More than 350,000 people in Ethiopia’s Tigray are suffering from famine and millions more are at risk, according to analysis by UN agencies and aid groups that have blamed the conflict for the worst catastrophic food crisis in a decade .
“There is now a famine in Tigray,” UN aid chief Mark Lowcock said Thursday after the publication of the Integrated Food Security Classification (IPC) analysis, which according to the IPC, has not been approved by the Ethiopian government.
“The number of people facing famine … is higher than anywhere in the world, any time since a quarter of a million Somalis lost their lives in 2011,” Lowcock said.
Most of the 5.5 million inhabitants of Tigray are in need of food assistance.
Fighting erupted in the region in November between government troops and the region’s former ruling party, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray (TPLF). Troops from neighboring Eritrea have also entered the conflict to support the Ethiopian government.
Violence has killed thousands of civilians and forced more than 2 million people from their homes in the mountainous region.
The most extreme alert in the IPC – a scale used by UN agencies, regional bodies and aid groups to determine food insecurity – is phase 5, which begins with a disaster warning and amounts to a declaration of famine in a region.
The IPC said more than 350,000 people in Tigray are in phase 5 disaster. This means that households are experiencing famine conditions, but less than 20% of the population is affected and death and malnutrition have not reached famine thresholds.
“This severe crisis results from the cascading effects of the conflict, including population displacement, movement restrictions, limited humanitarian access, loss of crops and livelihoods, and dysfunctional or non-existent markets,” revealed CPI analysis.
For famine to be declared, at least 20% of the population must suffer from extreme food shortages, with one in three children acutely malnourished and two in 10,000 people dying every day from hunger or malnutrition and disease.
Famine has been declared twice in the past decade: in Somalia in 2011 and parts of South Sudan in 2017.
“If the conflict escalates or, for any other reason, humanitarian aid is hampered, most parts of Tigray will be at risk of starvation,” according to the IPC, which added that even though aid deliveries are intensified, the situation is expected to worsen until September.
The Ethiopian government has challenged the CPI’s analysis, saying food shortages are not severe and aid is being provided.
Ethiopian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Dina Mufti told a press conference on Thursday that the government was providing food aid and aid to farmers in Tigray.
“They (diplomats) compare it to the famine of 1984 and 1985 in Ethiopia,” he said. “It will not arrive.”
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 said Thursday at an event hosted by the United States and the European Union in Tigray.
Referring to a previous famine in Ethiopia that killed over a million people, she said, “We cannot make the same mistake twice. We cannot let Ethiopia starve. We must act now.
World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley said that to prevent hunger from killing millions in Tigray, there needs to be a ceasefire, unhindered access to aid and more money for expand aid operations.
According to notes from a meeting of UN agencies on Monday, seen by Reuters, the IPC’s analysis could be worse because “it did not include those from areas controlled by Amhara” in western Tigray.
Mituku Kassa, head of Ethiopia’s National Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Committee, said Wednesday: “We have no food shortage.”