More than 350,000 people in Ethiopia’s Tigray region are suffering from famine, with millions more at risk, according to an analysis by UN agencies and aid groups that blamed the conflict for the worst food crisis in a decade.
“There is a famine in Tigray now,” said UN Assistant Secretary of State Mark Lowcock on Thursday after the release of the Integrated Food Security Phase (IPC) analysis.
“The number of people under famine … is higher than anywhere in the world, at any given time since a quarter of a million Somalis lost their lives in 201
Most of the 5.5 million people in Tigray need food aid. In November, clashes broke out between government troops and the region’s former ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.
The violence has killed thousands of civilians and forced more than 2 million from their homes in the mountainous region.
The most extreme warning from the IPC – a scale used by UN agencies, regional bodies and aid groups to determine food security – is Phase 5, which starts with a disaster warning and rises to a declaration of famine in a region.
The IPC said more than 350,000 people in Tigray are in Phase 5 disaster. This means that households are experiencing famine, but less than 20% of the population is affected and death and malnutrition have not reached famine thresholds.
“This severe crisis is the result of the cascading effects of conflict, including population movements, movement restrictions, limited humanitarian access, loss of harvest and livelihood assets, and dysfunctional or non-existent markets,” the IPC analysis found.
In order to declare famine, at least 20% of the population must suffer from extreme food shortages, with one in three children being acutely malnourished and two out of 10,000 dying daily from hunger or from malnutrition and disease.
“If the conflict escalates further or for some other reason, humanitarian aid is hampered, most areas of Tigray will be at risk of famine,” according to the IPC, adding that although aid supplies intensify, the situation is expected to worsen through September.
The Ethiopian government disputed the IPC analysis, saying that food shortages are not serious and that aid is being provided.
Ethiopian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Dina Mufti told a news conference on Thursday that the government is providing food aid and aid to farmers in Tigray.
“The [diplomats] compares it to the famine of 1984-1985 in Ethiopia, ”he said. “It will not happen.”
Mituku Kassa, head of Ethiopia’s National Disaster Prevention and Emergency Response Committee, said on Wednesday: “We are not short of food.”
But the US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said a humanitarian nightmare unfolded.
“This is not the kind of disaster that can be reversed,” she said. Referring to a previous famine in Ethiopia that killed more than 1 million people, she said: “We cannot make the same mistake twice. We cannot starve Ethiopia. We have to act now. ”
The world’s chief executive, David Beasley, said in order to stop hunger from killing millions of people in Tigray, a ceasefire, unhindered access to aid and more money were needed to expand aid operations.
According to notes from a meeting with UN agencies on Monday, the IPC analysis could be worse as “they did not include them in Amhara-controlled areas” in western Tigray.