ADDIS ABABA (AFP) - Nearly half of the population in Ethiopia's war-torn region of Tigray is suffering from a severe lack of food, with conditions "set to worsen as people enter peak hunger season", the UN's World Food Programme warned on Friday (Aug 19).
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government has been locked in a conflict with the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) rebel group since November 2020, leaving Ethiopia's northernmost region in the grip of a serious humanitarian crisis.
In its latest assessment covering November 2021-June 2022, the WFP said that 89 per cent of Tigray's six million population was food-insecure or lacking consistent access to food.
Around 47 per cent "of the surveyed households are classified as... severely food insecure", the report said, compared to nearly 40 per cent of the population according to a WFP assessment published in January this year.
"Hunger has deepened, rates of malnutrition have skyrocketed, and the situation is set to worsen as people enter peak hunger season until this year's harvest in October," according to the WFP.
The dire assessment comes despite a humanitarian truce in March allowing the resumption of desperately needed international aid convoys to the stricken region's capital Mekele, with fuel shortages making it difficult to distribute supplies.
"Although humanitarian partners have increased supplies to Tigray... with 6,105 trucks having arrived in Mekelle as of July 26, 2022, this is yet to translate into increased humanitarian assistance, as other challenges remain, such as limited access to fuel," the report said.
Malnutrition among children aged between six to 50 months has soared to alarming levels, with six per cent of screened children diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition.
"Out of the surveyed children, 65 per cent had not received nutritional support for over a year," the report said.
Since the conflict broke out 21 months ago, Tigray has had limited access to food and basic services such as electricity, communications and banking.
Mr Abiy sent troops to topple the TPLF, the region's former ruling party, saying the move came in response to rebel attacks on army camps.
The rebels mounted a comeback, recapturing Tigray and expanding into Afar and Amhara, before the war reached a stalemate.
On Wednesday, Mr Abiy's government called for a formal ceasefire agreement to be reached as soon as possible to enable the resumption of basic services to Tigray.
But the TPLF insists that basic services would have to be restored to the region before dialogue can begin, with both sides blaming each other for the impasse.