About 350,000 people in Ethiopia’s conflict-torn Tigray region are starving, according to an analysis by UN agencies and aid groups, according to an internal UN document seen by Reuters on Wednesday.
The Ethiopian government disputes the IPC analysis (Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC)), according to notes from a meeting on the situation in Tigray of the Interinstitutional Standing Committee (IASC) – consisting of the heads of at least 18 UN and non-UN organizations.
“On the risk of famine, it was noted that the unpublished IPC analysis figures were questioned by the Ethiopian government, especially the estimated 350,000 people throughout Tigray who are believed to be in IPC 5 starvation conditions,” the document said on June 7.
The analysis, which diplomats said could be released publicly on Thursday, found that millions more across Tigray demanded “urgent food and support for agriculture / livelihoods to ward off further slips against famine.”
Fighting broke out in Tigray in November between government forces and the region’s former ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
Troops from the neighboring Eritrea have also joined the conflict in support of the Ethiopian government.
The violence has killed thousands of civilians and forced more than 2 million from their homes in the mountainous region.
The committee, chaired by UN Secretary-General Mark Lowcock, includes the UN Children’s Agency UNICEF, the World Food Program, the High Commissioner for Refugees, the World Health Organization and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Mituku Kassa, head of Ethiopia’s National Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Committee, said on Thursday that a declaration of starvation would be incorrect. He accused the TPLF of attacking aid convoys.
“We have no food shortage,” he told a news conference.
More than 90% of the population has received help from five operators, he said. “TPLF residual forces … attack the staff, they attack the trucks with food.”
Reuters could not reach the TPLF for comment and Mituku did not provide details about the alleged attacks.
The Ethiopian government’s emergency group for Tigray, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office and the Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A senior Ethiopian diplomat in New York questioned anonymity, questioned the survey methods and accused the IPC of lack of transparency and insufficient consultation.
Famine has been declared twice in the last decade – in Somalia in 2011 and in South Sudan in 2017. UN agencies, aid groups, governments and other relevant parties use the IPC to work together to determine the severity of food insecurity.
The UN said on Wednesday that it had reported incidents of denial of relocation of aid and interrogation, assault and detention of humanitarian workers at military checkpoints, along with looting and confiscation of humanitarian assets and supplies by the parties to the conflict.
“Food insecurity and malnutrition levels are at an alarming level,” said UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric.
There had been reports of famine among displaced people, while there was a great need for food in northwestern Tigray after burning or plundering crops. He did not assign the blame.
Another UN spokesman declined to comment specifically on the internal IASC notes.