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

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — From “emaciated” refugees to crops burned on the brink of harvest, starvation threatens the survivors of more than two months of fighting in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.

The first humanitarian workers to arrive after pleading with the Ethiopian government for access describe weakened children dying from diarrhea after drinking from rivers. Shops were looted or depleted weeks ago. A local official told a Jan. 1 crisis meeting of government and aid workers that hungry people had asked for “a single biscuit.”

More than 4.5 million people, nearly the region’s entire population, need emergency food, participants say. At their next meeting on Jan. 8, a Tigray administrator warned that without aid, “hundreds of thousands might starve to death” and some already had, according to minutes obtained by The Associated Press.

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

But pockets of fighting, resistance from some officials and sheer destruction stand in the way of a massive food delivery effort. To send 15-kilogram (33-pound) rations to 4.5 million people would require more than 2,000 trucks, the meeting’s minutes said, while some local responders are reduced to getting around on foot.

The specter of hunger is sensitive in Ethiopia, which transformed into one of the world’s fastest-growing economies in the decades since images of starvation there in the 1980s led to a global outcry. 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 about 5 million people already had a food security problem amid a locust outbreak when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Nov. 4 announced fighting between his forces and those of the defiant regional government. Tigray leaders dominated Ethiopia for almost 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 have fled into Sudan, where one doctor has said newer arrivals show signs of starvation. Others shelter in rugged terrain. A woman who recently left Tigray described sleeping in caves with people who brought cattle, goats and the grain they had managed to harvest.

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

Hospitals and other health centers, crucial in treating malnutrition, have been destroyed. In markets, food is “not available or extremely limited,” the United Nations says.

Though Ethiopia’s prime minister declared victory in late November, its military and allied fighters remain active amid the presence of troops from neighboring Eritrea, a bitter enemy of the now-fugitive officials who once led the region.

Fear keeps many people from venturing out. Others flee. Tigray’s new officials say more than 2 million people have been displaced, a number the U.S. government’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance calls “staggering.” The U.N. says the number of people reached with aid is “extremely low.”

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

In the northern Shire area near Eritrea, which has seen some of the worst fighting, up to 10% of the children whose arms were measured met the diagnostic criteria for severe acute malnutrition, with scores of children affected, a U.N. source said. Sharing the concern of many humanitarian workers about jeopardizing access, the source spoke on condition of anonymity.

Near Shire town are camps housing nearly 100,000 refugees who have fled over the years from Eritrea. Some who have walked into town “are emaciated, begging for aid that is not available,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said Thursday.

Food has been a target. Analyzing satellite imagery of the Shire area, a U.K.-based research group found two warehouse-style structures in the U.N. World Food Program compound at one refugee camp had been “very specifically destroyed.” The DX Open Network could not tell by whom. It reported a new attack Saturday.

It’s challenging to verify events in Tigray as communications links remain poor and almost no journalists are allowed.

In the towns of Adigrat, Adwa and Axum, “the level of civilian casualties is extremely high in the places we have been able to access,” the Doctors Without Borders emergency official Vinoles said. She cited the fighting and lack of health care.

Hunger is “very concerning,” she said, and even water is scarce: Just two of 21 wells still work in Adigrat, a city of more than 140,000, forcing many people to drink from the river. With sanitation suffering, disease follows.

“You go 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the city and it’s a complete disaster,” with no food, Vinoles said.

Humanitarian workers struggle to gauge the extent of need.

“Not being able to travel off main highways, it always poses the question of what’s happening with people still off-limits,” said Panos Navrozidis, Action Against Hunger’s director in Ethiopia.

Before the conflict, Ethiopia’s national disaster management body classified some Tigray woredas, or administrative areas, as priority one hotspots for food insecurity. If some already had high malnutrition numbers, “two-and-a-half months into the crisis, it’s a safe assumption that thousands of children and mothers are in immediate need,” Navrozidis said.

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network, funded and managed by the U.S., says parts of central and eastern Tigray are likely in Emergency Phase 4, a step below famine.

The next few months are critical, John Shumlansky, the Catholic Relief Services representative in Ethiopia, said. His group so far has given up to 70,000 people in Tigray a three-month food supply, he said.

Asked whether combatants use hunger as a weapon, one concern among aid workers, Shumlansky dismissed it by Ethiopian defense forces and police. With others, he didn’t know.

“I don’t think they have food either, though,” he said.

3 comments

  1. I have been reading this type of report every morning for the last two months. It is reakky sickning. By know the world clearly understands that #abiy is not going to lift his blockade till he erases #tigrepeople from the face of the earth. There is way more than enough evidence for this on-going #genocide. Let the rest alone, we have more than enough evidence from the horse’s mouth – #abiy’s own people.
    • A general made it clear the role #eritrea is playing in this #genocide . see here
    • The people had asked for “a single biscuit.” testified above is from secretary of the interim president. see here

    At this digital era where communication is at finger-point we,#ethiopians, should have staged way more than the arab-spring demonstrations. We could and we should. Problem is rule of the gun is the norm all over this country. As an example, I believe Ethiopian-Unity could only be achieved by a dialog based on equality. If I utter a word about this in public I am dead! Period.

    Let me summarize the situation in our country.

    1. #abiy got support from the #amhara’s particularly from the so called elites who unfortunately seem to have developed mass amnesia. They don’t acknowledge the least about yesterday – how majority of us were marginalized to the extent of simply being THE COLONOIZED. They want to take us back to the imperial days and thus realize their superiority of the past. This is from the #amhara Professors, Doctors; the same ones who got the priceless chance of education at the expense of us – the marginalized people. To day it was their duty to led the country to a democratic unity; at least that would have been considered as a re-payment for our wealth they usurped in the past! There is a saying that education makes the fool fooler, but I can’t say all #amhara elites are fools. If I say few words about their psychological-thinking they believed unto themselves that as they are the superior beings – the rooted falsehood in their nature – the WEST is in their hand and will support them for whatever whim they have; ALLAS, how big a miscalculation they did! In short, their fruitless attempt of turning back the wheel of history and the dream of #abiy for his kingdom – the one his mom foretold – is so compatible hence their being hand and glove. On the other hand We, the long marginalized people, got our first glimpse of equality under the tenure of #tplf led gov’t. It is really a beautiful thing and we are not goona let it go willingly. As such we are more than happy to be part of FEDERALISM BASED UNITED ETHIOPIA. How funny! The COLONIZED forgiving every thing and extending a brotherly hand to the yesterday COLONIZER and the COLONIZER still dreaming to COLONIZE – in this modern world. WOW and WOW!!!!

    2. #abiy took care of all dissents. All dialog and peace alternative supporters are languishing in jails.

    3. All regional administrators – including our so called ethio-somali-president (MUSTAFE) are #abiy’s creations. None has been chosen by their corresponding people. All are busy with getting quick-rich. #abiy’s demise is theirs too thus they are his extensions.

    4. Ethiopia is a very poor country with a mass of illiterate people. They hear and what they hear is only from a bullshit gov’t media where the up mentioned so called elites broadcast an upside down history of the past and an alternative truth rooted at #tplf wants to disintegrate holy-ethiopia. These illiterate mass were ethiopians for ions and like to be so right now. When subjected to these important looking lairs, but highly able orators, it becomes hard for the poor illiterates to separate fiction from fact.

    For the above reasons and many others , we #ethiopians – with in the country – are not currently in position to wage an internal movement that could make a difference to the gun-point-rule and thus save the lives of our brothers and sisters subjected to the on-going #genocide right this minute.
    Our only saviour is the International community. I believe the #UN has provisions in its charter to stop this kind of #genocide. Unless those rules are applied as soon as possible, #genocide @ #rawanda and the likes will look like a MINUTE PICNIC . Here is why I say so.

    We all know our world of today is like a village made of flimsy straw huts. CORONA HAS SHOWEN US THAT. This is Ethiopia with over a hundred different races. This is East Africa where the european colonial era left complex issues. Here is one of the poorest regions of the world where failed states, self proclaimed states and autocratic states – current #ethiopia being one – coexist in a wavering balance. A race eradicated from the eart never happened in history. The war will continue and the fire at our hut will surely pass to all – a situation that will last long and affect HUMANITIES-EVOLVMENT hugely. All of us don’t need this man made catastrophes. We all have to fight it as it is our common interest in the long run!

    We – #ethiopians – beseech the International Community to extinguish this fire at its source by stopping the on-ogoing #genocide on #tigrepeople.

    Thank you

  2. An open letter to the International Life Savers @#tigreregion

    I have been reading this type of report every morning for the last two months; and I believe the world clearly understands by now that #abiy is not going to lift his blockade till he erases #tigrepeople from the face of the earth. There is way more than enough evidence for this on-going #genocide. Let the rest alone, we have more than enough evidence from the horse’s mouth – #abiy’s own people.
    • A general made it clear the role #eritrea is playing in this #genocide.
    • The people had asked for “a single biscuit.” testified above is from secretary of the interim president – #abiy’s puppet.
    At this digital era where communication is at finger-point we,#ethiopins, should have staged way more than the arab-spring demonstrations. We could and we should. Problem is rule of the gun is the norm all over the country. As an example, I believe Ethiopian-Unity could only be achieved by a dialog based on equality. If I utter a word about this in public I am dead!. Period.
    Let me summarize the situation in the country.
    1. #abiy got support from the #amhara’s particularly from the so called elites who unfortunately seem to have developed mass amnesia. They don’t acknowledge the least about yesterday – how majority of us were marginalized to the extent of simply being THE COLONOIZED. They simply want to take us back to the imperial days, thuds realize their superiority of the past. This is from the #amhara Professors, Doctors; the same ones who got the priceless chance of education at the expense of us – the marginalized mass. To day it was their duty to led the country to a democratic unity; at least that would have been considered as a re-payment for our wealth they usurped in the past! There is a saying that education makes the fool fooler, but I can’t say all #amhara elites are fools. If I say few words about their psychological-thinking they believed unto themselves that as they are the superior beings – the rooted falsehood in their nature – the WEST is in their hand and will support them for whatever whim they have; ALLAS, how big a miscalculation they did! In short, their fruitless attempt of turning back the wheel of history and the dream of #abiy for his kingdom – the one his mom foretold – is so compatible , hence their being hand and glove. On the other hand We, the long marginalized people, got our first and glimpse of equality under the tenure of #tplf led gov’t. It is really a beautiful thing and we are not goona let it go willingly. As such we are more than happy to be part of FEDERALISM BASED UNITED ETHIOPIA. How funny! The COLONIZED forgiving every thing and extending a brotherly hand to the yesterday COLONIZER and the COLONIZER still dreaming to COLONIZE – in this modern world. WOW and WOW!!!

    2. #abiy took care of all dissents. All dialog and peace alternative supporters are languishing in jails.

    3. All regional administrators – including our so called ethio-somali-president (MUSTAFE) are #abiy’s creations – with their tons of baggage’s and personal agendas. None has been chosen by their corresponding people. All are busy with getting quick-rich. #abiy’s demise is theirs too thus they are his extensions.

    4. Ethiopia is a very poor country with a mass of illiterate people. They hear and what they hear is only from a bullshit gov’t media where the up mentioned so called elites broadcast an upside down history of the past and an alternative truth rooted at #tplf wants to disintegrate holy-ethiopia. These illiterate mass were ethiopians for ions and like to be so right now. When subjected to these important looking lairs, but highly able orators, it becomes hard for the poor illiterates to separate fiction from fact.
    For the above reasons and many others , we #ethiopians – with in the country – are not currently in position to wage an internal movement that could make a difference to the gun-point-rule and thus save the lives of our brothers and sisters subjected to the on-going #genocide right this minute.
    I believe #UN has provisions in its charter to stop this kind of #genocide. Unless those rules are applied as soon as possible, here is what I predict.
    We all know our world today is like a village made of flimsy straw huts. “CORONA HAS SHOWEN US THAT, I BELEIVE ” This is Ethiopia with over hundred races. This is East Africa where European Colonial Era left a mess and complex issues, some brewing right now and others never settled. This is one of the poorest regions of the world where failed states, self proclaimed ones, re-healing states and autocratic ones ( like #eritrea and #ethiopia ) coexist in very fragile balance; and Never in the history was seen a race eradicated from the face of the world!. The war will go on and the fire on our hat will surely reach the next hut and… Take a guess how far the fire is goona reach! This will result in more human-suffering some thing non of us want – except those doing the blocked
    You, the international human life savers, can not be a by-standers any more. You have an obligation to save human-lives as many as you can as soon as you can. To achieve that aid workers must have non-conditional full-access to #tirayregion. The #eu and #england has been at the fore front for this on-going humanitarian mission. We , the dialog solution supporters with in the country, thank you very much and support your humanitarian mission Beyond percentages.
    #abiy and his so called elite #amhara are not all #ethiopia. Actually they hijacking the good name. Over majority of us, #ethiopians , – particularly living in the country – support a democratic based dialog solution.
    Thank you very much and keep on the good work. You are already saving many lives and making difference to many others !!!

  3. OK.CI È LA PANDEMIA MONDIALE,.PERO ‘MILIONI DI
    PERSONE SONO SOTTO DITTATURE ,,LI VOGLIAMO AIUTARE? STANNO MORENDO DI TUTTO ,DI FAME E STENTI. DIPLOMATICI È VOSTRO DOVERE MUOVERVI,,MOOVE,MUOVERSI

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