Fighting reignited as UN warns more than 400,000 people have now ‘crossed the threshold into famine’ and another 1.8m are ‘on the brink’
More than 400,000 people have now “crossed the threshold into famine” in Ethiopia’s war-torn Tigray region, a senior UN official has warned.
Fighting between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has been reignited after the rebels launched a major counter-offensive that saw them retake their regional capital of Mekele.
This week Ethiopian forces destroyed two key bridges allowing desperately-needed aid into the region, prompting charges Addis Ababa was seeking to choke off humanitarian assistance.
The war in Ethiopia was upended on Monday as Tigrayan troops retook the capital. Residents danced and fireworks were set off in the streets of Mekelle as the Tigrayan Defence Force (TDF), which fled the mountains when the city was invaded seven months ago, returned in triumph.
Thousands of captive Ethiopian soldiers have now arrived at the Mekelle Rehabilitation Center after four days of walking. According to the TDF, more than 7,000 captive Ethiopian soldiers have walked from Abdi Eshir, about 75 km southwest of Mekele.
Ramesh Rajasingham, the acting under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, told a meeting of the UN Security Council on Friday that the situation had “worsened dramatically” as the conflict had reignited in recent weeks.
“More than 400,000 people are estimated to have crossed the threshold into famine and another 1.8 million people are on the brink of famine,” he said. “Some are suggesting that the numbers are even higher. 33,000 children are severely malnourished.”
“The lives of many of these people (in Tigray) depend on our ability to reach them with food, medicine, nutrition supplies and other humanitarian assistance,” he added. “We need to reach them now. Not next week. Now.”
Ethiopia has rejected charges that it planned to choke off aid to the region.
“The insinuation that we are planning to suffocate the Tigrayan people by denying humanitarian access and using hunger as a weapon of war is beyond the pale,” its deputy prime minister Demeke Mekonnen told diplomats.
Officials are “using every ounce of our strength to extricate” civilians “from the dire situation they find themselves in”, he added.