At least 1,900 children under the age of 5 have died from malnutrition in Ethiopia’s Tigray region in the past year.
According to a study carried out by local health officials and seen by the Associated Press, the deaths were recorded at health centres across the war-torn region 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.
A doctor involved in the study said the true number of child deaths from malnutrition is likely to be higher because most families are unable to bring their children to health centres because of transportation challenges.
Most hunger deaths go unrecorded, he said.
“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.”
Tigray has been cut off from the rest of Ethiopia since June when fighters from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, or TPLF, 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 UN has said amounts to a “de facto blockade”.
The Ethiopian authorities insist there is no deliberate effort to target Tigrayan civilians. They have urged Tigrayan fighters to surrender.
More than 90 per cent of Tigray’s 5.5 million people require humanitarian assistance, including 115,000 children who are severely malnourished, according to UN figures.
Civil servants have not been paid in months. Many have run out of cash to buy food and other goods because banking services have been shut down. The children of families living in urban areas are especially at risk of malnutrition, as their parents do not have farmland to grow food, according to Tigrayan health officials.
About 700,000 people in Tigray are in the grip of “famine-like conditions” owing to the obstruction of aid, US officials estimate.
Ethiopia’s federal government unilaterally declared a surprise “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 lorries 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.”
An estimated 2,000 lorries of food must enter Tigray every week to meet the region’s needs, a UN official said. That is a sharp increase from the previous assessment of 600 a week.
Just 3 per cent of the vegetable seeds and 10 per cent of the fertiliser required for the current planting season have reached Tigray, according to UN figures, raising fears of a poor harvest that will deepen the region’s hunger crisis.
Several health officials in Tigray say they simply do not have enough supplies to treat many patients they encounter. Some said shortages are so dire that patients’ relatives must personally buy medicine from private pharmacies at inflated prices and bring them to the hospital before their family members can be treated.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the war, according to estimates by international aid groups.
But there is little hope for peace talks as the Ethiopian authorities have outlawed the TPLF, effectively making its leaders fugitives.