Tens of thousands of children are at risk of dying from famine in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region, the United Nations warned on Friday.
"Without humanitarian access to increase our aid, some 30,000 severely malnourished children in these extremely inaccessible areas are at great risk of dying," said UN's children's fund spokesperson James Elder.
UN humanitarian agencies including UNICEF, the World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) raised alarm bells about the humanitarian effect of the violence in Tigray province again this week.
Elder emphasised that the world cannot allow the impending catastrophe to happen as “more young children and babies slide dangerously close to sickness and potential death from malnutrition.”
'June is a critical month'
A UN report issued on Thursday predicts that between July and September the number of people facing famine in Tigray will rise to over 400,000.
"June is a critical month, as it is when the cereal planting season ends for the year. When I was in Tigray in May…I saw the devastation to crops and cattle. And we rang alarm bells to enable people to plant now so they can have food later in the year. That hasn’t happened. There are many issues, but safe access remains foremost,” said Elder.
“When we think of famine, we often think of a lack of food. But increasingly the crisis is one not only of food insecurity but also of clean water, sanitation and health care – especially disease prevention and treatment. Water and sanitation are just as important as food for children and families facing famine and food insecurity.”
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched a military operation on November 4 against the Tigray authorities, from the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), in dissent vis-à-vis the central power.
Mr Abiy had promised a swift campaign, but almost six months after the capture of the regional capital, Mekele, by the federal army, fighting continues in Tigray, where the humanitarian situation criticism alarms the international community.
Crucial to prevent a re-run of 1984 Ethiopia famine
U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock told a virtual high-level meeting on the humanitarian emergency in Tigray organised by the U.S. and European Union on Thursday that "there is famine now" in the region, and warned that "this is going to get a lot worse."
Lowcock said to representatives from the Group of Seven major industrialised nations and EU that "the worst can still be avoided" if action is taken to help Tigray now.
He said it's crucial to prevent a re-run of the 1984 famine in Ethiopia, which "would have wide-ranging and long-lasting ramifications."
"My message is: don't go there," Lowcock said.
Emergency operation to reach 1.4 M people, not enough
The UN’s World Food Programme has mounted an emergency operation and increased food distribution to reach 1.4 million people, which they see as barely half the number of people they need to be reaching.
UNICEF requires 8.8 million euros to provide ready-to-use therapeutic food to children in Tigray and affected neighbouring zones in Amhara and Afar. The funding will also enable UNICEF and partners to provide routine medication and scale up life-saving treatment.
UNICEF’s head of nutrition is currently in Tigray and is due to give a specialised briefing on Tuesday June 15.