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33,000 children in Ethiopia's conflict-ridden Tigray risk starvation

By Edith Mutethya in Nairobi, Kenya | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2021-06-15 17:25

Ethiopian refugee children who fled Tigray region, pose for a photograph within the Um-Rakoba camp on the Sudan-Ethiopia border in Al-Qadarif state, Sudan, on December 11, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

At least 33,000 children in remote parts of Ethiopia's northern Tigray province are severely malnourished and risk death, according to the United Nations Children's Fund.

The children are among more than 2.2 million in northern Ethiopia who are acutely food insecure, including at least 140,000 in Tigray who are already facing famine-like conditions, Henrietta Fore, executive director of the UN agency, said in a statement on Monday.

Fore said 56,000 children under 5 in the conflict-ridden Tigray will require treatment this year for severe acute malnutrition, almost six times higher than the average annual caseload for the region.

Due to the ongoing conflicts that broke out in Tigray in November, it has been difficult for aid agencies to access some parts of the region, despite residents being in need of immediate humanitarian assistance.

Fore said mobile health and nutrition teams have been attacked and harassed, health facilities have been looted or damaged and essential vaccination capacity has ground to a halt.

Water infrastructure has also been destroyed, resulting in an extreme scarcity of safe drinking water.

"The situation, already a catastrophe, could deteriorate further as food insecurity is expected to worsen over the coming months – especially if crops cannot be planted," Fore said.

He called on parties to the conflict to ensure humanitarian agencies have unimpeded and safe access on the ground to stave off widespread famine and reach those in need.

"Mobile health and nutrition teams require access to 21 hard-to-reach districts to serve children, and we must be able to safely carry out the upcoming measles, polio, vitamin A and nutrition campaign across all areas of the Tigray region," Fore said.

"Parties to the conflict also have an obligation to keep children safe from harm and end attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, including healthcare and water facilities."

In a tweet on Monday, the International Committee of the Red Cross Africa said supplies in Tigray are dwindling and farmers not only lack seeds and fertilizer, but fear runs high due to the ongoing conflict.

Speaking to the organization, Endrias Kidane, a resident of Tigray, said they have been living in fear.

"Our children are suffering. Whenever we hear the sound of corrugated iron, we all run to the hills and mountains, thinking it's gunshots," Kidane said.

Haregu Teshale, another resident, said all their fertilizer had been looted, despite the fact crops don't do well without fertilizer.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it will distribute seeds and fertilizer to 16,000 families in the region.

In a letter published last week on Tuesday and dated May 17, seven global leaders called on Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed to take immediate action and end the crisis in the Tigray region.

Signed by José Ramos-Horta, the former president of Timor-Leste and the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate on behalf of the leaders, the letter urged Ahmed to facilitate the work of international humanitarian staff, including by issuing long-duration visas and expediting the process for the import and use of satellite communication technology by humanitarian organizations.

This is in addition to instructing his military and allied forces to establish a civil-military coordination cell to facilitate the work of humanitarian organizations on the ground.

The leaders also urged Ahmed to open credible and inclusive talks with political and civil society actors in Tigray to chart a consensual way forward for the region's future governance.

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