UN officials, the High Commission for Refugees, the World Food Programme, and the Ethiopian government have agreed to expand access to humanitarian relief and ”scale up” efforts to reduce food insecurities in Ethiopia’s war-torn Tigray region, according to a statement by the World Food Programme (WFP). VOA reports that this agreement comes after the UN criticized Ethiopian authorities for blocking humanitarian aid from reaching the state’s rural population.
The WFP explains that the High Commission for Refugees considers “the situation in Tigray as extremely grave.” However, while UN officials previously feared starvation in the region, they are now optimistic after favorable discussions with Ethiopian President Shale-Work Zewbe. The agreement will allow humanitarian aid into areas that have been closed off since the conflict began in November 2020.
The World Food Programme is a branch within the United Nations that delivers food assistance in emergencies and works within communities to improve nutrition in some of the poorest regions in the world. On its site, the WFP advertises having assisted 97 million people in 2019 and aims to end hunger by 2030. WFP was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2020 for its continued efforts to combat hunger “to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent hunger as weapon of war.”
Long-standing conflicts between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray’s People Liberation Front (TPLF) in northern Tigray exploded into a military confrontation last November. The Council on Foreign Affairs reports that Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched a law-and-order operation targeting domestic terrorism which deployed the Ethiopian National Defense Forces and aerial bombardments. On-going conflicts between government forces and the TPLF have made it impossible to supply humanitarian aid to the region and malnutrition in Tigray is expected to worsen as fighting in the region continues.
Al Jazeera explains that authorities agree that the hunger crisis in the region has reached a critical point and are now expediting visas requirements for humanitarian workers to enter Tigray. Talks between the UN Under Secretary General for Safety and Security and the Ethiopian government have agreed to enhance communication, allow members of the national staff to return to their duty stations without further delay, and provide armored escorts to accompany humanitarian cargo and personnel, among other favorable conditions.
In a statement, the World Food Programme praised the Ethiopian government for their efforts to aid its Eritrean refugees spread out among two camps. The WFP remains committed to an open dialogue between humanitarian officials and the Ethiopian government and has promised to step up its food distribution program in the region. Hunger is a world problem that, if left unresolved, would leave millions of people fleeing to neighboring countries, creating an even greater refugee crisis within the region. Al Jazeera reports that an estimated 100,000 people have already fled to Sudan amidst the violent outbreaks.
The UN and its partners remain cautious about the growing food insecurities but will continue to work with the Ethiopian government to alleviate hunger. More must be done to ensure that the most vulnerable refugees, women, and children do not die from starvation.