After last week’s news about the precarious humanitarian situation in Tigray and Amhara, concern over the disappearance of some 400 trucks continues to hold sway in Ethiopian politics. A fact-checking survey conducted by the BBC gives us a clearer picture of the current situation, discounting the mutual accusations between the government and the TPLF.
The main route to supply Tigray with humanitarian aid passes through the border with Afar and is the road that connects Abala to Mekelle, the capital of Tigray. The flow of aid to alleviate the danger of famine in Tigray drawn up by the World Food Programme (WFP) and coordinated by UNOCHA (United Nations Office for Humanitarian Affairs) is estimated at 100 trucks per day, which obviously carry food but also other basic necessities and fuel. So far, of the 466 trucks that have entered Tigray since mid-July of this year, only 38 have returned, 428 are therefore missing.
The TPLF stated that “the drivers are provided with the fuel needed only for a one-way trip to Tigray” and that many of these drivers, being Tigrayans, have complained of violence, intimidation and harassment by government forces during inspections carried out at checkpoints to enter Tigray. Therefore, many drivers of Tigrinya origin have no intention of making the return trip, and since the government has closed all banks in the country and frozen the assets of most companies and the population, there is also an endemic shortage of money, which prevents them from buying the necessary fuel. The latter is also scarce and therefore sold at very high prices.
The government, on the other hand, accepted the claim that the non-return of the trucks is the main cause of the difficulty in bringing aid to Tigray but denied that the scarcity of fuel is one of the causes and indeed, Mitiku Kassa, the Commissioner for National Disaster Risk Management, said that the trucks could have been seized by the TPLF.
UNOCHA for its part said that there are two main reasons why drivers do not want to go back from Tigray: “a lack of fuel for the return trip, as well as fear for their safety.” In fact, the UN agency has complained numerous times about Afar government authorities blocking fuel supplies it was sending to the region. Therefore, “The lack of money and the additional difficulties this creates in finding fuel makes it highly challenging for trucks to return from Mekelle.”
The UN has estimated that 200,000 liters of fuel are needed every week to keep its convoys moving, yet only 300,000 liters have arrived in Tigray since July 12. Reserves therefore ran out on about September 17, while nine tankers with supplies are stationed in Afar waiting for clearance from government authorities.
The stalemate in the humanitarian situation therefore seems rather difficult to overcome, perhaps only with the progress of the conflict will the situation be unblocked. In any case, we hope that aid can continue to flow soon to avoid that the situation, already precarious, can become a real famine throughout the region as feared and announced for months.