The UN World Food Programme said it expected to run out of food in the war-torn Ethiopian region of Tigray on Friday, and that hundreds of thousands of people in the area were on the brink of famine.
The agency confirmed that no food trucks have been allowed into the region for two weeks.
They told CNN in a statement that 100 trucks need to arrive every day in order to address the “vast humanitarian needs in the region,” and that the shortfall has left “400,000 people on the verge of famine.”
The situation comes a week after forces from Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region mounted attacks in the neighboring Afar region, a move which marked an expansion of an eight-month-old conflict into a previously untouched area.
David Beasley, the WFP’s executive director, initially warned earlier this week that 170 trucks filled with food and resources for Tigray had been stuck in Afar and barred from leaving. “These trucks must be allowed to move NOW. People are starving,” he tweeted Tuesday.
Last week, the deputy spokesperson for the UN Secretary General said the roads between Afar and Tigray via Semera city “remain blocked due to security reasons,” preventing humanitarian personnel, food stocks, fuel and other humanitarian goods from entering.
Thousands of people have died in the Tigray conflict so far, with about 2 million people being forced to flee their homes and more than 5 million relying on emergency food aid.
And the situation is worsening as fighting continues. UNICEF estimated on Friday that more than 100,000 children in Tigray could suffer from life-threatening severe acute malnutrition in the next year, a tenfold increase compared to the average annual figure.
“Our worst fears about the health and wellbeing of children in that conflicted region of northern Ethiopia are being confirmed,” UNICEF spokesperson Marixie Mercado said, adding that the aid organization made the calculations after reaching areas of Tigray that were previously inaccessible due to insecurity.
“This malnutrition crisis is taking place amid extensive, systematic damage to the food, health, nutrition, water and sanitation systems and services that children and their families depend on for their survival,” Mercado said. “Reversing the nutrition, health, water and food security catastrophe requires a massive scale-up of humanitarian assistance.”
A communications blackout in the region has made it difficult to determine the situation in Tigray and its capital Mekelle in recent months. But CNN reported earlier this month that food shortages in Mekelle were rife, and most homes had no access to running water.
The Tigray conflict has raged since November when fighting erupted between the region’s ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Ethiopian military. CNN has previously reported how Eritrean troops have killed, raped and blocked humanitarian aid to starving populations, more than a month after the country’s Nobel Peace Prize winning leader pledged to the international community that they would leave.