The robbery of over half a million tonnes of fuel from the World Food Programme (WFP) in Ethiopia’s Tigray region will make it impossible to continue operations that support millions of hungry people, the UN agency said on Thursday.

Armed men entered the WFP compound in the regional capital, Mekelle, on Wednesday and seized 12 tankers filled with fuel, which had recently been purchased.  The supply had only arrived a few days earlier. 

Hours ago, Tigrayan authorities stole 570,000 liters of fuel for @WFP operations in #Tigray! Millions will starve if we do not have fuel to deliver food. This is OUTRAGEOUS and DISGRACEFUL. We demand return of this fuel NOW.

— David Beasley (@WFPChief) August 24, 2022

David Beasley, the WFP Executive Director, issued a statement condemning the theft, which occurred as fighting has resumed between Ethiopian forces and separatists following a five-month humanitarian truce. 

Closer to starvation 

It now will be impossible for WFP to distribute food, fertilizer, medicines and other emergency supplies across Tigray, where an estimated 5.2 million people face severe hunger.   

“The loss of this fuel will push communities in Tigray, already struggling with the impacts of the conflict, further towards the brink of starvation,” said Mr. Beasley. 

WFP also will be prevented from powering generators and vehicles, critical for staff and humanitarian partners supporting vulnerable populations. 

“We demand the Tigrayan authorities return these fuel stocks to the humanitarian community immediately.  As the next harvest is not until October, our deliveries of life-saving food could not be more urgent or critical to the survival of millions,” said Mr. Beasley. 

WFP are working around the clock to get assistance to those most in need, he added, “but we need fuel, funding, and full movement of supplies across the lines of control to maximise deliveries across Northern Ethiopia.”