UN official: Key committee says 350,000 in famine in Tigray

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Displaced Tigrayans queue to receive food donated by local residents at a reception center for the internally displaced in Mekele, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia Sunday, May 9, 2021. A high-level U.N.-led committee that focuses on rapid responses to humanitarian crises estimates that some 350,000 people in Ethiopia's embattled Tigray region are facing famine conditions, a U.N. official said late Wednesday, June 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

CAMEROON – A high-level U.N.-led committee that focuses on rapid responses to humanitarian crises estimates that some 350,000 people in Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region are facing famine conditions, a U.N. official said late Wednesday.

The estimate was presented at a meeting on Monday of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, comprising 18 U.N. and non-U.N. organizations that is chaired by U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also attended, the official said.

A note from the meeting said millions of other people in Tigray urgently need food to avoid famine, said the official, who has not authorized to speak publicly.

Last Friday, Lowcock warned that famine is imminent in Tigray and in the country’s north, saying there is a risk that hundreds of thousands of people or more will die.

No one knows how many thousands of civilians or combatants have been killed since months of political tensions between Ethiopian President Abiy Ahmed’s government and the Tigray leaders who once dominated it exploded into war last November. Eritrea, a longtime Tigray enemy, teamed up with neighboring Ethiopia in the conflict.

The U.N. has criticized the lack of access to all areas of Tigray for humanitarian workers seeking to deliver aid.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Wednesday that U.N. staff on the ground report the continuing blocked movements of aid, and interrogation, assault and detention of humanitarian workers at military checkpoints. There has also been looting and confiscation of “humanitarian assets and supplies” by parties to the conflict, he said.

Some areas of Tigray remain inaccessible, Dujarric said, and in accessible areas “the situation is dire, including dysfunctional water systems and limited or no health facilities.”