Nearly 40 percent of the people in Ethiopia’s controversial Tigray region are suffering from “extreme food shortages” after 15 months of fighting, the World Food Program (WFP) said, raising the alarm about growing hunger in neighboring Amhara. and Afar regions.
The dire figures announced on Friday were included in the United Nations agency’s latest food security assessment, which says that “severe hunger” has strengthened its grip in northern Ethiopia.
In Tigray, a region of some six million people who, according to the UN, largely remain under de facto blockade, “families use all means to feed themselves, with three-quarters of the population using extreme coping strategies to survive”, the WFP report (PDF) said.
It warned that 83 percent of Tigraian people were deprived of food, noting an increase in begging and relying on just one meal a day.
🚨 NEWS ALERT 🚨
A new @WFP assessment shows that nearly 40 percent of Tigranians suffer from an extreme lack of food. Across the north # Ethiopia more than 9 million people need humanitarian food aid, the highest number yet 👇 https://t.co/W9SopKmXK3 pic.twitter.com/YkGnyglyWD
– WFP Media (@WFP_Media) 28 January 2022
Those of Ethiopia war broke out in November 2020 after months of escalating tensions between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the former ruling Tigray ruling party that once dominated national politics.
Abiy declared victory over the Tigrayan forces on November 28 after the federal forces captured Tigray’s capital, Mekelle, but fighting continued. Within months, the tide of war turned and the Tigrayan forces finally regained most of the territory they had lost before launching counter-offensives in the neighboring Amhara and Afar regions.
The war, which is estimated to have killed tens of thousands of people and forced millions out of their homes, has shifted in recent weeks, with Tigrayan forces retreating into their region after trying to reach the capital, Addis Ababa, and Ethiopia’s army. to progress. will not pursue them further. This paved the way for new mediation efforts by the United States and the African Union, with humanitarian access a key objective.
Meanwhile, the UN humanitarian agency said in an update on Friday that less than 10 percent of the supplies needed, including medicine and fuel, had come in from Tigray since mid-July. All international NGOs operating in Tigray have run out of fuel, “with their staff delivering the little remaining humanitarian supplies and services where possible”.
Abiy’s government has blamed aid issues in part on uncertainty caused by Tigrayan forces, including new fighting in Afar near the only approved road corridor for aid.
However, aid workers also blame bureaucratic obstacles, including intrusive personal searches and confiscation of items including personal medication prior to visits to Tigray. The new WFP report, based on personal interviews with more than 980 households in accessible parts of Tigray, cited “extraordinary operational challenges”.
Aid has begun reaching people in the Amhara and Afar regions after Tigrayan forces’ invasions displaced hundreds of thousands. But the new WFP report said a record nine million people needed food aid in the three war-torn regions.
In Amhara, “hunger has more than doubled in five months because the region has suffered the biggest battle” between the Ethiopian army and Tigrayan forces, the WFP said. “More than 14 percent of children under five and nearly a third of pregnant and breastfeeding women are malnourished,” it added.
In Afar, conflict-driven displacement is pushing up hunger and malnutrition figures, the agency said, warning that fierce fighting on the Tigray-Afar border in recent days “is expected to force more communities out of their homes and deeper into famine”.
Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry said this week it was working with aid workers to facilitate daily cargo flights to Tigray “to transport much-needed medicine and supplies”. It is not clear when the daily flights will begin, although the International Committee of the Red Cross announced on Wednesday that it had made its first delivery of medical supplies to Tigray since September, calling it “a great relief”. A second flight followed on Thursday.
Update: We have just delivered life-saving medical supplies in Mekelle, #Tigray, for the first time since September.
We are working to organize other flights with medical assistance in the coming days and weeks. pic.twitter.com/Epdox5FEEn
– ICRC (@ICRC) 26 January 2022
The UN has warned time is running out.
“Aid organizations have warned that operations in Tigray could end completely by the end of February,” spokeswoman Stephane Dujarric told reporters on Thursday.
Tigray’s health bureau reported this week that nearly 1,500 people died of malnutrition in just a part of the region last year over a period of four months, including more than 350 young children. It has cited more than 5,000 blockade-related deaths due to starvation and disease in the largest official death toll still linked to the country’s war.