Famine is staking out its young victims in the Tigray region of Ethiopia where some 33,000 severely malnourished children are trapped in inaccessible areas beyond the help of aid agencies and relief workers.
For the Tigrayans and their neighboring province of Wollo, it is a tragedy they know well. The region was the epicenter of the famine of 1984. About six million Ethiopians were affected; the number of deaths is estimated at around one million. Another famine, eleven years earlier, denied and ignored by Haile Selassie’s government, led to hundreds of thousands of deaths.
Since the latest conflict began in November 2020, Tigray has been devastated by fighting between government forces and rebels, with 1.7 million people displaced since the conflict began in November 2020.
A UN-backed study released on Thursday found that 353,000 people in the region were living in “severe crisis”.
“There is famine now,” said UN Humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock, adding: “This is going to get a lot worse.”
In some of his strongest public comments to date on the crisis, Lowcock accused forces from neighboring Eritrea of “trying to deal with the Tigrayan population by starving them.”
In an interview with Reuters, Lowcock said Eritrean soldiers and local fighters are deliberately blocking supplies to the more than 1 million people in areas outside government control. “Food is definitely being used as a weapon of war.” The Ethiopian government says aid is getting through.
The Eritrean forces that joined the conflict have been accused of widespread pillage and, along with the Ethiopian army, of burning crops, destroying health facilities, and preventing farmers from ploughing their land.
Minister of Information Yemane Gebremeskel maintains that accusations that Eritrean soldiers are blocking or looting aid are “fabricated.”
The UN conservatively estimates that 22,000 survivors of rape will need support. Fear of sexual violence means that women and girls stay in hiding, unable to seek food.
Meanwhile, general elections are scheduled to take place on June 21 despite continuing human rights abuses in Tigray where the government and Eritrean forces are accused of war crimes, including multiple massacres, and under a government that is starving a significant portion of the population.
The United States is “gravely concerned” about the environment in which the elections in Ethiopia will be held and urged politicians and other community leaders there to denounce violence.