Desperation in Ethiopia: Hundreds dead as hunger crisis escalates

Ethiopia’s national ombudsman confirmed the tragic loss of nearly 400 lives to starvation, shedding light on a silent crisis gripping the Tigray and Amhara regions.

The Ethiopian national ombudsman announced on Tuesday that nearly 400 individuals have succumbed to starvation in the Tigray and Amhara regions over the past few months. This admission, rare for a federal entity, sheds light on the gravity of hunger-related fatalities in the country.

While local officials had previously reported deaths due to starvation in their respective districts, the federal government had consistently refuted these accounts, dismissing them as entirely inaccurate. The ombudsman’s office, however, dispatched experts to conduct assessments in the Tigray and Amhara regions, currently grappling with drought and the aftermath of a debilitating civil conflict that officially concluded 14 months ago.

The findings revealed that 351 people in Tigray and 44 in Amhara had lost their lives due to hunger in the past six months. Alarming reports indicate that only a small percentage of the needy population in Tigray is receiving essential food aid, as outlined in a memo from the Tigray Food Cluster, a collaborative effort between humanitarian agencies chaired by the U.N.’s World Food Program and Ethiopian officials.

By January 21, a mere 14% of the 3.2 million people targeted for food aid in Tigray had received assistance, prompting urgent calls in the memo for an immediate scaling up of humanitarian operations. The document underscores the potential consequences of delayed action, emphasizing the risk of severe food insecurity and malnutrition, particularly among vulnerable children and women, during the lean season.

The halt in food aid to Tigray, initiated by the U.N. and the U.S. in mid-March the previous year due to widespread theft of humanitarian grain, further exacerbated the hunger crisis. Despite the resumption of aid deliveries in December after implementing reforms to prevent theft, concerns persist about the effectiveness of the new system, which includes GPS trackers on food trucks and QR codes on ration cards. Technical challenges and funding shortages are hampering the distribution process.

Anonymous aid workers disclosed to The Associated Press that the food aid pause and slow resumption have left some people in Tigray without assistance for over a year. Technical issues with the new system, combined with financial constraints, have impeded the timely delivery of aid to those in need.

Notably, across Ethiopia, approximately 20.1 million people require humanitarian food assistance due to a combination of factors, including drought, conflict, and a faltering economy. The Famine Early Warning System, funded by the U.S., has cautioned that crisis-level hunger or worse is anticipated in various regions of Ethiopia through early 2024.

In Amhara, where a rebellion erupted in August, humanitarian efforts are hindered by the ongoing conflict, complicating aid distributions. Additionally, several Ethiopian regions are grappling with the devastating effects of a multi-year drought. Malnutrition rates among children in various regions, including Afar, Amhara, and Oromia, range from 15.9% to 47%, further underscoring the urgency of addressing the dire humanitarian situation.

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