More than 350,000 people facing famine in Ethiopia's Tigray region

·3 min read
A woman queuing for food at the Tsehaye primary school in Shire, Tigray, Ethiopia  - Baz Ratner/Reuters
A woman queuing for food at the Tsehaye primary school in Shire, Tigray, Ethiopia - Baz Ratner/Reuters

Around 350,000 people are facing extreme scarcity of food in Ethiopia’s war-torn Tigray region, renewing memories of a widespread famine that left an estimated one million people dead in the 1980s.

The United Nations and other aid groups placed parts of the Ethiopian region at the highest end of the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) scale which is used to measure famines. An IPC Phase 5 classification, otherwise known as famine, means that 20 per cent of households face an extreme lack of food, at least 30 per cent of children suffer from acute malnutrition and two people for every 10,000 are dying each day from starvation.

The document says millions more across Tigray required “urgent food and agriculture/livelihoods support to avert further slides towards famine.”

The findings were presented at a high-level meeting on Monday between 18 UN and non-UN organisations, chaired by the UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock.

Speaking on Thursday, he said: "There is famine now. This is going to get a lot worse."

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Last week, Mr Lowcock told The Telegraph that starvation was being used as a "weapon of war" in Tigray.

Ethiopia’s government has been locked in a bloody war with the Tigray region since last November, leading to the estimated displacement of more than two million people and increasing evidence of genocide and war crimes.

The conflict is the result of mounting tensions between the former ruling elite, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), and Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, who has championed an anti-federal agenda since coming to power in 2018.

The famine warning adds to growing calls by a host of countries, including the UK and US, for Ethiopia to declare a ceasefire and allow humanitarian access to the mountainous region of around seven million people.

The US announced on Thursday that it would provide $181 million to deliver food, water and aid to the more than three million people it said were at risk of famine.

“As a result of the conflict, nearly 90 per cent of Tigray’s population – as many as 5.2 million people – need urgent assistance,” said the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Other donors should “urgently step up” humanitarian assistance, it added.

The US, once Ethiopia’s largest donor, imposed sanctions on Africa’s second-most populous country in May and warned of further restrictions to economic and security assistance. The Ethiopian government, however, has rejected the IPC Phase 5 Classification.

“We don’t have any food shortages,” said Mituku Kassa, head of Ethiopia’s National Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Committee. Famine has only been declared in Somalia in 2011 and in South Sudan in 2017 over the past decade.

Unicef's executive director Henrietta Fore said the situation in Tigray was "extremely concerning".

"Without humanitarian access to scale up our response, an estimated 33,000 severely malnourished children in currently inaccessible areas in Tigray are at high risk of death. The world cannot permit that to happen,” she said.

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