The United Nations (UN) has warned of “imminent famine” in Ethiopia’s beleaguered Tigray region and in the country’s north.
The UN’s humanitarian Chief Mark Lowcock, who issued the terse warning on Friday, said there was a risk that hundreds of thousands of people or more would die in Tigray.
Mr. Lowcock said the economy had been destroyed along with businesses, crops and farms and there was no banking or telecommunications services.
“We are hearing of starvation-related deaths already,” he said in a statement.
“The international community needs to really step up, including through the provision of money,” the UN chieftain said.
It’s not known 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 Ethiopia’s government erupted into war last November.
Eritrea, a longtime foe of the Tigrayans, teamed up with neighbouring Ethiopia in the conflict.
In late May, Mr. Lowcock painted a grim picture of Tigray since the war began, with an estimated 2 million people displaced, civilians killed and injured, rapes and other forms of “abhorrent sexual violence” widespread and systematic, and public and private infrastructure essential for civilians destroyed, including hospitals and agricultural land.
“There are now hundreds of thousands of people in northern Ethiopia in famine conditions,” Mr. Lowcock said. “That’s the worse famine problem the world has seen for a decade, since a quarter of a million Somalis lost their lives in the famine there in 2011. This now has horrible echoes of the colossal tragedy in Ethiopia in 1984.”
In the disastrous famine of 1984-85, some 2 million people on the continent died of starvation or famine-related diseases, about half of them in Ethiopia.
The UN official said getting food and other humanitarian aid to all those in need is proving very difficult for aid agencies.
The UN and the Ethiopian government have helped some 2 million people in recent months in northern Ethiopia, mainly in government-controlled areas, he said.
But Mr. Lowcock added that there are over 1 million people in places controlled by Tigrayan opposition forces who have been facing “deliberate, repeated, sustained attempts” at food deprivation.