Tigray forces killed 120 civilians in village in Amhara – Ethiopia officials

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) -Rebellious forces from the Tigray region killed 120 civilians over two days in a village in Ethiopia’s Amhara region, local officials told Reuters on Wednesday.

The killings in a village 10 km (six miles) from the town of Dabat took place on Sept. 1 and 2, said Sewnet Wubalem, the local administrator in Dabat, and Chalachew Dagnew, spokesperson of the nearby city of Gondar.

A spokesperson for Tigrayan forces did not immediately respond to a request for comment on what is the first report of Tigrayan forces killing a large number of civilians since seizing territory in Amhara. Tens of thousands of people have fled their homes in the region as Tigrayan forces have advanced.

“So far we have recovered 120 bodies. They were all innocent farmers. But we think the number might be higher. There are people who are missing,” Sewnet, the local administrator, told Reuters by phone.

Chalachew, the Gondar city spokesperson, said he had visited the burial area in the village and that children, women and elderly were among the dead.

He said the killings were during the Tigrayan forces’ “short presence” in the area, and it was now under the control of the Ethiopian federal army.

Reuters was unable to independently verify the accounts.

Getachew Reda, spokesperson for the Tigrayan forces, has previously denied to Reuters that the forces have committed crimes against civilians while seizing territory in Amhara over the past month.

HUMANITARIAN CRISIS

War broke out 10 months ago between Ethiopia’s federal troops and forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which controls the Tigray region.

Since then, thousands have been killed and more than 2 million have fled their homes. Fighting spread in July from the Tigray region into the neighboring regions of Amhara and Afar, also in the country’s north.

Amid the conflict, relations between the ethnic Amharas and Tigrayans have deteriorated sharply.

During the war, regional forces and militiamen from the Amhara region have sought to settle a decades-old land dispute between the Amhara and Tigray regions.

Amhara forces have seized control of western parts of Tigray and driven tens of thousands of Tigrayans from their homes. Though the Tigrayan forces have seized back most of the Tigray region, they have not taken back the heavily militarized and contested area of western Tigray.

The U.S. government’s humanitarian agency said last week Tigrayan forces had in recent weeks looted its warehouses in parts of Amhara.

Responding on Twitter to the agency’s statement on looting, Getachew Reda, the Tigrayan forces’ spokesperson, wrote: “While we cannot vouch for every unacceptable behavior of off-grid fighters in such matters, we have evidence that such looting is mainly orchestrated by local individuals & groups.”

The U.N. has said a de facto aid blockade on the Tigray region, where some 400,000 people are already in famine conditions, has worsened an already dire humanitarian crisis.

The Ethiopian government has repeatedly denied allegations by the U.N. and Western governments that it is deliberately impeding the delivery of lifesaving assistance. On Sunday, a U.N. convoy of trucks bearing food and other aid was permitted to enter Tigray for the first time since Aug. 20.

(Reporting by Addis Ababa newsroom, Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Jon Boyle and Timothy Heritage)

U.S. agency says Tigrayan forces looted aid warehouses in Ethiopia’s Amhara region

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Forces from Ethiopia’s Tigray region in recent weeks looted warehouses belonging to the U.S. government’s humanitarian agency in the Amhara region, USAID’s Ethiopia director said on Tuesday.

War broke out in the mountainous region last November between Ethiopian troops and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which controls the region. The conflict has killed thousands and caused a humanitarian crisis.

After retaking control of most of Tigray in late June and early July, Tigrayan forces pushed into the neighboring Afar and Amhara regions, displacing several hundred thousand more people from their homes.

“We do have proof that several of our warehouses have been looted and completely emptied in the areas, particularly in Amhara, where TPLF soldiers have gone into,” the director Sean Jones told state broadcaster EBC in a televised interview.

“I do believe that the TPLF has been very opportunistic,” he added.

Representatives for the TPLF and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Up to 900,000 people in Tigray are already in famine conditions, while five million others are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance, USAID estimates.

For the first time in nine months of war, aid workers will run out of food this week to deliver to millions of people who are going hungry, the head of USAID said last week, blaming the government for restricting access.

The Tigrayan forces and the federal government have repeatedly traded accusations of hampering the flow of aid.

(Reporting by Nairobi newsroom; Writing by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Maggie Fick and Grant McCool)

U.S. aid chief says emergency food in Ethiopia’s Tigray to run out this week

By Maggie Fick

NAIROBI (Reuters) -For the first time in nine months of war in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, aid workers will run out of food this week to deliver to millions of people who are going hungry, the head of the U.S. government’s humanitarian agency said, blaming the government for restricting access.

“USAID and its partners as well as other humanitarian organizations have depleted their stores of food items warehoused in Tigray,” Samantha Power, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), said in a statement late on Thursday.

“People in Tigray are starving with up to 900,000 in famine conditions and more than five million in desperate need of humanitarian assistance,” Power said. “This shortage is not because food is unavailable, but because the Ethiopian Government is obstructing humanitarian aid and personnel, including land convoys and air access.”

War broke out in November between Ethiopian troops and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which controls the region. The conflict has killed thousands and sparked a humanitarian crisis in one of the world’s poorest regions.

Billene Seyoum, spokesperson for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, did not respond to a request for comment. At a news conference on Friday, she did not refer to Power’s statement but dismissed allegations that the Ethiopian government is “purposely blocking humanitarian assistance”, saying the government is concerned about security.

“It is important to really address this continuing rhetoric because that is not the case,” Billene said. “Security is first and foremost a priority that cannot be compromised, it is a volatile area so in that regards there is going to be continuous checks and processes.”

On Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an immediate ceasefire and unrestricted aid access in Tigray. The U.N. warned last month that more than 100,000 children in Tigray could die of hunger.

Power’s statement said that 100 trucks carrying food and life-saving supplies need to be arriving each day in Tigray to meet the humanitarian needs there. As of a few days ago, only about 320 trucks had arrived, less than 7% of what is required, it said.

The Ethiopian government declared a unilateral ceasefire in June after Tigrayan forces re-captured the regional capital Mekelle and retook most of the region. The Tigrayan forces dismissed this as a “joke” and issued preconditions for truce talks.

(Reporting by Maggie Fick; Additional reporting by Ayenat Mersie and Giulia Paravicini; Editing by John Stonestreet and Frances Kerry)

U.N. agency says 41 million on verge of famine

By Maytaal Angel

LONDON (Reuters) – Some 41 million people worldwide are at at imminent risk of famine, the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) warned on Tuesday, saying soaring prices for basic foods were compounding existing pressures on food security.

Another half a million are already experiencing famine-like conditions, said the WFP’s Executive Director David Beasley.

“We now have four countries where famine-like conditions are present. Meanwhile 41 million people are literally knocking on famine’s door,” he said.

The WFP, which is funded entirely by voluntary donations, said it needs to raise $6 billion immediately to reach those at risk, in 43 countries.

“We need funding and we need it now,” said Beasley.

After declining for several decades, world hunger has been on the rise since 2016, driven by conflict and climate change.

In 2019, 27 million people were on the brink of famine, according to the WFP, but since 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic has been added to the mix.

World food prices rose in May to their highest levels in a decade, U.N. figures show, with basics like cereals, oilseeds, dairy products, meat and sugar up a combined 40% versus year ago levels.

Currency depreciation in countries like Lebanon, Nigeria, Sudan, Venezuela and Zimbabwe is adding to these pressures and driving prices even higher, stoking food insecurity.

Famine-like conditions are present this year in Ethiopia, Madagascar, South Sudan and Yemen, as well as in pockets of Nigeria and Burkina Faso.

But Beasley warned against “debating numbers to death” as happened in Somalia in 2011 when 130,000 people – half the eventual toll from starvation – had already died by the time famine was declared.

The WFP, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year, says around 9 percent of the world’s population, equivalent to nearly 690 million people, go to bed hungry each night.

(Reporting by Maytaal Angel; editing by John Stonestreet)

About 350,000 people in Ethiopia’s Tigray in famine – U.N. analysis

By Giulia Paravicini and Michelle Nichols

ADDIS ABABA/NEW YORK (Reuters) -More than 350,000 people in Ethiopia’s Tigray are suffering famine conditions with millions more at risk, according to an analysis by United Nations agencies and aid groups that blamed conflict for the worst catastrophic food crisis in a decade.

“There is famine now in Tigray,” U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock said on Thursday after the release of the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis, which the IPC noted has not been endorsed by the Ethiopian government.

“The number of people in famine conditions … is higher than anywhere in the world, at any moment since a quarter million Somalis lost their lives in 2011,” Lowcock said.

Most of the 5.5 million people in Tigray need food aid. Fighting broke out in the region in November between government troops and the region’s former ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Troops from neighboring Eritrea also entered the conflict to support the Ethiopian government.

The violence has killed thousands of civilians and forced more than 2 million from their homes in the mountainous region.

The most extreme warning by the IPC – a scale used by U.N. agencies, regional bodies and aid groups to determine food insecurity – is phase 5, which starts with a catastrophe warning and rises to a declaration of famine in a region.

The IPC said more than 350,000 people in Tigray are in phase 5 catastrophe. This means households are experiencing famine conditions, but less than 20% of the population is affected and deaths and malnutrition have not reached famine thresholds.

“This severe crisis results from the cascading effects of conflict, including population displacements, movement restrictions, limited humanitarian access, loss of harvest and livelihood assets, and dysfunctional or non-existent markets,” the IPC analysis found.

For famine to be declared at least 20% of the population must be suffering extreme food shortages, with one in three children acutely malnourished and two people out of every 10,000 dying daily from starvation or from malnutrition and disease.

‘NIGHTMARE’

Famine has been declared twice in the past decade: in Somalia in 2011 and in parts of South Sudan in 2017.

“If the conflict further escalates or, for any other reason, humanitarian assistance is hampered, most areas of Tigray will be at risk of famine,” according to the IPC, which added that even if aid deliveries are stepped up, the situation is expected to worsen through September.

The Ethiopian government disputed the IPC analysis, saying food shortages are not severe and aid is being delivered.

Ethiopian Foreign Ministry spokesman Dina Mufti told a news conference on Thursday that the government was providing food aid and help to farmers in Tigray.

“They (diplomats) are comparing it with the 1984, 1985 famine in Ethiopia,” he said. “That is not going to happen.”

But U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said a humanitarian nightmare was unfolding.

“This is not the kind of disaster that can be reversed,” she told a U.S. and European Union event on Tigray on Thursday. Referring to a previous famine in Ethiopia that killed more than 1 million people, she said: “We cannot make the same mistake twice. We cannot let Ethiopia starve. We have to act now.”

World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley said that to stop hunger from killing millions of people in Tigray there needed to be a ceasefire, unimpeded aid access and more money to expand aid operations.

According to notes of a meeting of U.N. agencies on Monday, seen by Reuters, the IPC analysis could be worse as “they did not include those in Amhara-controlled areas” in western Tigray.

Mitiku Kassa, head of Ethiopia’s National Disaster Risk Management Commission, said on Wednesday: “We don’t have any food shortage.”

(Additional reporting by Dawit Endeshaw; Writing by Michelle Nichols and Katharine Houreld; Editing by Mary Milliken, Peter Cooney, Angus MacSwan and Jonathan Oatis)

Famine looms in southern Madagascar, U.N.’s food agency says

Salem Abdullah Musabih, 6, lies on a bed at a malnutrition intensive care unit at a hospital in the Red Sea port city of Hodaida, Yemen

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – Famine threatens southern Madagascar after drought and sandstorms ruined harvests, reducing people to eating locusts and leaves, the United Nations’ World Food Program (WFP) said on Friday.

The lives of children are in danger, especially those under five years old whose malnutrition rates have reached “alarming levels”, Amer Daoudi, senior director of global WFP operations, said by video link from Madagascar’s capital Antananarivo.

At least 1.35 million people are in need of food assistance in the region, but the WFP is only reaching 750,000 with “half-rations” due to financial constraints, he said.

“Famine looms in southern Madagascar as communities witness an almost total disappearance of food sources which has created a full-blown nutrition emergency,” Daoudi told a U.N. briefing in Geneva.

He said he had visited villages where “people have had to resort to desperate survival measures, such as eating locusts, raw red cactus fruits or wild leaves”.

The harvest was expected to be nearly 40% below the 5-year average, he added.

Malnutrition among children under 5 has almost doubled to 16% from 9% in the four months to March 2021 following five consecutive years of drought, exacerbated this year by sandstorms and late rains, he said.

A rate of 15% is deemed emergency level and some districts are reporting 27%, or one in four children under five, are suffering from acute malnutrition that causes wasting, he said.

“I witnessed…horrific images of starving children, malnourished, and not only the children – mothers, parents and the population in villages we visited,” Daoudi said.

“They are on the periphery of famine, these are images I haven’t seen for quite some time across the globe,” said the veteran aid worker.

WFP is seeking $75 million to cover emergency needs through September, he added.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by William Maclean and Mark Heinrich)

Yemenis reel from poverty, hunger as U.N. pleads for funds and war’s end

SANAA (Reuters) – Unable to find work, Ahmed Farea has sold everything including his wife’s gold to feed and house two young daughters in one small room.

Elsewhere in Yemen’s capital Sanaa, widow Mona Muhammad has work but struggles to buy anything more nutritious than rice for her four children amid high prices.

And in a nearby hospital, severely malnourished children receive lifesaving nutritional drinks.

Across the country Yemenis are exhausting their coping mechanisms, and children are starving, amid the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.

On Monday the United Nations hopes to raise $3.85 billion at a virtual pledging event to avert what the U.N. aid chief has said would be a large-scale “man-made” famine, the worst the world will have seen for decades.

“I want the war to stop so we can go back to how we were … We could buy what we wanted and could feed our children,” said Muhammad.

Yemen was a poor country with a child malnutrition problem even before the six-year war disrupted imports, inflated the currency, displaced people, collapsed government services and destroyed incomes. Then COVID-19 hammered remittances from abroad that many families relied on.

‘UNIMAGINABLY CRUEL’

“Since the war and the blockade started, and work stopped, I can’t buy anything anymore. Where am I supposed to get it from?” said Farea, who wheels his barrow daily to collect water in cans from a neighborhood tank provided for poor people.

“I sleep all morning and then have lunch at noon from whatever God supplies and that covers the rest of the day.”

His work in construction declined in the wake of the political upheaval caused by Yemen’s 2011 uprising, he said. He then sold fruit but rising prices after war broke out in late 2014 made this unprofitable.

As needs have risen in the past year, funding of the aid response has dropped, leading the U.N. and other aid agencies to scale down or close various assistance programs.

Famine has never been officially declared in Yemen but pockets of famine-like conditions have appeared for the first time in two years, the U.N. has said.

In 2018 and 2019, the U.N. prevented famine due to a well-funded aid appeal. But in 2020 the world body only received just over half the $3.4 billion it needed.

“What is happening to the people of Yemen is unimaginably cruel. Aid groups are catastrophically underfunded and overstretched. The parties to this senseless war specialize in producing suffering and the weapon of choice is hunger,” said Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, on a visit to Yemen.

There has been a recent renewed push by the U.N. and the United States for a negotiated end to the war, widely seen as a proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran. New U.S. President Joe Biden has said Yemen is a priority, declaring a halt to U.S. support for the Saudi-led military campaign.

(Reporting by Reuters Yemen team,; Writing by Lisa Barrington; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

Yemen famine could threaten opportunity for peace, U.N. warns

By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A massive famine could wipe out a new opportunity, created by renewed U.S. engagement, to end the war in Yemen, top U.N. officials told the Security Council on Thursday.

U.N. Yemen mediator Martin Griffiths also called for a stop to an offensive by the Houthi movement on the government-held city of Marib, warning “the quest for territorial gain by force threatens all of the prospects of the peace process.”

U.S. President Joe Biden has made ending the conflict in Yemen a priority since taking office last month, appointing a special envoy and ending U.S. support for offensive operations by Saudi Arabia in neighboring Yemen.

“International support for ending the conflict is indispensable, and this offers us a new opportunity to reopen space for a negotiated solution,” Griffiths told the 15-member Security Council.

However, U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock then warned: “There’s an important opportunity right now to help Yemen move towards lasting peace … but that opportunity will disappear, it will be wasted, if Yemen tips into a massive famine.”

The United Nations describes Yemen as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with 80% of the people in need of help.

A Saudi-led military coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015, backing government forces fighting the Iran-aligned Houthis. The more than six-year-long conflict is widely seen as a proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Griffiths visited Tehran this month for the first time since becoming the U.N. envoy three years ago. He made no reference to his visit during his public Security Council statement.

He said the warring parties needed to immediately agree to a nationwide ceasefire, allow the unhindered flow of fuel and other commodities into Hodeidah port and permit international commercial traffic to use Sanaa airport. Griffiths said these issues had been discussed regularly for the past year.

“What is needed is simply and fundamentally the political will to end this conflict. We know need a decision,” he said.

Lowcock said some $4 billion was needed in 2021 to fund humanitarian operations as “Yemen is speeding towards the worst famine the world has seen in decades.” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Switzerland and Sweden plan to convene a pledging conference on March 1 to raise funds for Yemen.

When famine loomed in 2019, Lowcock said it was averted after the United Nations received about 90 percent of the $4 billion it requested. But last year the world body only received about $1.9 billion, about half of what it needed.

Lowcock said some 16 million people in Yemen were going hungry and 5 million of those people are “just one step away from famine.”

Some 400,000 children under the age of 5 are severely malnourished, he said. “Those children are in their last weeks and months,” he warned. “They are starving to death.”

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Cynthia Osterman)

U.N. envoy, Iran’s Zarif discuss how to end war in Yemen

By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK (Reuters) – United Nations Yemen mediator Martin Griffiths and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif discussed on Monday how to make progress toward a nationwide ceasefire and reviving the political process in Yemen, a U.N. spokesman said.

A Saudi-led military coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015, backing government forces fighting the Iran-aligned Houthis. The more than six-year long conflict is widely seen as a proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

It is Griffiths first visit to Iran since becoming the U.N. envoy three years ago.

Zarif and Griffiths “exchanged views on Yemen and how to make progress towards a resumption of the political process,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

“Mr. Zarif and Mr. Griffiths further discussed the urgent need to make progress towards a nationwide ceasefire, the opening of Sanaa airport and the easing of restrictions on Hodeidah ports.”

He added that Griffiths welcomed Iran’s expression of support for the U.N. efforts to end the conflict in Yemen.

While Griffiths office said the visit to Iran had been planned for some time, it comes after new U.S. President Joe Biden declared last week that the war in Yemen “has to end” and said Washington would halt support for the Saudi Arabia-led military campaign against the Houthis.

The United States also said on Friday it intends to revoke its terrorist designation of the Houthis to avoid worsening Yemen’s humanitarian crisis. The United Nations describes Yemen as the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis, with 80% of its people in need and millions on the verge of famine.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Alex Richardson)

Yemeni boy, ravaged by hunger, weighs 7 kg

SANAA (Reuters) -Paralyzed and severely malnourished, seven-year-old Faid Samim lies curled up on a hospital bed in the Yemeni capital Sanaa, having barely survived the journey there. “He was almost gone when he arrived but thank God we were able to do what was necessary and he started improving. He is suffering from CP (cerebral palsy) and severe malnutrition,” said Rageh Mohammed, the supervising doctor of the Al-Sabeen hospital’s malnutrition ward. Faid weighs only 7 kg (just over 15 lb) and his tiny, fragile frame takes up barely a quarter of a folded hospital blanket. His family had to travel from Al-Jawf, 170 km (105 miles) north of Sanaa, through checkpoints and damaged roads, to get him there. Unable to afford Faid’s medication or treatment, the family relies on donations to get him treated. Mohammed says malnutrition cases are on the rise and impoverished parents are forced to rely on the kindness of strangers or international aid to get their children treated.

Famine has never been officially declared in Yemen, where a six-year war has left 80% of the population reliant on aid in what the U.N. says is the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.

U.N. warnings in late 2018 of impending famine prompted an aid ramp-up. But coronavirus restrictions, reduced remittances, locusts, floods and significant underfunding of the 2020 aid response are exacerbating hunger.

The war in Yemen, in which a Saudi-led coalition has been battling the Iranian-aligned Houthi movement since 2015, has killed more than 100,000 people and left the country divided, with the Houthis holding Sanaa and most major urban centers.

(Reporting by Adel Khadr, Abdulrahman Ansi and Tarek FahmyEditing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Giles Elgood)