Ukraine grain ship with aid for Ethiopia docks in Djibouti

  • By Catherine Byaruhanga
  • Africa correspondent, BBC News, Djibouti
Image caption,

Now the boat has docked it will take about a week for the food to arrive in Ethiopia

The first shipment of grain from Ukraine to Africa since the war began has docked in Djibouti.

The MV Brave Commander is carrying 23,000 tonnes of Ukrainian wheat that is bound for neighbouring Ethiopia, which is in desperate need of food aid.

It took two weeks to travel here from southern Ukraine.

This wheat is meant to feed 1.5 million people in Ethiopia for a month but it is not enough for a country facing several humanitarian challenges.

Ukraine and Russia reached a deal with Turkey and the UN last month to open a corridor allowing for food shipments.

Ethiopia, along with other countries in the region, is experiencing a prolonged drought. That, as well as the continued civil war in the northern Tigray region, has left some 20 million people in need of food assistance.

Djibouti is a tiny country with a population of 900,000 but it has one of the busiest ports on the continent.

Right now, workers have started boarding the Lebanese-flagged ship to off-load its precious cargo.

Two gigantic cranes have been positioned for the operation.

According to the World Food Programme (WFP) it will take about a week for the wheat to be bagged and taken by road to Ethiopia.

The organisation has paid for this shipment because its reserves to support refugees and people displaced by conflict and drought had started to run low.

Before the war in Ukraine, the WFP sourced three-quarters of its food aid from Ukraine and Russia.

"We really need to see increased shipments coming from Ukraine, Russia and others in support of what is a very dire situation today in the Horn of Africa and across the region," Michael Dunford, the WFP's East Africa director, told the BBC.

But a resurgence in fighting between Ethiopian government soldiers and allied Amhara militia against Tigrayan forces could hamper aid deliveries.

Since April, the WFP has been able to get food, medicines and fuel into land-locked Tigray which is under government blockade.

But Mr Dunford said the organisation has had to put a halt to deliveries in the region.

"At the moment our operations in Tigray are on pause, while we assess both the security and the ability to reach the population. It's devastating because there are over 13 million people in the three regions [in the north] that have been affected and need humanitarian support."

According to World Meteorological Organization forecasts, there is a high chance of drier-than-average conditions in the Horn of Africa continuing. This means that the worst drought in more than 40 years, which began at the end of 2020, looks almost certain to persist.

In Somalia, which also borders Djibouti, famine could soon be declared in parts of the country.

Across the continent the war in Ukraine has added to the difficulties many families have had to deal with.

According to the African Development Bank, food inflation on the continent stands at 40%.

While this latest shipment offers some relief in Ethiopia, the wheat will not make its way to shops and markets. But the UN hopes it will boost confidence within the private sector by proving it is possible to safely ship stocks from the Black Sea to the continent.