by Robbie COREY-BOULET
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AFP) — The number of young children admitted to hospital suffering from severe malnutrition in Ethiopia’s war-hit Tigray region has doubled this year over 2020, the UN said Thursday, as escalating fighting thr, eatens to further hamper the aid response.
“Some 18,600 children under the age of five in Tigray have been admitted for treatment for Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) from February to August this year compared to 8,900 in 2020, a 100 per cent increase, according to UNICEF,” the UN’s humanitarian coordination office said in its weekly situation report for the 11-month-old conflict in northern Ethiopia.
Malnutrition among pregnant and lactating women also “continues to be very high at about 63 per cent”, the report said, while noting that only 897 aid trucks have reached the region of roughly 6 million people since mid-July — about 14 percent of the estimated need.
Tigray erupted in conflict last November after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops to topple the region’s former ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
The 2019 Nobel Peace laureate said the move came in response to TPLF attacks on army camps and promised a swift victory.
But by late June the TPLF had regrouped and retaken most of the region including the regional capital Mekele.
Since then the region has been under a de facto humanitarian blockade, according to the UN, which estimates that hundreds of thousands face famine-like conditions.
The US has largely blamed Ethiopian government policies for the blockade, while the government has blamed TPLF incursions into neighbouring regions of Amhara and Afar.
In addition to food, the region is desperately short of medicines and medical equipment, something the UN has noted in several recent reports.
Thursday’s edition said nine trucks carrying medicines remained stuck awaiting government approval in Afar, currently home to the only functioning land route into Tigray.
Polio vaccines are needed for 887,000 children and measles vaccines are needed for 790,000 children, the report said, adding that failure to administer the shots “will result in an outbreak”.
Fighting ramps up
The dire warnings over the humanitarian situation came one week after humanitarian and rebel sources first cited signs of a fresh government offensive against the TPLF, including air and ground strikes.
On Wednesday humanitarian and rebel sources said fighting had resumed in Afar after a month-long lull.
TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda said its military objective was to “push back the offensive and go as far as it takes to break the siege on the people of Tigray.”
Government officials have not confirmed the offensive.
However on Thursday the military issued a statement accusing the TPLF of launching an offensive of its own in Amhara region, just south of Tigray.
“Apart from reversing the offensive launched by TPLF, the military will incapacitate the TPLF,” the statement said, claiming to have already inflicted “heavy losses” against the rebels.
Much of northern Ethiopia is under a communications blackout and access for journalists is restricted, making battlefield claims difficult to independently verify.
The UN said Thursday that reinforcements “by parties to the conflict” had been reported and that “areas along the border between Tigray and Amhara and Afar have seen clashes during the past week.”
© Agence France-Presse