June 10 (UPI) — The United Nations ramped up their response Thursday to the famine in Ethiopia’s Tigray, calling for unfettered humanitarian access and urgent funding.
David Beasley, executive director of the U.N. World Food Programme, appealed for the expanded access and funding amid a report released Thursday finding some 350,000 people there at risk of famine, the highest numbers since the 2011 famine in Somalia, and another 4 million facing severe hunger.
Ongoing conflict since last November between government and regional forces has led to the hunger crisis through population displacements, limited humanitarian access, violence and destruction of harvest and livelihood assets, according to the report.
The WFP has joined the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the U.N. Children’s Fund, UNICEF, in calling for the urgent action to address the crisis, a U.N. statement shows.
In particular, the WFP is working to reach 2.1 million people in northwestern and southern zones of Tigray and stressing the need for $203 million in humanitarian assistance through the end of the year.
The FAO said it needs $77 million through the end of 2022, including efforts to support 375,000 people growing food, and noted that June is critical since it’s when the cereal planting season ends for the year.
UNICEF said in a statement it “requires $10.7 million to provide ready-to-use therapeutic food to children in Tigray and affected neighboring zones in Amhara and Afar regions.”
The United Nations has previously delivered emergency food assistance in the region, according to the U.N. statement, but hasn’t been able to reach rural areas due to armed groups blocking access.
“The brutal reality for our staff in Tigray is that for every family we reach with life-saving food, there are countless more especially in rural areas whom we cannot reach,” Beasley said in a WFP statement. “We have appealed for humanitarian access but are still being blocked by armed groups.”
“The ability of people in Tigray to access vital services and for WFP to reach them with food assistance is essential to avoid a catastrophe,” Beasley continued.
According to team visits of 53 villages, 50% of mothers and about a quarter of the children screened were malnourished, Beasley noted.
Beasley added three things were needed to prevent millions of people from starving to death, including “a cease-fire, unimpeded access for WFP and partners to all areas, and the money to expand our operations to meet the growing numbers of people who desperately need emergency food assistance.”