USAID Head Pushes for Humanitarian Aid Access in Tigray

U.S. Agency for International Development head Samantha Power is set to meet Wednesday with officials in Ethiopia as the United States urges the government to allow clear access for humanitarian aid to the Tigray region.

Power on Tuesday met with refugees in Sudan who have fled Tigray, and she reiterated the position of the United States, the United Nations and others that ultimately what will help the people in the northernmost region of Ethiopia is an end to the war that has been ongoing for more than nine months.

“The U.S. has been pushing all parties in Tigray toward an immediate cease-fire in the hopes that people like the Ethiopians I met here will be able to return home,” Power said in a Twitter post Tuesday. “The conflict has brought harrowing attacks against civilians, it is impacting millions, and it has to end.”

She said specifically the United States is calling for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, or the TPLF, to withdraw from the neighboring Amhara and Afar regions, for the Amhara regional government to pull its forces from western Tigray, and for neighboring Eritrea to immediately withdraw its forces from Ethiopia.

“All parties should accelerate unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance to those affected by the conflict, and the commercial blockade of Tigray must end,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters Tuesday in Washington.

The United States announced last week $149 million in additional humanitarian assistance for the Tigray region, while also calling attention to bureaucratic delays and attacks on aid convoys that have hindered efforts to get food and other necessary supplies to those in need.

After meeting in Addis Ababa Wednesday with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and other Ethiopian officials, U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths tweeted, “We need to see an end to the spread of the conflict, which is pushing humanitarian needs higher and making it harder to reach people in need.”

Griffiths also cited the “need to work with the government to improve conditions under which aid and humanitarian workers can reach those in need. We’ve been working hard to get 100 trucks a day in and we’ve been assured by the government that it will happen.”

U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths told reporters Tuesday in Addis Ababa that in recent days, 122 trucks had arrived in preparation for taking supplies into Tigray, but that humanitarian organizations said the need in the region is more like 100 trucks of aid per day.

“We need to change circumstances that have seen trucks moving in rather slowly. We need assured access routes by land, as well as, of course, our own flights going in and out of Mekele, and frankly we need the war to end, we need the conflict to stop if this is to be a safe place for the people of those particular regions in northern Ethiopia,” Griffiths said.

All warring parties have been trading blame on several issues including blockade of access to humanitarian aid. The Ethiopian government has blamed Tigrayan forces for aid blockades, while Tigrayan forces blame the government. The Associated Press reported last week a senior USAID official told the news agency that the government’s allegation is “100% not the case.”

The official added that the “primary obstacle is the government.”

Ahead of Power’s visit, Ethiopian officials expressed strong opposition to opening the country’s western border with Sudan to transport aid into Tigray.

The two countries are clashing over ownership of the fertile borderland.

“Access to the Tigray region is allowed through Amhara and Afar regions. Opening a corridor through the Sudan border will subvert the sovereignty of Ethiopia,” the country’s minister of labor and social affairs, Dr. Ergoge Tesfaye, tweeted Sunday [Aug. 1].

Meanwhile, TPLF forces were flexing their military muscles last month, pushing into the Amhara region to the south and to the Afar region to the east.

Cutting through Afar are the main highway and railway connecting the federal capital, Addis Ababa, with Djibouti’s seaport.

“It's really hard to say at this point what the motivations of Tigrayan leadership are,” Joseph Siegle, research director for the Washington-based Africa Center for Strategic Studies, told VOA this week. “They've justified the attacks on Afar on the need to reopen supply routes into Tigray. And so it opens up the question about what other broader designs” the TPLF may have.

General Tsadkan Gebretensae, commander of the Tigrayan forces and former head of Ethiopia’s army, told the BBC Sunday that his troops made incursions into the Afar and Amhara regions to break up the humanitarian aid blockade and to force the federal government to accept their preconditions for a cease-fire.

Siegle told VOA that the TPLF “is not satisfied simply with defending the territory of Tigray but is instead wanting to take the offensive into other parts of Ethiopia.”

“The initial reaction has been a rallying around the federal government and other regions are supporting renewed efforts to try to push back in Tigray, and there [has] been a rise in volunteers to join the army,” Siegle said. “So I think in the short term there has been some sort of a unifying effect.”

In the longer term, Siegle said the fighting possibly could create more fragmentation among the roughly 110 million people in Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous nation after Nigeria.

Aly Verjee, a senior adviser to the U.S. Institute of Peace’s Africa Center, said increased military buildup was worrisome.

He told VOA that the conflict’s “solution is a political one, not a military one. And so whether there are new troops on the ground from either side, it will still require a discussion at a political level to find some sort of resolution. And I think that is still very much possible if both sides feel that they can actually engage in talks.”

Ethiopia suspended part or all of the operations Tuesday of Doctors Without Borders and the Norwegian Refugee Council. The aid groups said the government ordered them to halt their work in Tigray.

Source: Voice of America