friday said his government would be in charge of handling the humanitarian response and access to Tigray, and that Ethiopia had this week dispatched tonnes of food and other relief supplies by trucks to Mekele and other cities in the region.

Ethiopia has bridled at suggestions that outsiders might play a leading role in the relief effort and an agreement last week to allow the UN and other aid agencies access to Tigray foundered, deepening international alarm, before another deal was announced on Wednesday.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Friday it still has not been able to reach four camps housing nearly 100,000 Eritreans since the announcement of a major military offensive by Ethiopia’s army against forces loyal to Tigray’s dissident ruling party more than a month ago.

An Ethiopian refugee, who fled Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict and suffers with chest cancer, lies on a bed in a makeshift shelter at Um Raquba refugee camp in Sudan’s eastern Gedaref state on December 11. PHOTO: AFP