The World Food Program warns the food situation in northern Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region has reached catastrophic proportions and people are beginning to die.
The United Nations warns more than 350,000 people in Tigray are facing near famine-like conditions, and many will not survive without immediate humanitarian assistance.
UNICEF says 30,000 severely malnourished children are among those at risk of death.
Aid agencies are calling for unimpeded access to the region so they can prevent a man-made disaster from happening.
In March, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced humanitarian workers would have unfettered access to northern Ethiopia. However, World Food Program Emergency Coordinator Tommy Thompson says that has not taken place.
Speaking on a video link from Addis Ababa, he says he has come to the Ethiopian capital to persuade authorities to grant agencies the access and protection they need to help the Tigrayan people.
“It is an incredibly dangerous environment for us to all be working in and nine humanitarians have been killed thus far…So, we find ourselves faced often with enormous protection issues of providing assistance to beneficiaries, only to have those beneficiaries robbed violently in the night of the things that had been given to them," Thompson said. "So, it is a crisis that is going to continue unless there is an absolute sea change in attitude on the part of the government.”
Thompson says the WFP is scaling up its food operation in the region and aims to reach 2.6 million people in the next weeks—provided it can access the area. He says that depends on the Ethiopian government and on the Eritrean government as well.
“The Eritreans are the most egregious perpetrators of denial of access as well as other atrocities committed towards civilians," Thompson said. "So, that is a huge, huge problem for us. And having the withdrawal of the Eritrean forces would be a major bonus. But we still have acts committed by the Ethiopian Defense Forces as well as the Amhara militia, which are blocking us access to certain areas as well. So, there is plenty of blame to go around in this.”
Beyond the terrible realities on the ground, Thompson says funding also remains a big problem. He says the WFP needs $203 million to implement its humanitarian operations in Tigray this year. Of that amount, he says the WFP has an immediate shortfall of $70 million to expand its response in providing lifesaving food assistance to people in desperate need.