At least 1,900 children under 5 have died from malnutrition in Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region in the past year according to a study conducted by regional health officials and seen by The Associated Press news agency.
The true number of child deaths from malnutrition is likely higher as most families are unable to bring their children to health centres because of transportation challenges, said a doctor involved in the study.
“Because we cannot access most areas, we do not know what is happening on the community level,” said the doctor, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals.
“These are simply the deaths we have managed to record in health facilities,” as most hunger deaths go unrecorded, he said.
The deaths were recorded at health facilities across Tigray between June last year and April 1. Western Tigray, which is under the control of forces from the neighbouring Amhara region, was not included in the survey.
Tigray has been cut off from the rest of Ethiopia since June when rebels from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a group outlawed by Ethiopian authorities, recaptured most of the region as federal forces withdrew.
Banking services, phone lines and road links are all down in the region, a situation the United Nations has said amounts to a “de facto blockade.”
Ethiopian authorities insist there is no deliberate effort to target Tigrayan civilians. They have urged Tigrayan rebels to surrender.
More than 90 percent of Tigray’s 5.5 million people require humanitarian assistance, including 115,000 children who are severely malnourished, according to UN figures.
The children of families living in urban areas are especially at risk of malnutrition, as their parents don’t have farmland to grow food, Tigrayan health officials say.
Around 700,000 people in Tigray are in the grip of “famine-like conditions” due to the obstruction of aid, US officials estimate.
Ethiopia’s federal government unilaterally declared a humanitarian truce on March 24, an announcement it said would allow aid to flow into Tigray.
But nearly one month later, only four convoys of around 80 food trucks have entered the region. “Literally nothing has changed,” said an aid worker who recently visited Tigray.
“We are just seeing a handful of trucks; these trucks are better than nothing but they are not going to feed the millions of people who need aid (in Tigray).”