More than 350,000 people in Ethiopia’s Tigray are facing famine and millions more are at risk, according to an analysis by UN agencies and aid organizations that blamed the conflict for the worst catastrophic food crisis in a decade.
“There is now famine in Tigray,” UN deputy chief Mark Lowcock said Thursday after the publication of the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis, which the IPC noted has not been approved by the Ethiopian government.
“The number of people facing famine … is higher than anywhere else in the world anytime since a quarter of a million Somalis lost their lives in 2011,” Lowcock said.
Most of the 5.5 million people in Tigray are in need of food aid.
In November, fighting broke out in the region between government forces 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 in the mountainous region.
The IPC’s most extreme warning — a scale used by UN agencies, regional bodies and aid groups to assess food insecurity — is Phase 5, which begins with a catastrophe warning and culminates in a declaration of famine in a region.
The IPC said more than 350,000 people in Tigray are in phase 5 catastrophe. This means that households are facing famine, but less than 20% of the population is affected and deaths and malnutrition have not reached the famine threshold.
“This severe crisis is the result of the cascade effects of conflict, including population movements, restrictions on movement, limited humanitarian access, loss of crops and livelihoods, and dysfunctional or non-existent markets,” the IPC analysis said.
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 in 10,000 people dying every day from hunger or from malnutrition and disease.
Famine has been declared twice in the last ten years: in Somalia in 2011 and in parts of South Sudan in 2017.
“If the conflict escalates further or, for some other reason, humanitarian aid is hampered, most areas of Tigray will face famine,” the IPC said, adding that even if relief efforts are stepped up, the situation will continue to grow. expected to deteriorate until September.
The Ethiopian government disputed the IPC analysis, saying food shortages are not serious and aid is being provided.
Ethiopian Foreign Ministry spokesman Dina Mufti told a news conference on Thursday that the government is providing food aid and aid to farmers in Tigray.
“They (diplomats) liken it to the famine of 1984, 1985 in Ethiopia,” he said. “That will not happen.”
But US 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 Tigray at a US and European Union event on Thursday.
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 let Ethiopia starve. We must act now.”
David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Programme, said that to prevent millions of people in Tigray from starving to death, there must be a ceasefire, unimpeded access to aid and more money to expand aid operations.
According to notes from a meeting of UN agencies on Monday, seen by Reuters, the IPC analysis could be worse because “they failed to take into account those in Amhara-controlled areas” in western Tigray.
Mituku Kassa, head of Ethiopia’s National Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Committee, said on Wednesday, “We have no food shortage.”