3,800 Metric Tons of Food Blocked from Reaching Tigray, World Food Bank Says

The World Food Program (WFP) said on Friday that at least 3,800 metric tons of food had been blocked from reaching the Tigray region of Ethiopia, the Associated Press reported.

A bridge over the Tekeze River used to help transport aid into the region was destroyed on Thursday. WFP said in a statement that no flights bringing United Nations or other aid to the region have been allowed by Ethiopia since June 22 and that another bridge was destroyed on Thursday, as well.

WFP emergency coordinator Tommy Thompson told reporters in Geneva that "more people will die" if access doesn't open. He added that an air bridge might be set up in the coming days.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Tigray Bridge Collapse, Aid Blocked
A destroyed bridge over the Tekeze River is seen in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia on July 1, 2021. The bridge is on a main supply route linking western Tigray that is crucial to delivering desperately needed food to much of the embattled region. Roger Sandberg/Medical Teams International/Associated Press

Ethiopia's government on Friday rejected accusations that it's trying to "suffocate the Tigray people" by denying them urgently needed food and other aid, even as transport and communications links remained severed to the region that faces the world's worst famine crisis in a decade.

Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen spoke to reporters a day after a bridge that's crucial for accessing much of the region of 6 million people was destroyed and the UN indicated that special forces from the neighboring Amhara region were to blame. Amhara authorities have occupied western Tigray and forced out hundreds of thousands of ethnic Tigrayans.

"The insinuation 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. There is absolutely no reason for us to do so. These are our people," Demeke said.

Ethiopia's government blamed Tigray forces for the bridge's destruction. But an aid worker who travelled to the site said area residents described to him how they saw Amhara special forces placing objects on on the bridge and driving away after the blast. "They still seemed in shock at what had happened," Roger Sandberg, vice president of field operations with Medical Teams International, told AP.

Sandberg said area residents also told him that there was no other way to cross, while Tigray forces conveyed to him that they wouldn't obstruct NGO access to the region.

The U.N. Security Council was expected to discuss Tigray on Friday, France's U.N. ambassador—the council's current president—said Thursday.

In a stunning turn earlier this week, Ethiopia declared a unilateral cease-fire on humanitarian grounds while retreating from Tigray forces. But the government faces growing international pressure as it continues to cut off the region from the rest of the world. Aid workers say fuel and other supplies are running low.

The U.N. agency said trucks are loaded and ready to replenish its nearly-exhausted food stocks inside Tigray where 5.2 million people need emergency food aid.

"We'll be out of food in the northwest by this weekend," Thompson said.

Up to 900,000 people in Tigray are facing famine conditions, the United States has said. A new U.N. humanitarian update issued late Thursday said "the blackout of electricity, telecommunications, and internet throughout Tigray region will only exacerbate the already dire humanitarian situation."

Ethiopia's foreign minister said the government has a roadmap for dialogue to resolve the Tigray crisis that's expected to include "rank and file members of the (Tigray People's Liberation Front) who show readiness to choose a peaceful path." But Tigray forces, recently designated by Ethiopia as a terrorist group, now control most of the region and have demanded that Ethiopia resume basic services before any talks.

"A cease-fire doesn't mean cutting a region off power or destroying critical infrastructure," European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell tweeted on Friday. "A credible cease-fire means doing everything possible so that aid reaches the millions of children, women and men who urgently need it."

The security situation in Tigray was generally calm after the retreat of Ethiopian forces and those of neighboring Eritrea, who have been accused by witnesses of some of the worst atrocities in the war. Officials with Eritrea, an enemy of Tigray leaders after a 1998-2000 war along their border, have not responded to requests for comment.

Amhara authorities have warned Tigray forces against trying to retake the region's western areas. But the Tigray forces spokesman told the AP this week they would "liberate" the region from "enemies," and thousands of fighters were seen heading west.

Ethiopia's government has said the cease-fire will last only until the crucial farming season in Tigray is over, meaning September. But WFP said farmers have already missed the peak planting month of June because of seed and fertilizer shortages.

3,800 Tons of Food Block from Tigray
A woman poses for a photograph next to metal scraps, which have been piled up for about eight months after the insecurity of the region forced the closure of a recycling factory in Mekele, the capital of Tigray region, in Ethiopia on June 25, 2021. The World Food Program said that 3,800 metric tons of food have been blocked from entering the region. Yasuyoshi Chiba/Getty Images