Severe hunger tightens grip on northern Ethiopia

WFP
Photo: WFP/ Claire Neville A displaced family cooking in Afar region, Ethiopia
Photo: WFP/ Claire Neville A displaced family cooking in Afar region, Ethiopia
ADDIS ABABA -  A new food security assessment, released today by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), shows that almost 40 percent of Tigrayans are suffering an extreme lack of food, after 15 months of conflict. Meanwhile, across all three conflict-affected regions of the north more than 9 million people are in need of humanitarian food assistance, the highest number yet.

The Tigray Emergency Food Security Assessment found that 83 percent of people are food insecure. Families are exhausting all means to feed themselves, with three quarters of the population using extreme coping strategies to survive. Diets are increasingly impoverished as food items become unavailable and families rely almost exclusively on cereals while limiting portion sizes and the number of meals they eat each day to make whatever food is available stretch further.

In terms of nutrition, the survey found that 13 percent of Tigrayan children under 5 and half of all pregnant and breastfeeding women are malnourished, leading to poor pregnancy outcomes, low-birth weight, stunting and maternal death.

“This bleak assessment reconfirms that what the people of northern Ethiopia need is scaled up humanitarian assistance, and they need it now,” said Michael Dunford, WFP’s Regional Director for Eastern Africa.

“WFP is doing all it can to ensure our convoys with food and medicines make it through the frontlines. But if hostilities persist, we need all the parties to the conflict to agree to a humanitarian pause and formally agreed transport corridors, so that supplies can reach the millions besieged by hunger.”

In neighbouring Amhara region, hunger has more than doubled in five months because the region bore the brunt of recent fighting between the Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) and the Tigray Forces (TF). More than 14 percent of children under five and almost a third of pregnant and breastfeeding women are malnourished.

In Afar region, to the east of Tigray, conflict-driven displacement is pushing hunger and malnutrition rates up. Recent health screening data shows malnutrition rates for children under five were at 28 percent, far above the standard emergency threshold of 15 percent. Intensified conflict on the Tigray-Afar border in recent days is expected to force more communities from their homes and deeper into hunger.

WFP estimates that on average, crisis-affected families in northern Ethiopia were getting less than 30 percent of their caloric needs in the past months, pushing people deeper into crisis. It’s expected that that constant humanitarian food assistance will be required at least throughout 2022.

Since March, and despite the challenges posed to operations, WFP has reached almost 4 million people across northern Ethiopia with food and nutrition assistance. The survey found that when access to Tigray improved during the summer months, humanitarian assistance from WFP and its partners kept starvation at bay for those who had been cut off from assistance prior to May.

More recently, however, no convoy has reached Tigray since mid-December. Fighting and insecurity means WFP and other humanitarian actors are struggling to reach areas areas isolated by conflict, in conditions that risk the safety of staff and the security of humanitarian supplies.

WFP’s Northern Ethiopia response urgently requires US$337 million to deliver assistance over the next six months, and will begin running out of the capacity to purchase food from February. Across the entire country, WFP has an unprecedented funding gap of US$667 million to save and change the lives of 12 million people over the next six months.

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