Ethiopia’s Tigray region hit by famine amid civil war

Ethiopia’s Tigray region is staring at famine amid civil war between government troops and Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) rebels. UN Aid agency said on Thursday more than 350,000 people in Ethiopia’s Tigray region are suffering famine conditions with millions more at risk.

United Nations agencies and aid groups said the situation is man-made and blamed conflict for the worst catastrophic food crisis in a decade.

“There is famine now in Tigray,” U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock said after the release of the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis.

“The number of people in famine conditions … is higher than anywhere in the world, at any moment since a quarter-million Somalis lost their lives in 2011,” Lowcock said.

The UN food agency warned more than 90% of people in Ethiopia’s war-torn region of Tigray need emergency food aid.

The UN World Food Program (WFP) sounded the alarm and appealed for $203 million (€166 million) to tackle the hunger crisis.

“A total of 5.2 million people, equivalent to 91% of Tigray’s population, need emergency food assistance due to the conflict,” WFP spokesman Tomson Phiri told reporters in Geneva.

“We are deeply concerned at the number of people we see in need of nutrition support and emergency food assistance,” he added.

Civil war broke out in the Tigray region in November between government troops and the region’s former ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Troops from neighboring Eritrea also entered the conflict to support the Ethiopian government.

The violence has killed thousands of civilians and forced more than 2 million from their homes to seek refuge in Sudan.

Earlier, a senior UN official had warned the UN Security Council that urgent measures were needed to avoid famine in Tigray.

“There is a serious risk of famine if assistance is not scaled up in the next two months,” wrote Mark Lowcock.

He warned, “over 90% of the harvest was lost due to looting, burning, or other destruction, and that 80% of the livestock in the region were looted or slaughtered.”

The most extreme warning by the IPC – a scale used by U.N. agencies, regional bodies and aid groups to determine food insecurity – is phase 5, which starts with a catastrophe 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 catastrophe. This means households are experiencing famine conditions, but less than 20% of the population is affected and deaths and malnutrition have not reached famine thresholds.

“This severe crisis results from the cascading effects of conflict, including population displacements, movement restrictions, limited humanitarian access, loss of harvest and livelihood assets, and dysfunctional or non-existent markets,” the IPC analysis found.

For famine to be declared at least 20% of the population must be suffering extreme food shortages, with one in three children acutely malnourished and two people out of every 10,000 dying daily from starvation or malnutrition and disease.

The WFP said the instability was undermining the efforts of humanitarian workers to reach vulnerable communities in Tigray, especially in rural areas.

The agency said it has provided emergency aid to more than a million people since it started distributions in northwestern and southern areas of Tigray in March.

But Phiri said the UN body was “alarmed at the impact of conflict on already high levels of hunger” after seven months of fighting.

However, the Ethiopian government has disputed the IPC analysis, saying there’s no severe food shortage and that aid was being distributed.

Ethiopian Foreign Ministry spokesman Dina Mufti said in a news conference that the government was providing food aid and help to farmers in Tigray.

“They (diplomats) are comparing it with the 1984, 1985 famine in Ethiopia,” he said. “That is not going to happen.”

The head of Ethiopia’s National Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Committee Mr. Kassa said: “We don’t have any food shortage.”

But U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said a humanitarian nightmare was unfolding.

“This is not the kind of disaster that can be reversed,” she told a U.S. and European Union event on Tigray on Thursday.

World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley said that to stop hunger from killing millions of people in Ethiopia’sTigray region there needed to be a ceasefire, unimpeded aid access, and more money to increase emergency aid.

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