Imminent famine in Ethiopia’s embattled north

Famine is imminent in Ethiopia’s embattled north. Hundreds of thousands of people are likely to die. That's how the United Nations is describing the situation in Tigray. (June 11)

Video Transcript

KHALED KAZZIHA: Famine is imminent in Ethiopia's embattled North and hundreds of thousands of people are likely to die. That's how the United Nations is describing the situation here in Tigray. For many of the patients at the referral hospital in the regional capital Mekelle, this is the end of a long and difficult journey.

They told us how Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers stole their food and burned their farms. With nearby hospitals looted or destroyed, they had nowhere else to go. And doctors say that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

TKLEAB GEBREMARIAM: [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

KHALED KAZZIHA: A two-hour drive away from Mekelle, a small clinic in the town of Abiy Addi caters to over 1 and 1/2 million people. But with so many roads closed, the stabilization ward for severely malnourished children currently has only four patients. Just 20 days old, [INAUDIBLE] started life with the odds stacked against her. Her mother walked for 12 days to get here, weak from childbirth and hunger.

ABEBA GEBRU: [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

KHALED KAZZIHA: The nurses think both mother and baby will now likely survive. But for every mother that makes it here, there are hundreds possibly thousands trapped behind front lines or military roadblocks. And yet, this is a region where the land is fertile and the rains were good this year. There should be plenty of food, but farmers tell of occupying soldiers killing livestock, shooting at farmers, ordering villagers to stop tilling the land. Plowing and planting has become an act of resistance, of bravery.

43-year-old Gebremariam Hadush and his five children are going to take their chances, but they might be too late.

GEBREMARIAM HADUSH: [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

KHALED KAZZIHA: If Gebremariam and hundreds of thousands of other farmers like him don't manage to plant the seeds, international aid workers warn that mass starvation will soon follow. Ethiopia's government representative in Mekelle confirmed what we had seen.

ABEBE GEBREHIWOT: Somehow, there are some players who don't want us to plow the land. There are some players who hinders us from distributing the seeds, you know.

KHALED KAZZIHA: Compounding the problem, two million Tigraynians have been displaced by the fighting, that's a third of the population who now need food and can no longer farm. In the hospitals, signs of a looming hunger crisis are already visible. The UN humanitarian chief says that this is the worst famine problem that the world has seen for a decade.

Small children are usually the first to be affected by hunger. Two-year-old Emmanuel Mulu is a shadow of the running and jumping toddler that he used to be. He lost half his body weight and was unconscious when he got here. To his mother, his survival is a miracle. But it's a miracle that eludes many others who are unable to find help.

Khaled Kazziha, Associated Press in Ethiopia's Tigray region.