After 15 months of conflict in Ethiopia, almost 40 per cent of Tigrayans are suffering an extreme lack of food, according to data released by the World Food Programme (WFP) on Friday.
Meanwhile, across all three conflict-affected regions of the north, more than nine million people now need humanitarian food assistance, the highest number so far, since conflict erupted in November 2020, between Government and rebel forces.
According to the Tigray Emergency Food Security Assessment, 83 per cent of people are food insecure.
Families are exhausting all means to feed themselves, with three quarters of the population using extreme coping strategies to survive.
Diets are increasingly impoverished as food items become unavailable and families rely almost exclusively on cereals. At the same time, families are having to limit portion sizes and the number of meals, to make whatever food is available stretch further.
In terms of nutrition, 13 per cent of Tigrayan children under five, and half of all pregnant and breastfeeding women, are malnourished, leading to poor pregnancy outcomes, low-birth weight, stunting and increased maternal death.
For WFP’s Regional Director for Eastern Africa, Michael Dunford, the bleak assessment reconfirms that “what the people of northern Ethiopia need is scaled up humanitarian assistance, and they need it now.”
According to him, WFP is doing all it can to ensure convoys with food and medicines make it through the frontlines, but no convoy has reached Tigray since mid-December.
“If hostilities persist, we need all the parties to the conflict to agree to a humanitarian pause and formally agreed transport corridors, so that supplies can reach the millions besieged by hunger”, he warned.
In the neighbouring Amhara region, hunger has more than doubled in five months because the region bore the brunt of recent fighting between the Ethiopian Government’s military forces and Tigray forces.
In Afar province, the fighting has reportedly led to tens of thousands of men, women and children being displaced in the last few weeks.
Across the three regions, more than 14 per cent of children under five and almost a third of pregnant and breastfeeding women are malnourished.
Recent health screening data shows malnutrition rates for children under five were at 28 per cent, far above the standard emergency threshold of 15 per cent.
Intensified conflict on the Tigray-Afar border in recent days is expected to force more communities from their homes and deeper into hunger.
WFP estimates that on average, crisis-affected families in northern Ethiopia were getting less than 30 per cent of their caloric needs in the past months, pushing people deeper into crisis.
Constant humanitarian food assistance will be necessary throughout 2022, said the UN agency.
Since March, WFP has reached almost 4 million people across northern Ethiopia with food and nutrition assistance.
When access to Tigray improved during the summer months last year, humanitarian assistance from the agency and its partners kept starvation at bay for those who had been cut off from assistance, prior to May.
With no access to Tigray currently, aid continues to be scaled up in areas of Amhara and Afar, which are accessible.
More than 523,000 people received food in Amhara in the past week, with some 3.2 million men, women and children, having been reached with food assistance since last October.
In Afar province, nearly 380,000 people have been reached in this current round of food distributions.
WFP’s northern Ethiopia response urgently requires $337 million to deliver assistance over the next six months and will begin running out of the capacity to purchase food from February.
Across the entire country, the agency has an unprecedented funding gap of $667 million to assist 12 million people.