Aid groups have renewed calls for unhindered humanitarian access to reach hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, struggling, days after the federal government in Addis Ababa declared a unilateral ceasefire in the eight-month conflict while rebel forces retake the regional capital, Mekelle.
The government in Addis Ababa has described its “recovery” as a strategic move and said it was taken in part for humanitarian reasons, intended to facilitate agricultural production in the mountainous region. He said the ceasefire announced on Monday will remain in operation until the agricultural season ends in September.
But Getachew Reda, a spokesman for the Tigrayan forces, rejected the statement to cease government fire as a “sick joke” and said they would not stop until they completely recaptured the region. Getachew also said federal forces had been forced out of Mekelle, but were still struggling to retake territory, adding that his Eritrean allies still controlled a “significant portion” of Tigray.
Eritrea, whose troops have been accused of committing some of the worst abuses during the conflict, has not commented since the Ethiopian government’s announcement.
Electricity and telecommunications remain cut across the Tigray, making the work of humanitarian groups more challenging as the region of about six million people faces the the worst famine crisis in the world in a decade.
Unfortunately, the International Rescue Committee said Thursday that a bridge over the Tekeze River near the northern town of Shire on the Tigray had been destroyed.
“This was one of the main supply routes in Tigray which means that aid will be even more severely hampered than before,” he warned.
We are devastated to hear that the Tekeze Bridge — one of the main supply routes in Tigray, Ethiopia — has been destroyed. This means that aid will be even more severely hampered in the midst of the ongoing conflict. The IRC continues to demand unrestricted humanitarian access to the region.
– IRC – International Rescue Committee (@RESCUEorg) July 1, 2021
“The situation is very worrying and has deteriorated in recent months,” Alyona Synenko, a regional spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), told Al Jazeera on Thursday.
“We are looking for two million displaced people in the region and they need urgent humanitarian assistance,” Synenko said. “Access to food is a major concern. They also lack drinking water and safe shelter. “
The situation is worse in rural areas where humanitarian organizations have been unable to access due to the fragile security situation, according to the ICRC.
“The reports we have received from rural areas are very worrying. Due to the security situation, farmers have not been able to plant crops and their stocks have been sacked. They have neither seeds nor fertilizers,” he said. adds Synenko.
Many farmers in the region depend on subsidized seeds and fertilizers that they had received credit from cooperative unions – but this is no longer available since the conflict.
Ethiopian soldiers backed by troops from neighboring Eritrea and fighters from the Ethiopian region of Amhara, south of Tigray, have been fighting the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) since November 2020 after Addis Ababa accused the then party of the region to attack federal military bases, an accusation denied by TPLF officials.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, declared victory after federal forces entered Mekelle on 28 November. The fighting, however, continued, provoking warnings of a long conflict with devastating effects on civilians.
According to the UN, more than 350,000 people in Tigray are facing starvation conditions due to a “catastrophic” food shortage, with another five million in need of immediate food aid.
On Thursday, the UNICEF agency for children of the UN said that children in the region “continue to suffer”.
“UNICEF’s resources are ready, and to deliver wild water, food and health services to desperate families, we need urgent, safe and sustainable access,” the agency said. he said.
The Abiy government has been under increasing international pressure to end the conflict, which is estimated to have killed thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people.
On Tuesday, the United States said it would take further action against Ethiopia and Eritrea if hostilities did not end in Tigray.
By the end of May, Washington had imposed economic and security brakes on Ethiopia, including restrictions on a number of current or former Ethiopian and Eritrean government officials and members of the security forces, as well as Amhara forces and of TPLF members – all believed to be “responsible” for, or complicit in, undermining the resolution of the crisis in Tigray ”.
Robert Godec, assistant secretary of state for the State Department for African Affairs, said this week that the United States “will not stand up to the horrors in Tigray.”
For his part, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres he said had spoken with Abiy on Tuesday, adding that he was hoping for an “effective cessation” of hostilities in the region.
“It is essential that civilians are protected, humanitarian aid reaches the people in need and a political solution is found,” Guterres said.
On Thursday, the United Kingdom welcomed the declaration to cease fire in Ethiopia and called on all parties to the conflict to make a similar announcement.
“Violence must now stop and unrestricted humanitarian access be granted. Eritrean forces must also leave Tigray,” a spokesman for the UK’s foreign and commonwealth office said, adding that it was “crucial that there be a political process for all parties to find a long-term resolution of the conflict in Tigray ”.
It came a day after Ethiopian officials said federal troops could retake Mekelle in a few weeks if they needed to and warned Tigrayan forces against “reorganizing” in the areas from which government troops withdrew.
“To those who say they can reorganize, they do not spend an inch,” Lieutenant General Bacha Debele told reporters. “If they try to prove it, our response will be overwhelming and it will be more than the previous one.”
For Adem Kassie Abebe, program officer at the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, the departure of Ethiopian federal forces “could actually aggravate the gap in humanitarian provisions.”
“Most of the humanitarian provisions were actually coming from Ethiopian sources,” he said he said Al Jazeera Inside Story program. “Work needs to be done to ensure that there is an increase in humanitarian provisions in terms of the gap that has been created.”
Synenko, of the ICRC, took up the call.
“The humanitarian situation will deteriorate drastically if nothing is done. We hope that the security situation will stabilize so that we can reach out and offer assistance to those communities that need it most, especially in rural areas,” he said.
Follow Hamza Mohamed on Twitter: @Hamza_Africa