Famine hits Ethiopia’s Tigray region, UN humanitarian chief says, with 350,000 reportedly at risk

Famine hits Ethiopia’s Tigray region, UN humanitarian chief says, with 350,000 reportedly at risk

Ethiopia’s troubled Tigray region is now in a state of famine, the UN’s humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock has said, as reports suggest that hundreds of thousands of people are at risk of disaster.

“There is now famine in Tigray,” the official told representatives of UN, EU and US organizations on Thursday, warning the situation may be the worst since the 2011 famine in neighboring Somalia, which killed around 260,000 people.

Lowcock said things are “going to get a lot worse”, but added that “the worst can still be avoided” if immediate help is provided for Tigray.

“A re-run of 1984 would have wide-ranging and long-lasting ramifications. My message is don’t go there,” he added, referencing the Ethiopian famine of 1983-1985, which resulted in 1 million deaths, according to UN figures.

On Thursday, Reuters reported it had viewed a document presented at the UN’s Inter-Agency Standing Committee which said 350,000 people in Tigray are at risk of famine.

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Millions more people in the region also need “urgent food and agriculture/livelihoods support to avert further slides towards famine,” the report apparently said.

The new details come after Lowcock warned last week of imminent famine conditions in Tigray, saying UN officials are “hearing of starvation-related deaths already.”

This week, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also said several areas of the region are “on the brink of famine.”

Ethiopia’s government and the UN have both accused the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), an armed political group in the region, of hindering the work of aid convoys.

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“We don’t have any food shortage,” Mituku Kassa, head of Ethiopia’s National Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Committee told a press conference on Thursday, as he claimed the TPLF had launched attacks on aid trucks carrying food.

Lowcock also said last week that aid workers had encountered difficulties in the field “because of what men with guns and bombs are doing, and what their political masters are telling them to do.”

The TPLF has been engaged in a conflict with government troops in Tigray since last November, after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed postponed Ethiopia’s elections due to Covid-19.

The government also refused to recognize a regional vote apparently won in a landslide by the TPLF.

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