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Tigray aid situation worsening by the day

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A child waits for a nutrition screening in Wajirat in southern Tigray in Ethiopia. © UNICEF/Christine Nesbitt

The aid crisis in Ethiopia’s Tigray region is worsening, the UN said on Thursday, with stocks of relief aid, cash and fuel “running very low or depleted”. 

Since 12 July, less than 10 per cent of the trucks that should have reached desperate populations affected by months of fighting, have managed to get through, according to the UN aid coordination office OCHA

It noted that the only access route to Tigray, via Afar region using the Semera-Abala corridor, has been inaccessible since the 22nd of August. 

Humanitarian partners estimate that 100 trucks of food, non-food items, and fuel need to enter Tigray every day to sustain an adequate response.  

Fuel and funding shortages 

OCHA also highlighted that in addition to food, a minimum of 200,000 litres of fuel is required for the humanitarian response every week. 

But since 12 July, only 282,000 litres have reached Tigray and none since August 16. 

The UN agency pointed out that around $7 million is needed every week to sustain humanitarian operations in Tigray – equivalent to 300 million birr in local currency – including for staff salaries, local procurement, and cash-based assistance. But only 47 million birr has been brought in since July 12, it said.  

Civilian fallout 

The spillover of a 10-month long conflict between Ethiopian troops and the Tigray Defence Force into neighbouring Afar and Amhara regions, continues to affect civilians, resulting in food insecurity, displacement, and the disruption of livelihoods. 

Some 1.7 million people are estimated to be facing food insecurity in Afar and Amhara. Last month, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned that “a humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding before our eyes” with more than two million people displaced, and reportedly 300,000 more people displaced in Afar and Amhara. 

At least 400,000 people are living in famine-like conditions, with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warning that 100,000 face severe acute malnutrition within the year. 

Adding to the Secretary-General’s call for an immediate end to hostilities and for the negotiation of a lasting ceasefire, OCHA urged all parties to the conflict to allow and facilitate timely, unfettered, safe and sustained access to all people affected by the crisis. 

Avert catastrophe 

In a statement, acting Humanitarian Coordinator in Tigray, Grant Leaity, said that in accordance with international humanitarian law, “all parties to the conflict must allow and facilitate the rapid and unimpeded passage of impartial humanitarian relief to avert this looming catastrophe.” 

“They must also respect and protect all humanitarian personnel and assets”, he added. “In particular, the Government of Ethiopia must allow and facilitate the unimpeded entry into the country, as well as movement within the country, of humanitarian relief personnel, supplies and equipment, including cash and fuel, whether over land, water or by air. 

He also urged the Government to restore essential services, including electricity, communications, and banking services, as well as the flow of essential commercial commodities into Tigray. 

“The lives of millions of civilians in Tigray and neighboring regions in Afar and Amhara depend on our capacity to reach them with food, nutrition supplies, medicine and other critical assistance. We need to reach them immediately and without obstruction to avert famine and significant levels of mortality.”

Africa Today

Only 2% of Covid-19 vaccines have been administered in Africa

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More than 5.7 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered globally, but only 2% of them in Africa, said World Health Organization (WHO) chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Tuesday. 

The UN agency is urging every country to vaccinate at least 40% of its population by the end of this year, and hopes to help ensure that 70% of the world’s population is by the middle of next year.  

At a press conference on COVID-19 and vaccine equity in Africa, which is home to more than 1.2 billion people, Mr. Ghebreyesus informed that, so far, just two countries in Africa have reached the 40% target, the lowest of any region. 

“That’s not because African countries don’t have the capacity or experience to roll out COVID-19 vaccines. It’s because they’ve been left behind by the rest of the world,” he said.  

Mr. Ghebreyesus explained that “this leaves people at high risk of disease and death, exposed to a deadly virus against which many other people around the world enjoy protection.” 

Risks and solutions 

For him, the longer vaccine inequity persists, the more the virus will keep circulating and changing, the longer the social and economic disruption will continue, and the higher the chances that more variants will emerge that render vaccines less effective.  

To avoid this situation, last year WHO partnered with UNICEF, CEPI, GAVI and others to create COVAX. So far, the initiative has shipped more than 260 million doses to 141 countries. 

Mr. Ghebreyesus pointed to several challenges, with manufacturers prioritizing bilateral deals and many high-income countries tying up the global supply of shots.  

He also highlighted a similar initiative, established by the African Union, the COVID-19 Vaccine Acquisition Task Team, known as AVAT.  

This Monday and Tuesday, WHO representatives met with the leaders of AVAT “to agree on a way forward”, Mr. Ghebreyesus said: “Vaccine inequity is a solvable problem.” 

Call to countries and manufacturers 

He called on manufacturers to prioritize COVAX and AVAT. To countries with high coverage levels, he asked them to swap their near-term vaccines deliveries, fulfil their dose-sharing pledges immediately, and facilitate the sharing of technology.  

The WHO chief also called on all countries and manufacturers to share information on bilateral deals, supply and delivery projections and to recognize all vaccines with a WHO Emergency Use Listing.  

The African Union’s Special Envoy for COVID-19, Strive Masiyiwa, also participated in the briefing, alongside the director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, the Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa, Vera Songwe, and WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, among others. 

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Africa Today

Human Rights abuses intensifying in eastern DR Congo

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(file photo) © UNHCR/Rocco Nuri

An alarming number of human rights abuses have been carried out against civilians this year by armed groups in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said on Friday. 

In the two most affected provinces of North Kivu and Ituri, UNHCR and its partners recorded more than 1,200 civilian deaths and 1,100 rapes, constituting a total of 25,000 human rights abuses. 

Speaking in Geneva, UNHCR spokesperson Boris Cheshirkov said the violence “continues to cost lives and drive people from their homes”.  

Host families ‘exhausted’ 

In total, more than a million Congolese have been internally displaced in the east of the country in 2021, putting “enormous pressure” on those forced to flee and on host families, which have taken in 94 per cent of DRC’s forcibly displaced population. 

“Host families have shown huge generosity towards their compatriots but are exhausted and in need of support if they are to continue as first responders,” Mr. Cheshirkov said. 

Those displaced are often forced to return to their place of origin due to harsh living conditions and a lack of food, further exposing them to abuse and violence. He said that 65 per cent of the serious human rights abuses recorded by UNHCR and partners have been inflicted on returnees.  

‘State of siege’ 

Mr. Cheshirkov said attacks attributed to the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) armed group have increased in brutality since late 2020, and the frequency of killings of civilians has not abated. 

This is despite a state of siege being declared in early May 2021 to counter the activities of these armed groups. 

He described how armed men identified as members of the ADF raided a village in Irumu Territory, killed 15 civilians, set fire to 10 houses and kidnapped two women, on 3 September. 

This was followed on 6 September by an attack by an armed group whose militia members reportedly raped 10 displaced women in Djugu Territory, Ituri province. 

UNHCR and partners took the women to the nearest hospital where they received psychosocial and medical support, he said.  

According to Mr. Cheshirkov North Kivu and Ituri Provinces are now led by military governments, following the state of siege. 

This has led the national army to ramp up its operations and replace civil courts with military tribunals. Some of these armed groups have surrendered after seeing their territory shrink, others have countered military operations with reprisals against villages, and individuals they believe are supporting the government, he said.  

Funding ‘critically low’ 

Despite government efforts to reduce the abuses of armed groups, “our teams continue to hear horrific accounts of sexual violence, extortion, and looting”, he said. 

Reiterating the UNHCR’s call for urgent measures to protect civilians, Mr. Cheshirkov warned that funding “for this humanitarian crisis remains critically low. With less than four months from the end of the year, UNHCR has received just 51 per cent of the $205 million dollars required in 2021 for their operation in DRC, leaving the agency “only able to respond to a small fraction of the population in urgent need”.

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Africa Today

‘Unprecedented funding gap’ for 7 million facing hunger in Ethiopia

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Food is distributed in Zelazle in northern Ethiopia, after a convoy reached the region on Monday. © WFP/Claire Nevill

The World Food Programme (WFP) is facing an unprecedented funding gap of $426 million for its operation in Ethiopia, as the UN agency ramps up delivery to meet the needs of up to 12 million people this year. 

This month, WFP started delivering emergency assistance to communities in regions bordering war-torn Tigray. So far, the conflict has forced 300,000 people from their homes and 1.7 million into the nextdoor provinces of Afar and Amhara.  

In coordination with Ethiopia’s Federal and Regional Government authorities, the goal is to reach 530,000 people in Afar and 250,000 people in Amhara. The operation will scale up as needs increase and funding is received. 

In Tigray, food security continues to worsen, and WFP and its partners are struggling to scale up and meet the urgent food needs of 5.2 million people. 

Stocks exhausted 

Food stocks were almost entirely depleted until Monday, when the first convoy for over two weeks entered the region. Over 100 trucks carried 3,500 metric tons of food and other life-saving cargo, including fuel and health and shelter items. 

WFP’s Regional Director for Eastern Africa, Michael Dunford, welcomed the collaboration from federal and local authorities to ensure the safety of the convoy.  

“But much more is needed, and this momentum must be sustained otherwise we cannot hope to deliver enough food to save millions from falling deeper into hunger,” he added. 

WFP will reach up to 3 million people in the region, an increase of 900,000 since it took over operations in two north-western districts, Shire town and Tahtay Koraro, from its non-governmental food partners. 

“Time is running out for millions across Northern Ethiopia and if we don’t get additional funding right away we will be forced to cut rations or, even worse, halt distributions to some four million people we’re trying to reach in Afar, Amhara and Tigray in the coming months,” said Mr. Dunford. 

Security and funding  

Across Ethiopia, over 13.6 million people are estimated to be food insecure due to the prolonged combined effects of drought, flooding, desert locust invasions, market disruptions, high food prices, and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The situation has only been made worse by the recent conflict spreading across northern parts of the country.  

WFP said it needs the extra $426 million to expand its emergency food assistance response over the next six months. The funds would also provide long-term food security solutions for people as they enter the yearly ‘hunger season’.  

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