Atlanta, United States (CNN) — “There is famine in Ethiopia right now,” the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, warned Thursday, with a new report from the United Nations and other aid groups finding that more than 350,000 people have died. In the conflict-ravaged Tigray region of Ethiopia, they are suffering from starvation.
Large parts of the Tigray region were given “IPC 5 disaster” status, the highest integrated food security phase rating, in a report released Thursday. This reflects the largest number of people in this category in a single county in the past decade, according to UNICEF.
The International Classification of Famine defines famine as “the absolute inability to access food for an entire population or sub-population, which may cause death in the short term”.
Lowcock called for urgent funding and unhindered access to deliver aid, in a tweet after the report was released.
The report found that more than 60% of the population, more than 5.5 million people, suffer from high levels of acute food insecurity in Tigray and adjacent areas of Amhara and Afar. Of these, two million people are in an emergency situation of acute food insecurity and without urgent action, the report concluded, could quickly slip into famine.
The situation is expected to worsen in the coming months, particularly in Tigray, where more than 400,000 people are expected to face catastrophic food conditions without urgent aid and unhindered.
The report found that the main cause of the desperate food situation in Tigray was conflict. “This acute crisis is the result of the cascading effects of the conflict, including population displacement, movement restrictions, limited humanitarian access, loss of crop assets and livelihoods, and disrupted or non-existent markets,” the report states.
CNN reported last month that Eritrean forces were coordinating with Ethiopian forces to cut off vital aid routes. The CNN team saw Eritrean soldiers in Tigray, some of them disguised as old Ethiopian military uniforms and preventing aid from reaching the starving population.
UN agencies say they are particularly concerned about the risk of widespread famine in Tigray if the conflict escalates, severely hampering humanitarian aid.
On Thursday, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas Greenfield called on the UN Security Council to meet publicly on the Tigray region and demand answers from the Ethiopian government.
“We cannot leave Ethiopia to starve,” Greenfield said. “We have to act now.”
Fighting broke out between Ethiopian government forces and the region’s former ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, in November 2020. Forces from neighboring Eritrea finally joined the conflict to support the Ethiopian government.