UN estimates 9.4 million people need food aid in northern Ethiopia

Humanitarian crisis comes as US draws up contingency plans to remove its citizens from conflict-riven country

The UN said in a report that the new figure represents a 17 per cent increase during the past two months. Unicef via AP
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The number of people needing food assistance in northern Ethiopia has reached a record of 9.4 million, a UN report highlighting the increasing humanitarian toll from the year-long conflict has shown.

The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha) said in its report on Thursday that the new figure represents a 17 per cent increase during the past two months.

The conflict between the Ethiopian government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, backed by Eritrea, and Tigrayan and Oromo forces in the north has created a humanitarian crisis not seen since the civil war that ended in 1991.

Despite efforts by the African Union, the UN and the US to broker a ceasefire, the fighting has only intensified in recent weeks, with rebels closing in on the capital Addis Ababa and the government launching a fresh offensive to scale back their advances.

Government forces this week announced they had recaptured the town of Lalibela, a UN world heritage site, after Tigrayan forces seized it in August.

“The situation in northern Ethiopia remains precarious and volatile with the continuation of active hostilities in several locations, leading to increased humanitarian needs and vulnerabilities due to large-scale displacement, loss of livelihoods and access to markets, food and basic services,” Ocha said.

Ocha's report pointed to improved aid shipments to Mekelle, but noted that fuel access to the Tigray and Afar regions remains blocked.

“In Tigray, humanitarian access to the region slightly improved … four convoys with 157 trucks with humanitarian supplies arrived in Mekelle for the first time since October 18,” the report said.

More than 70,000 Ethiopians are now refugees in neighbouring Sudan.

The humanitarian crisis comes as the US draws up contingency plans to remove its citizens from Ethiopia.

A leaked State Department cable obtained by Newsy said the US special Envoy to the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman, asked Mr Abiy's permission to allow US military personnel into Addis Ababa to enable the removals, if necessary.

The news outlet said Mr Abiy gave the US envoy “verbal assurances” that such deployment would be allowed.

The State Department did not immediately comment.

The State Department estimates 30,000 to 40,000 US citizens are in Ethiopia. On Thursday, the US embassy in Addis Ababa again called on citizens to depart.

The Pentagon has positioned US special operations forces in neighbouring Djibouti to help remove citizens from Ethiopia if the situation deteriorates, CNN reported last month.

UN aid chief Martin Griffiths said that the country could fracture if a ceasefire is not achieved soon.

“The worst I think from a humanitarian perspective [would be] if there is a battle for Addis or turmoil around there, leading to increased communal violence across the country,” Mr Griffiths told AFP this week.

“If that were to happen, we're facing something I don't think we have faced before for many, many years: we're facing a fracture … of the fabric of Ethiopia.”

Updated: December 03, 2021, 6:34 PM