UN body says 350,000 people facing famine in Tigray region

Thousands killed in months of tension between government and regional leaders

A high-level UN-led committee that focuses on rapid responses to humanitarian crises estimates that some 350,000 people in Ethiopia's embattled Tigray region are facing famine conditions.

The estimate was presented at a meeting of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, comprising 18 UN and non-UN organisations that is chaired by UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock.

A note from the meeting said millions of other people in Tigray urgently need food to avoid famine, said a UN official.

Last Friday, Mr Lowcock warned that famine is imminent in Tigray and in the country’s north, saying there is a risk that hundreds of thousands of people or more will die.

No one knows how many thousands of civilians or combatants have been killed since months of political tensions between Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed’s government and the Tigray leaders who once dominated it exploded into war last November.

Eritrea, a longtime Tigray enemy, teamed up with neighbouring Ethiopia in the conflict.

The UN has criticised the lack of access to all areas of Tigray for humanitarian workers seeking to deliver aid.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Wednesday that UN staff on the ground report the continuing blocked movements of aid, and interrogation, assault and detention of humanitarian workers at military checkpoints.

There has also been looting and confiscation of “humanitarian assets and supplies” by parties to the conflict, he said.

Some areas of Tigray remain inaccessible, Mr Dujarric said, and in accessible areas "the situation is dire, including dysfunctional water systems and limited or no health facilities".

“Levels of food insecurity and malnutrition are at alarming levels,” Mr Dujarric said.

“Preliminary field reports from Axum and Adwa in the central zone indicate visible signs of starvation among internally displaced people. In a community in the north-western zone of Tigray, aid workers noted a severe need for food, after the burning or looting of harvests.”

Mr Lowcock has said the war destroyed the economy along with businesses, crops and farms, and there are no banking or telecommunications services in Tigray.

“We are hearing of starvation-related deaths already,” he said on Friday, urging the international community “to wake up” and “really step up”, including with money. – PA