A high-level UN-led committee that focuses on rapid responses to humanitarian crises estimates that about 350,000 people in Ethiopia’s Tigray region are facing famine conditions, a UN official said on Wednesday.
The estimate was presented at a meeting on Monday of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, which comprises 18 UN and non-UN organizations, and is chaired by UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also attended, said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly.
A note from the meeting said that millions of other people in Tigray urgently need food to avoid famine, the official said.
On Friday last week, Lowcock said that famine is imminent in Tigray and elsewhere in the nation’s north, adding that 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 President Abiy Ahmed’s government and the Tigray leaders who once dominated it exploded into war in November last year.
Eritrea, a longtime Tigray enemy, teamed up with Ethiopia in the conflict.
The UN has criticized the lack of access to Tigray for humanitarian workers seeking to deliver aid.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said 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, Dujarric said.
Some areas of Tigray remain inaccessible, 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,” he 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 northwestern zone of Tigray, aid workers noted a severe need for food, after the burning or looting of harvests.”
Lowcock has said that 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 in a statement on Friday last week, urging the international community “to wake up” and “really step up,” including with money.
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