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"Millions in Ethiopia's Tigray Region Urgently Need Food Despite Aid Resumption"
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According to an aid memo obtained by The Associated Press, only a small fraction of the needy population in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region is receiving food aid, more than a month after aid agencies resumed deliveries of grain following a lengthy pause due to theft.

The memo, issued by the Tigray Food Cluster, a group of aid agencies co-chaired by the U.N.’s World Food Program and Ethiopian officials, reveals that as of January 21, only 14% of the 3.2 million people targeted for food aid in the region had received it this month. The memo urges humanitarian groups to “immediately scale up” their operations, warning that failure to do so could result in severe food insecurity and malnutrition during the lean season, potentially leading to the loss of vulnerable children and women.

The U.N. and the U.S. suspended food aid to Tigray in mid-March last year after discovering a large-scale scheme to steal humanitarian grain, which was later extended to the rest of Ethiopia. While reforms were introduced to prevent theft, Tigray authorities claim that food is still not reaching those in need.

Despite efforts to improve the distribution system, including the use of GPS trackers on food trucks and QR-coded ration cards, technical issues have caused delays. Aid agencies are also facing challenges due to a lack of funds.

The aid workers, who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity, revealed that some people in Tigray have not received food aid for over a year due to the pause and slow resumption. This has exacerbated hunger levels, with around 20.1 million people across Ethiopia now in need of humanitarian food assistance due to drought, conflict, and economic challenges.

The Famine Early Warning System, funded by the U.S., has warned of crisis-level hunger or worse in several regions of Ethiopia throughout at least early 2024. The situation is compounded by a rebellion in the neighboring Amhara region, which is impeding humanitarian efforts, and the devastating effects of a multi-year drought in several regions.

Malnutrition rates among children in parts of Ethiopia’s Afar, Amhara, and Oromia regions are alarmingly high, ranging from 15.9% to 47%. In Tigray, the rate among displaced children is 26.5%. The ongoing crisis in Tigray, which was the epicenter of a two-year civil war, has been exacerbated by persistent insecurity, leading to a significant reduction in farmland planting and crop production.

Despite warnings of an unfolding famine, Ethiopia’s federal government denies the existence of a large-scale hunger crisis, dismissing reports as “inaccurate” and accusing those raising the alarm of “politicizing the crisis.”

Piers Potter

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