On Saturday, the UN’s humanitarian chief, Mark Lowcock, warned that famine is imminent in Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region and the country’s north, and there is a risk that hundreds of thousands of people will die.
In a statement, Lowcock said the situation has “horrible echoes” of the 1984 famine, and revealed that the area’s economy has been destroyed along with businesses, crops, and farms and that there are no banking or telecommunications services.
“We are hearing of starvation-related deaths already,” Lowcock said.
“People need to wake up. The international community needs to really step up, including through the provision of money.”
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 Ethiopia’s government exploded into war last November.
Eritrea, a longtime Tigray enemy, teamed up with neighboring Ethiopia in the conflict.
In late May, Lowcock painted a grim picture of Tigray since the war began, with an estimated 2 million people displaced, civilians killed and injured, rapes and other forms of “abhorrent sexual violence” widespread and systematic, and public and private infrastructure essential for civilians destroyed, including hospitals and agricultural land.
“There are now hundreds of thousands of people in northern Ethiopia in famine conditions,” Lowcock said. “That’s the worse famine problem the world has seen for a decade since a quarter of a million Somalis lost their lives in the famine there in 2011. This now has horrible echoes of the colossal tragedy in Ethiopia in 1984.”
In the disastrous famine of 1984-85, about 2 million Africans died of starvation or famine-related ailments, about half of them in Ethiopia.