At least 33,000 children in parts of Tigray, Ethiopia, at imminent risk of death as conflict increases famine threat

Statement by UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore

14 June 2021

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NEW YORK, 14 June 2021 – “At least 33,000 children in inaccessible parts of Tigray, Ethiopia, are severely malnourished and face imminent death without immediate help.

“These children are among more than 2.2 million in northern Ethiopia who are acutely food insecure, including at least 140,000 in Tigray who are already facing famine-like conditions (IPC level 5). In the last month alone, we have seen a four-fold increase in weekly admissions of children for treatment of severe acute malnutrition. UNICEF projects that 56,000 children under five in Tigray will need treatment this year for severe acute malnutrition – almost six times higher than the average annual caseload for the region.

“The rates of malnutrition among pregnant and breastfeeding women are consistently above 40 per cent, threatening the lives of newborn babies and their mothers.

“Making matters worse, the malnutrition crisis in the region has coincided with extensive damage to essential systems and services on which children depend for their survival. Mobile health and nutrition teams have been attacked and harassed. Health facilities have been looted or damaged and essential vaccination capacity has ground to a halt. Many health workers have not returned to work. Destruction of water infrastructure has caused an extreme scarcity of safe drinking water.

“These developments could lead to outbreaks of disease, putting malnourished children at even greater risk of death. Sites hosting displaced children and families are especially vulnerable to disease transmission because of overcrowded and unsanitary conditions.

“The situation, while already a catastrophe, could deteriorate further as food insecurity is expected to worsen over the coming months – especially if crops cannot be planted.

“UNICEF is making every effort to prevent this from happening. Our aim is to reach every child across the region with critical health, nutrition, water, sanitation, education, and protection services. This includes working with our partners so that all severely malnourished children get lifesaving treatment before it is too late.

“But we urgently need strengthened funding support from donors as we expand our critical programmes for children over the coming months to reach all those in need.

“It is also imperative that parties to the conflict ensure that humanitarian actors, including UNICEF, have unimpeded and safe access on the ground to stave off widespread famine and to reach those in need. Mobile health and nutrition teams require access to the 21 hard-to-reach districts to serve children, and we must be able to safely carry out the upcoming measles, polio, vitamin A and nutrition campaign across all areas of the Tigray region.

“In addition, parties to the conflict have an obligation to keep children safe from harm and to end attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, including health care and water facilities. 

“More than anything, the region’s children and their families need an immediate cessation of hostilities so that they can safely obtain lifesaving services and begin to rebuild their lives.”

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