A bridge crucial to delivering desperately needed food to much of Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region has been destroyed, an aid group has said, as Tigray fighters were reportedly approaching other combatants occupying large areas nearby.
The destruction of the bridge over the Tekeze River “means aid efforts will be even more severely hampered than before,“ the International Rescue Committee said in a statement.
Tigray is undergoing the world’s worst hunger crisis in a decade, with the United States saying up to 900,000 people face famine conditions.
It was not immediately clear who destroyed the bridge on a main supply route linking western Tigray, which is occupied by forces from the neighbouring Amhara region, and the rest of Tigray.
The Tigray forces, emboldened after retaking the regional capital earlier this week in a stunning turn in the eight-month war against Ethiopia’s military, have taken control of key towns, and several thousand fighters are reported to be moving west.
The spokesman for the Tigray forces this week told the Associated Press (AP) they would “liberate” the region from “enemies” including the Ethiopian forces, Amhara fighters and soldiers from neighbouring Eritrea.
Ethiopia’s government, under pressure following battlefield losses after some of the fiercest fighting of the war, this week declared an immediate and unilateral cease-fire. Witnesses have seen Eritrean troops retreating toward the border Eritrea shares with Tigray.
Amhara authorities have warned the Tigray forces against trying to retake western areas.
The Amhara regional spokesman, Gizachew Muluneh, told AP an investigation would be carried out into the bridge's destruction. Ethiopian military spokesman Colonel Getinet Adane said that “we have the information about it but it will be disclosed in a press conference”.
Humanitarian aid groups have been badly constrained in Tigray, with electricity and communication links still cut in the region and main supply routes blocked.
In one case, a 29-truck convoy carrying World Food Programme (WFP) aid was denied access and had to return to the Amhara region earlier this week, a UN humanitarian worker said. The worker spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.
WFP spokesman Peter Smerdon told AP the bridge’s destruction “will have an impact, but we are currently assessing how much of an impact and whether there is an alternative route we could use to bring in urgently needed food stocks from Gondar to our warehouses in Shire.”
He did not say how soon those Shire warehouses would be empty if an alternative supply route cannot be found. The rainy season now beginning in Tigray will further complicate matters.
The cease-fire is time limited. Ethiopia's government has said it will last only until the end of the crucial farming season in Tigray, which means September.