The U.N. Children’s Fund warns at least 33,000 severely malnourished children in northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region face imminent death if they do not receive immediate help to treat their condition.
UNICEF is appealing to the Ethiopian government to live up to its promise of unimpeded access to conflict-ridden Tigray province. Agency spokesman James Elder warns this man-made disaster will have unimaginably tragic consequences for thousands of children if aid agencies are unable to reach them.
“Incredulously, things can actually deteriorate further for children as food insecurity is expected to worsen over the coming months. So, we risk many more deaths than the 33,000 that we fear if crops cannot be planted. So, it is imperative that parties to the conflict ensures humanitarian access to UNICEF and unimpeded and safe access on the ground to stave off widespread famine," he said.
UNICEF reports at least 140,000 people in Tigray are facing famine-like conditions. Amid this crisis, it projects some 56,000 children will need treatment for severe acute malnutrition. This, it notes is almost six times higher than the average annual caseload for the region.
Elder said helping these children will be difficult. He said the warring parties have inflicted extensive damage to essential systems and services on which children depend for their survival.
He said health facilities have been looted or damaged, and water infrastructure has been destroyed, causing safe drinking water to be in short supply. This, he warns could lead to outbreaks of disease, putting malnourished children at even greater risk of dying.
He said health workers have been attacked and harassed, discouraging many from returning to work.
“Mobile health and nutrition teams need to be able to do their jobs safely. They are trying right now as we speak to do upcoming measles, polio, vitamin A nutrition campaigns. Remember, it is not just the lack of food that kills under-fives, it is other diseases, water and sanitation,” said Elder.
UNICEF is calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities so children can safely receive the lifesaving services they need to begin to rebuild their lives. It says it also needs the cash to be able to fund these services.
The UN children’s agency says it is $13 million short of the $47 million it needs to care for 1.3 million children, many of whom are struggling to survive.