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UN says 350,000 people in Tigray face famine, millions more at risk

Some 350,000 people in Ethiopia’s Tigray province are at serious risk of famine and millions more are at risk, UN experts say. Agencies and aid organizations say conflict is to blame.

More than 350,000 people are at serious risk of famine in Ethiopia’s troubled Tigray province, where most of the 5.5 million inhabitants rely on food aid, a U.N. report said Thursday.

The U.N. agency said the food crisis in Tigray is the worst since the famine in Somalia between 2010 and 2012, which killed more than 250,000 Somalis, more than half of them children.

A warning to the world

“There is a famine going on in Tigray right now,” said United Nations humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock at a high-level virtual meeting of representatives of the Group of Seven, a group of leading industrialised nations.

Lowcock warned that “the situation is going to get worse” but said that “the worst can still be avoided” if immediate action is taken.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the United Nations World Food Programme and UNICEF warned on Thursday that another two million people “could soon starve to death” if urgent action is not taken.

Lowcock lamented that some of the major U.N. agencies asking for help “basically don’t have the money.”

“We really need everyone to pitch in,” he said.

David Beasley, director of the United Nations World Food Programme, said countless people, especially in rural areas, could not receive aid because armed groups were blocking it.

Aid agencies have stressed that they are ready to provide assistance, but first they need access to areas devastated by the conflict.

The Ethiopian government launched a military offensive against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in northern Ethiopia in November. The TPLF had been in power in the Tigray region for years before the current government.

Hostilities soon escalated into a complex conflict involving neighbouring Eritrea, which was at war with TPLF-led Ethiopia.

What did the analysis reveal?

According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis released on Thursday, these 350,000 people considered to be living in the worst “disaster phase”.

For about 3.1 million people, food shortages have reached a “crisis” level and about 2.1 million are living in a “state of emergency”.

“These severe crises are caused by the cascading effects of the conflict, including population displacement, restricted movement, limited humanitarian access, crop and livelihood losses, and dysfunctional or non-existent markets,” the report says.

“If the conflict continues to escalate or humanitarian assistance is prevented for other reasons, large parts of Tigray are at risk of famine.”

Ethiopian Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen dismissed the UN report as misinformation.

The IPC, a global partnership of 15 UN agencies and international humanitarian organizations, produced the report. The five categories of food security range from people who have enough to eat to populations facing “famine, a humanitarian disaster”.

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