The United Nations called for an air bridge to deliver food to the conflict-hit Ethiopian region of Tigray yesterday/FRI, amid accusations the Ethiopian government is using starvation as a weapon of war.
The World Food Programme (WFP), the UN agency tasked with delivering food assistance during crises, resumed deliveries to the region after fighting halted them last week, but it still found roads were blocked and checkpoints delayed deliveries.
"The fact is that people have died, people are dying and more people will die if we are not allowed the ability to prevent it from happening and provide assistance," Tommy Thompson, WFP’s emergency coordinator, said from Mekelle.
An air bridge is "badly, badly needed," Mr Thompson told reporters in Geneva, adding he was "cautiously optimistic" that one could be set up in the coming days to speed deliveries.
A bridge leading into Tigray, one of four access routes into the region, was destroyed in the fighting, aid groups said on Thursday, leaving only one viable, slower route. Aid groups fear that food parcels will not reach the estimated 350,000 people who need them on time.
Residents cheered as Tigrayan troops retook the regional capital of Mekelle last week after months of fighting.
Ethiopia’s federal government has been locked in a bloody war with the Tigray region since last November, with an estimated two million people displaced and increasing evidence of genocide and war crimes.
Last month, the UN’s humanitarian chief, Mark Lowcock, said famine had already arrived in the region, and that starvation was being used as a weapon of war against Tigrayans.
Ethiopia has denied the allegation and on Friday it also denied blocking aid going into Tigray.
"The allegation that we are trying to suffocate the Tigrayan people by denying humanitarian access and using hunger as a weapon of war is beyond the pale," said Demeke Mekonnen, the deputy prime minister.
However, a convoy of 34 food trucks each carrying 43 tons of food aid from the WFP was blocked for days at a checkpoint controlled by government-allied Amhara regional soldiers last week, according to Reuters.