Almost 40 percent of people in Ethiopia's war-torn Tigray province are severely hungry while a record 9 million plus in the country's north need emergency food aid, the UN World Food Programme warned on Friday, calling for US$337 to fund its operations in the region over the next six months.
A disturbing 83 percent of people are food insecure - or don't know where their next meal is coming from - according a new WFP report. Families are exhausting all means to feed themselves, with three quarters of the population using 'extreme coping strategies' to survive, according to the report.
Households rely almost exclusively on cereals while limiting portion sizes and the number of meals they eat each day to make whatever food is available stretch further.
Thirteen percent of Tigrayan children under 5 and half of all pregnant and breastfeeding women are malnourished, leading to poor pregnancy outcomes, low-birth weight, stunting and maternal death.
No UN food convoy has reached Tigray since mid-December, but the WFP says 100 lorries a day are needed to prevent starvation.
“This bleak assessment reconfirms that what the people of northern Ethiopia need is scaled up humanitarian assistance, and they need it now,” said Michael Dunford, WFP’s Regional Director for Eastern Africa.
“WFP is doing all it can to ensure our convoys with food and medicines make it through the front lines," he said.
If hostilities continue in the 15-month-old conflict between the Ethiopian military and regional fighters, the warring sides must agree to a humanitarian truce and allow transport corridors to get food to those suffering hunger, Dunford stressed.
Intensified fighting on the border between Tigray and the neighbouring Afar region in recent days is expected to force more communities from their homes and deeper into hunger, according to WFP.
WFP estimates that families caught up in the conflict in northern Ethiopia have been getting less than 30 percent of their energy requirements in recent months and expects that the region will need constant humanitarian food throughout this year, if not beyond.
Since March, and despite the challenges posed to operations, WFP has reached almost 4 million people across northern Ethiopia with food and nutrition assistance.
The UN agency said it needs US$667 million - an unprecedented funding gap - to save and change the lives of 12 million people across Ethiopia in the next six months.