The U.N. Children’s Fund warns an estimated 100,000 children in northern Ethiopia’s Tigray province are at risk of life-threatening severe acute malnutrition over the next 12 months. This is a tenfold increase over the annual average caseload in this war-torn region.
A UNICEF official who has just returned from Tigray says her agency’s worst fears about the health and wellbeing of children in this war-torn region have been confirmed.
Marixie Mercado says the malnutrition crisis has worsened because of extensive systematic damage to the food, water, health care, nutrition and sanitation systems upon which children and their families depend for their survival.
She says a massive scale up of humanitarian assistance in the region is needed to reverse this catastrophic crisis.
"We need unfettered access into Tigray and across the region, in order to provide support that children and women urgently need," Mercado said. "Right now, we have just 6,900 cartons of life-saving ready-to-eat therapeutic foods in our warehouses in Tigray. That is enough to treat severe malnutrition in just 6,900 children.”
Mercado visited several previously inaccessible areas in Tigray, places that have virtually had no assistance over the past months. She says she was appalled by the overcrowded, unsanitary sites hosting displaced families—conditions that are ripe for disease outbreaks.
But what struck her most, she says, was the acute suffering and mental anguish of these people who have had to endure multiple atrocities.
"One young woman who is a survivor of sexual assault, she watched her grandmother get killed," Mercado said. "She was raped by several men as she watched her nine-month-old baby being tossed around by other men … It is not the assault itself that is the worst part, but it is the psychological damage that people now have to deal with for a very long time.”
Mercado reports the recent uptick of fighting in neighboring Afar and Amhara regions is creating another catastrophic situation for civilians in the region. She says nearly 1.5 million people already are facing acute food insecurity.
She warns child malnutrition will rise beyond current alarming levels and leading to more deaths if insufficient humanitarian assistance reaches this widening area of conflict.