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Massive starvation looms for people of Ethiopia, aid workers warn

ethiopie enfant

Anadolu Agency via AFP

John Burger - published on 01/18/21

Fighting in Tigray region has left severe food insecurity.

Hundreds of thousands of people might starve to death if international aid does not reach a vulnerable population in northern Ethiopia, aid agencies said. Military action in the Tigray region of the country has left burned crops, depleted shops, and children weakened from diarrhea, humanitarian workers have reported.

“There is an extreme urgent need — I don’t know what more words in English to use — to rapidly scale up the humanitarian response because the population is dying every day as we speak,” Mari Carmen Vinoles, head of the emergency unit for Doctors Without Borders, told the Associated Press

AP reported on the first humanitarian workers to enter the region after pleading with the Ethiopian government for access to the area. 

“A local official told a Jan. 1 crisis meeting of government and aid workers that hungry people had asked for ‘a single biscuit,’” the wire service said. “More than 4.5 million people, nearly the region’s entire population, need emergency food, participants say.”

But delivery of emergency food has run into roadblocks from pockets of fighting and resistance from some officials.

“To send 15-kilogram (33-pound) rations to 4.5 million people would require more than 2,000 trucks, the meeting’s minutes said, while some local responders are reduced to getting around on foot,” AP reported.

Tigray, a mostly agricultural region of about 5 million people, was already suffering from food insecurity amid a locust outbreak when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Nov. 4 announced fighting between his forces and those of the defiant regional government, said AP. Thousands of people have been killed in the conflict, and more than 50,000 have fled into Sudan, where one doctor has said newer arrivals show signs of starvation. 

“It is a daily reality to hear people dying with the fighting consequences, lack of food,” AP reported a letter by the Catholic bishop of Adigrat said this month. 

AP continued: 

Hospitals and other health centers, crucial in treating malnutrition, have been destroyed. In markets, food is “not available or extremely limited,” the United Nations says. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network, funded and managed by the U.S., says parts of central and eastern Tigray are likely in Emergency Phase 4, a step below famine. The next few months are critical, John Shumlansky, the Catholic Relief Services representative in Ethiopia, said. His group so far has given up to 70,000 people in Tigray a three-month food supply, he said.Asked whether combatants use hunger as a weapon, one concern among aid workers, Shumlansky dismissed it by Ethiopian defense forces and police. With others, he didn’t know.“I don’t think they have food either, though,” he said.

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