Lack of access hinders delivery of aid to Ethiopia's Tigray region: NRC

Thursday February 04 2021

Eritrean refugees at Mai Aini Refugee camp, in Ethiopia, on January 30, 2021. Nearly 100,000 refugees from Eritrea were registered in four camps in Tigray when fighting erupted last November between Abiy Ahmed's government and the regional ruling party, TPLF. PHOTO | EDUARDO SOTERAS | AFP

By The EastAfrican

A global humanitarian organisation says delivery of critical humanitarian assistance to millions of people in Ethiopia's war-torn Tigray region has stalled.

In a statement issued on Monday, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said that humanitarian operations have not begun since conflict broke out in the region last year.

The Ethiopian government has repeatedly said that humanitarian assistance to Tigray is in full swing.

“Aid organisations are unable to reach the Central and Western parts of the region, and two refugee camps are completely inaccessible,” the NRC said. “In the few instances where agencies are accessing the region, it is limited to areas along major roads or the capital Mekelle.” 

According to the NRC, access to the Tigray region remains significantly constrained.

“Aid workers face an unpredictable approval process with blurred lines of authorisations, as well as unclear and shifting approval procedures,” the statement says.


A number of international humanitarians have urged the Ethiopian government to grant unrestricted and unhindered access to conflict-affected areas.

Addis Ababa made a deal with the United Nations that it would allow a humanitarian corridor for the delivery of emergency aid to millions of people, including the more than 25,000 Eritrean refugees sheltered at two camps in the region. 

Despite the deal with UN, there is growing criticism that the government has done little to implement the agreement.

As a result, many people could face starvation.

The news on possible starvation first arose earlier in January after a note from Tigray’s interim administration official was leaked to the media. He said, “hundreds of thousands of people could starve to death in Tigray”.

“In all my years as an aid worker, I have rarely seen a humanitarian response so impeded and unable to deliver in response for so long, to so many with such pressing needs,” said Jan Egeland, the Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).

“As an international community, we are clearly failing to deliver against the humanitarian imperative we are facing…The basic elements of a response on the scale needed are still not in place.

“It is false to say that aid is increasingly getting through.”

He said humanitarian aid has only reached areas with little conflict and is not keeping pace with the humanitarian crisis as it grows.  

Egeland urged all authorities in Ethiopia to allow access to those most in need, regardless of their locations, to avoid any further aid delivery lags.

A recent United Nations situational report indicated that some 4.5 million people in the Tigray region are in need of emergency food assistance, a figure Ethiopia said was exaggerated.

The federal government's military operation in Tigray ended in late November after the federal forces took control of Mekelle ousting the TPLF, the former regional ruling party.

However, sporadic fighting has reportedly continued in many parts of Tigray.

After about two months of silence, TPLF Chairman, Debretsion Gebre-Michael, last weekend said fighting in the Tigray region did not stop. He said the conflict has led to many human rights violations in the region and the suppression of freedoms of people in Tigray.

There was no immediate reaction from the Ethiopian government over Debretsion's remarks.

Last week, the US State Department called for the immediate withdrawal of Eritrean troops from Tigray.

The Ethiopian government has repeatedly denied allegations that the Eritrean army was involved in the conflict in Tigray. It also downplayed reports of involvement of Somali soldiers.