The UN said on Wednesday that aid programmes in famine-stricken parts of northern Ethiopia could be cut because fighting between rebels and government forces was blocking the only usable road into the Tigray region.
UN spokesman Farhan Haq said convoys carrying aid workers, food, fuel and other humanitarian supplies could not traverse the route from Semera city, the capital of Afar state, to Tigray due to “security reasons”.
A counteroffensive by Tigrayan rebels against Ethiopian government troops reportedly advanced into neighbouring Afar at the weekend, forcing 54,000 people to flee their homes in the latest chapter of an eight-month civil war.
“NGOs and UN agencies are running out of cash and are unable to pay staff or suppliers,” Mr Haq told reporters.
“Unless fuel, cash supplies and aid workers are able to enter Tigray in the coming days, some humanitarian programmes will not be able to function.”
UN humanitarian supply planes were set to begin regular flights into Tigray on Thursday, but not the road routes that aid workers say are needed to supply enough food to a region where as many as 900,000 people are facing famine.
A 10-vehicle World Food Programme convoy loaded with supplies for Tigray was on Sunday attacked about 115 kilometres from Semera, dealing a further blow to aid distribution in the turbulent region.
The route from Semera to Tigray is critical for aid delivery as two key bridges along other routes were destroyed in late June.
“We continue to call for the restoration of electricity, communications, commercial flights and the banking system to prevent further deterioration in the humanitarian situation,” said Mr Haq.
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into Tigray last November to detain and disarm leaders of the region's then-ruling party, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), backed by forces from Eritrea and allied militias.
Mr Abiy, a Nobel peace laureate, declared victory in late November after government forces took the Tigray capital Mekele. But last month, pro-TPLF forces retook Mekele in a stunning reversal of the conflict and have since pushed south-east into Afar state.
At the weekend, rebel forces carried out what a spokesman described as a “very limited action” in Afar, attacking special forces and militia fighters from the Oromia region, the country's largest, AFP reported.
“The districts of Yalo, Golina and Awra were fully captured by the TPLF and over 54,000 people were displaced from these places,” Ahmed Kaloyta, a spokesman for the Afar region, told Bloomberg on Wednesday.
“The regional government is trying to relocate these internally displaced people.”
The spokesman said the Ethiopian National Defence Forces, Afari special forces and militias have mounted a combined counterattack on Tigrayan forces in areas where their troops had made gains.