UNITED NATIONS (PA) – A UN-led high-level committee that focuses on rapid responses to humanitarian crises estimates that some 350,000 people in Ethiopia’s besieged Tigray region are facing conditions of famine, said Wednesday evening a UN official.
The estimate was presented Monday at a meeting of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, made up of 18 UN and non-UN organizations, chaired by UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was also present, the official said.
A note from the meeting said millions more in Tigray are in urgent need of food to avoid starvation, said the official, who has not been allowed to speak publicly.
Last Friday, Lowcock warned that famine is imminent in Tigray and the north of the country, saying there is a risk that hundreds of thousands or more will die.
No one knows how many thousands of civilians or combatants have been killed since months of political tension between the government of Ethiopian President Abiy Ahmed and the Tigray rulers who once dominated it erupted into war last November. Eritrea, a longtime enemy of Tigray, has joined with neighboring Ethiopia in the conflict.
The UN has criticized the lack of access to all parts of Tigray for aid workers seeking to provide aid.
UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said on Wednesday that UN staff on the ground were reporting continued stalled aid movements, as well as interrogations, assaults and detention of aid workers at posts military control. There have also been looting and confiscation of “humanitarian goods and supplies” by parties to the conflict, he said.
Some areas of Tigray remain inaccessible, Dujarric said, and in accessible areas “the situation is dire, including dysfunctional water supply systems and limited or non-existent health facilities.”
“The levels of food insecurity and malnutrition are at alarming levels,” said Dujarric. “Preliminary field reports from Axum and Adwa in the central area show visible signs of famine among internally displaced people. In a community in the northwestern area of Tigray, aid workers have seen a serious need for food after the fire or the looting of crops.
Lowcock said the war destroyed the economy as well as businesses, crops and farms, and that there were no banking or telecommunications services in Tigray.
“We are already hearing about famine-related deaths,” he said in a statement on Friday, urging the international community “to wake up” and “really step up,” including with money.
At the end of May, Lowcock said that since the start of the war, around 2 million people had been displaced, civilians killed and injured, rape and other forms of widespread and systematic “heinous sexual violence”, and public infrastructure. and private essentials for destroyed civilians, including hospitals and farmland.
“There are now hundreds of thousands of people in northern Ethiopia in conditions of famine,” Lowcock said at the time. “This is the worst famine problem the world has seen in a decade, since a quarter of a million Somalis died in famine in 2011. It now echoes horrifically the colossal tragedy in Ethiopia in 1984 . “