Almost all civilians living in Ethiopia’s Tigray region are in need of life-saving aid and a famine may have already begun in the war-torn area, according to a memorandum by a British diplomat.
Millions of people in Tigray are “on the brink,” Nick Dyer, the U.K.’s special envoy for famine prevention and humanitarian affairs, said in the document, seen by Bloomberg. Dyer traveled to Ethiopia last month and met officials including Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s failure to end the conflict in Tigray and allow aid agencies unfettered access to people in need of food and shelter led the U.S. to impose sanctions on the country last month. The violence in the region has killed thousands of people and displaced many more.
“The situation could not be more serious, and the risks of famine are now very high, although an official from the regional authorities told me that ‘famine has started,’” Dyer said in a memo marked “sensitive” and sent to aid agencies and embassies in Addis Ababa.
The British Embassy in Addis Ababa declined to comment on Dyer’s remarks. Billene Seyoum, a spokesperson for the Ethiopian prime minister, didn’t respond to emailed questions about Dyer’s findings.
Violence engulfed Tigray in November, when Abiy ordered an incursion after forces loyal to the state’s dissident ruling party attacked a federal military camp in the region. The U.S., Canada and several European nations on Wednesday called for a cease-fire in Tigray in order to avoid the risk of famine after months of conflict.
Dyer said there appeared to be “systematic efforts to destroy livelihoods” in Tigray by denying communities access to humanitarian assistance. He said there was also evidence of war crimes, including numbers of massacres and extra-judicial killings with both children and postpartum women targeted using torture and gang rape.
“The impunity of weapons bearers and their callousness toward civilians is shameful,” he said.