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Addis Ababa, Dec 9 (IANS) Small-scale theft of food stocks has escalated into mass looting of warehouses across Kombolcha town in the Amhara region of northern Ethiopia over recent days, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.
The theft included essential therapeutic nutrition items for malnourished children, Xinhua news agency quoted the OCHA as saying.
The exact amount of food lost is still being determined. But those incidents will further exacerbate the high levels of malnutrition and prolonged food insecurity in northern Ethiopia, where an estimated 9.4 million people across the conflict-hit Tigray, Amhara and Afar regions are now in critical need of food assistance, it said.
The raids in recent days reportedly were carried out by elements of the Tigrayan forces and some members of the local population, it said.
World Food Programme (WFP) teams on the ground were not able to prevent the looting in the face of extreme intimidation, including staff being held at gunpoint, said OCHA.
'Such harassment against humanitarian staff by armed forces is unacceptable and undermines the ability of the UN and our partners to deliver humanitarian assistance when it is most needed, particularly as aid workers face growing access challenges across several areas in Ethiopia.'
As a result, the WFP has suspended its food distribution operations and food distribution in Dessie and Kombolcha towns.
In addition, three WFP fleet trucks used for humanitarian operations in Amhara were commandeered on Tuesday and Wednesday by military personnel and used for their own purposes, said OCHA.
'We strongly condemn these incidents and reiterate our calls to all parties to the conflict to respect and protect humanitarian relief personnel and objects, in line with their obligations under international humanitarian law.
'It is prohibited to attack, destroy, misappropriate or loot relief supplies, installations, material, units or vehicles,' it said.
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