‘Extreme urgent need’: Starvation haunts Ethiopia’s Tigray

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NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) – From ’emaciated’ refugees to crops burnt to the brink of harvest, famine threatens survivors of more than two months of fighting in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.

The first aid workers to arrive after pleading with the Ethiopian government for access describe debilitated children dying of diarrhea after drinking in rivers. The stores were looted or exhausted weeks ago. A local official told a January 1 crisis meeting of government and aid workers that starving people had asked for “just one cookie.”

More than 4.5 million people, almost the entire population of the region, are in need of emergency food, participants said. At their next meeting on Jan. 8, a Tigray administrator warned that without help, “hundreds of thousands of people could starve,” and some had already done so, according to minutes obtained by The Associated Press.

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

But pockets of fighting, resistance from some officials, and outright destruction stand in the way of a massive food delivery effort. Sending 15-kilogram (33-pound) rations to 4.5 million people would require more than 2,000 trucks, according to meeting minutes, while some local stakeholders are reduced to walking.

The specter of hunger looms large in Ethiopia, which has become one of the world’s fastest growing economies in decades since images of famine in the 1980s sparked a global uproar. Drought, conflict and government denial contributed to the famine, which swept through Tigray and killed an estimated 1 million people.

The largely agricultural Tigray region of around 5 million people already had a food security problem amid a desert locust outbreak when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced on November 4 fighting between his forces and those of the provocative regional government. Tigray rulers dominated Ethiopia for nearly three decades, but were sidelined after Abiy introduced reforms that won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019.

Thousands of people have been killed in the conflict. More than 50,000 people have fled to Sudan, where a doctor said the new arrivals were showing signs of famine. Others take shelter in rough terrain. A woman who recently left Tigray said she slept in caves with people bringing in cattle, goats and the grain they had managed to harvest.

“It is a daily reality to hear people die with the consequences of the fighting, the lack of food,” a letter from the Catholic Bishop of Adigrat said this month.

Hospitals and other health centers, essential in the treatment of malnutrition, have been destroyed. In markets, food is “not available or extremely limited,” according to the United Nations.

Although Ethiopia’s prime minister declared victory at the end of November, his military and allied fighters remain active amid the presence of troops from neighboring Eritrea, a bitter foe of the now fugitive officials who once ruled the region. .

Fear keeps many people from going out. Others are fleeing. New Tigray officials say more than 2 million people have been displaced, a figure the US government’s Humanitarian Assistance Office calls “staggering.” The UN says the number of people affected by aid is “extremely low”.

A senior Ethiopian government official, Redwan Hussein, did not respond to a request for comment on Tigray’s colleagues warning of the famine.

In the northern Shire region, near Eritrea, which has seen some of the worst …

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