Nearly 400 people have died of starvation in Ethiopia’s Tigray and Amhara regions in recent months, the national ombudsman said Tuesday, a rare admission of hunger-related deaths by a federal body.
Local officials have previously reported starvation deaths in their districts, but Ethiopia’s federal government has insisted these reports are “completely wrong.”
Ethiopia’s ombudsman office sent experts to the regions, which are gripped by drought and still reeling from a devastating civil war that officially ended 14 months ago. They concluded that 351 people have died of hunger in Tigray in the past six months, with 44 more deaths in Amhara.
Only a small fraction of needy people in Tigray are receiving food aid, more than one month after aid agencies resumed deliveries of grain following a lengthy pause over theft.
Just 14% of the 3.2 million people targeted for food aid by humanitarian agencies in Tigray this month had received it by Jan. 21. The U.N. and the U.S. paused food aid to Tigray in mid-March last year after discovering a “large-scale” scheme to steal humanitarian grain. The suspension was rolled out to the rest of Ethiopia in June. U.S. officials believe the theft may be the biggest diversion of grain ever. Donors have blamed Ethiopian government officials and the military for the fraud.
The U.N. and the U.S. lifted the pause in December after introducing reforms to curb theft, but Tigray authorities say food is not reaching those who need it.
Around 20.1 million people across Ethiopia need humanitarian food due to drought, conflict and a tanking economy.
In Amhara, a rebellion that erupted in August is impeding humanitarians’ movements and making distributions difficult, while several regions of Ethiopia have been devastated by a multi-year drought.
Tigray, home to 5.5 million people, was the centre of a devastating two-year civil war that killed hundreds of thousands and spilled into neighboring regions. A U.N. panel accused Ethiopia’s government of using “starvation as a method of warfare” by restricting food aid to Tigray during the conflict, which ended in November 2022 with a peace deal.
But Ethiopia’s federal government denies there is a large hunger crisis. When Tigray’s leader, Getachew Reda, raised the alarm over looming mass starvation deaths last month, a federal government spokesperson dismissed the reports as “inaccurate” and accused him of “politicizing the crisis.