“A catastrophic food security situation for which people have already began to die”, says the UN World Food Programme (WFP) on the current situation in Tigray
UN aid agencies are urgently calling for unfettered access to the population in Tigray that is suffering from a dramatic acute food insecurity in northern Ethiopia with the World Health Organisation (WHO) describing it as “public health emergency”.
“We find ourselves in an absolute crisis in Tigray with the situation there, a catastrophic food security situation for which people have already began to die”, said Tommy Thompson, Emergency Coordinator for the World Food Programme (WFP) at a news briefing today at the United Nations in Geneva.
UNICEF, WFP and WHO are extremely concerned about the situation in Tigray region where the risk of famine is imminent, unless food, livelihood assistance and other life-saving intervention continue to be scaled, unimpeded access is guaranteed, and hostilities cease.
“This is a crisis of certainly food security, but it’s really a crisis of access, protection issues which is preventing us from doing the work which is required”, said WFP’s Emergency Coordinator. “It’s an incredibly dangerous environment for us all to be working in”.
WFP’s Tommy Thompson added that “there have been 8 humanitarians who have been killed thus far. Every day we have, our teams and this is WFP, NGO’s, partners, everybody who is trying to operate in the north find themselves challenged. The checkpoints are increasingly hostile. In some of these checkpoints we have our beneficiaries having the things that are given to them looted.”
WFP aims to reach 2,6 million people in the next weeks provided that access has been granted on the ground.
According to the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis released yesterday, over 350,000 people are already facing catastrophic conditions in Tigray region.
“We are seeing more and more young children and babies slide dangerously close to sickness and potential death from malnutrition”, reported UNICEF spokesperson James Elder. He added that “UNICEF is working with our partners to provide nutrition, health care and clean water support. However, without humanitarian access to scale up our response, an estimated 33,000 plus severely malnourished children in those highly inaccessible areas are at high risk of death”.
While the number of people already facing catastrophic conditions does not trigger a formal famine declaration – which is 20 % of a surveyed population - UNICEF’s James Elder made clear:” Let’s not play with terminology at this point. People are dying, these people are coping with famine-like conditions, these people are beginning to starve”.
The severity of acute food insecurity is expected to increase through September as people weren’t able to plant in June which is a critical month for the cereal planting season for the entire year.
UNICEF projects that out of the estimated 56,000 children in Tigray who will need treatment for severe wasting in 2021, 33,000 are expected to be missed unless access is guaranteed. This can lead to extremely high levels of children under five in a context where more than 70 per cent of the health system is no longer providing services.
“We rang alarm bells and here we are now”, said UNICEF’s spokesperson. “We now have the largest number of people classified as food insecure in a decade since Somalia and as I say that really real risk of death for tens of thousands of children”.
But the crisis is not only one of food insecurity but also of clean water, sanitation, and health care – especially for disease prevention and treatment.
“The key message is: Access, access, access. We have teams up and ready, we have mobile clinics that are running in conjunction with the partners that could provide nutrition, health care, all the services”, said Margarete Harris, WHO’s spokesperson. “Only 40 have been able to be operational, two thirds of what we have got. Our teams have been turned away by warring parties”.
As part of the ongoing efforts, the WHO has now launched a cholera vaccination campaign among children under 5 years.
According to WHO’s Margaret Harris, “the situation is a public health crisis. Severe acute malnutrition as it has been very clearly documented is a public health emergency. Malnourished children are more likely to contract any of the infectious diseases and die of it such as pneumonia, diarrhea, malaria, and measles”.
The conflict which began last November between central Government forces and regional forces of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, is the key cause of acute food security in Tigray, according to the IPC report. Fighting has sparked massive displacement and widespread destruction of livelihoods.