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Food Shortages Increasing as Conflict Spreads in Northern Ethiopia


An Ethiopian woman argues with others over the allocation of yellow split peas after it was distributed by the Relief Society of Tigray in the town of Agula, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, May 8, 2021.

The World Food Program warns food insecurity and hunger are rising in northern Ethiopia as the conflict in Tigray spills over into neighboring regions.

The U.N. food agency reports it has completed the first round of food distributions in northern Ethiopia’s Amhara and Afar provinces. The operation, which began in mid-August, has reached an estimated 300,000 people affected by the spread of the conflict in Tigray into their territories.

However, the World Food Program reports distributions in Tigray are lagging. It says trucks continue to be stuck in the Afar region and are unable to deliver enough crucial supplies for millions of Tigrayan civilians living under dire conditions.

A U.N. analysis of the severity of food insecurity in June estimates up to 400,000 people in Tigray are on the verge of famine. WFP Spokesman Tomson Phiri says anecdotal reports from all three conflict-affected regions suggest food shortages are on the rise.

"In Afar and Amhara, our teams have seen hundreds of thousands of people displaced from their homes,” Phiri said. "It is absolutely vital that we have the full cooperation and support of all parties to the conflict so that we can reach all affected populations with urgently needed food assistance before we have a humanitarian catastrophe on our hands across all of northern Ethiopia.”

The United Nations reports thousands of people have been killed and millions forcibly displaced from their homes since November, when the conflict between the Ethiopian military and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front began. The U.N. says an estimated 5.2 million people or 90 percent of Tigray’s population needs humanitarian aid.

Phiri says WFP aims to reach nearly 3.5 million people across all three regions in the next round of food distributions. However, he acknowledges several obstacles stand in the way of reaching that goal.

"The food pipeline in Tigray remains hand-to-mouth, with a multitude of issues affecting the free movement of convoys…Additionally, the vast majority of commercial trucks are not able to return from Tigray which is one of the major impediments to the delivery of cargo as we struggle to convene convoys,” Phiri said.

Phiri notes a total of 637 trucks have managed to reach Tigray, carrying only 11 percent of the humanitarian aid needed in the region. He says to adequately feed the population, 100 trucks loaded with lifesaving supplies must arrive every day into the beleaguered province.

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