Tens of thousands of malnourished children risk dying in hard-to-reach areas of Ethiopia’s conflict-wracked Tigray region, now hit by famine, the United Nations said on Friday.
“Without humanitarian access to scale up our response, an estimated 30,000-plus severely malnourished children in those highly inaccessible areas are at high risk of death,” UNICEF spokesman James Elder told reporters in Geneva.
His comments came after the UN on Thursday said some 350,000 people in Tigray were facing famine, while two million more people were just a step away from those extreme conditions.
“There is famine now in Tigray,” UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said, warning that “every expert you speak to will tell you this is going to get a lot worse”.
Lowcock said fresh data showed the number of people classified as being in famine conditions was “higher than anywhere in the world at any moment since a quarter of a million Somalis lost their lives in 2011”.
The UN has said that more than 90 percent of the more than five million people in the Tigray region need emergency food aid, and has urgently appealed for more than $200m to scale up its response.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, sent troops into the northern region in November to detain and disarm leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the region’s former ruling party.
He said the move came in response to TPLF attacks on federal army camps.
Though he promised the conflict would be brief, fighting continues more than six months later and reports of atrocities – including the widespread use of rape – are proliferating. Many leaders have warned of a major catastrophe.
The United States and the European Union on Thursday issued a plea for greater international efforts to tackle the emerging famine.
International aid organisations have complained repeatedly that they are being denied access to the region by Ethiopian forces and troops from neighbouring Eritrea.