A high-level UN-led committee that focuses on rapid responses to humanitarian crises estimated about 350,000 people in Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region are facing famine conditions.
The 350,000 figure was presented at a meeting on Monday of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, comprising 18 UN and non-UN organisations chaired by UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock.
The analysis, which diplomats said could be released publicly as soon as Thursday, found millions more across Tigray required “urgent food and agriculture/livelihoods support to avert further slides towards famine”, Reuters news agency, which viewed the document, reported.
Mituku Kassa, head of Ethiopia’s National Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Committee, said on Thursday a declaration of famine would be incorrect. He accused the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) of attacking aid convoys.
“We don’t have any food shortage,” he told a news conference, adding more than 90 percent of people have been provided with aid by five operators.
“TPLF remnant forces … attack the personnel, they attack the trucks with food,” said Kassa. TPLF officials were not immediately available for comment.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Wednesday that UN staff on the ground report the continuing blocked movements of aid, and interrogation, assault, and detention of humanitarian workers at military checkpoints. There has also been looting and confiscation of “humanitarian assets and supplies” by parties to the conflict, he said.
Some areas of Tigray remain inaccessible, Dujarric said, and in accessible areas “the situation is dire, including dysfunctional water systems and limited or no health facilities”.
“Levels of food insecurity and malnutrition are at alarming levels,” Dujarric said.
“Preliminary field reports from Axum and Adwa in the central zone indicate visible signs of starvation among internally displaced people. In a community in the northwestern zone of Tigray, aid workers noted a severe need for food after the burning or looting of harvests.”
Last Friday, Lowcock warned famine was imminent in Tigray and in the country’s north, saying there is a risk hundreds of thousands of people or more will die.
No one knows how many thousands of civilians or combatants have been killed since months of political tensions between Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government and Tigray leaders.
Eritrea, a longtime Tigray enemy, teamed up with neighbouring Ethiopia in the war launched by Addis Ababa last November.
Ethiopia’s embassy in London said in a statement on Saturday the government “takes its responsibility to end the current suffering of the people of Tigray very seriously and has so far made concerted efforts to comprehensively respond to the humanitarian needs on the ground, in coordination with local and international partners”.
Famine has been declared twice in the past decade – in Somalia in 2011 and in South Sudan in 2017, according to the IPC. UN agencies, aid groups, governments and other relevant parties use the IPC to work together to determine the severity of food insecurity.
The UN has criticised the lack of access to all areas of Tigray for humanitarian workers seeking to deliver aid.
Lowcock has said the war destroyed the economy along with businesses, crops and farms, and there are no banking or telecommunications services in Tigray.
“We are hearing of starvation-related deaths already,” he said in a statement, urging the international community “to wake up” and “really step up” including with money.
In late May, Lowcock said since the war began an estimated two million people had been displaced.
Thousands of civilians were killed and wounded, rape and other forms of “abhorrent sexual violence” were widespread and systematic, and essential infrastructure destroyed including hospitals and agricultural land, he said.
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