More than 100,000 children in northern Ethiopia's Tigray region could face the most extreme form of malnutrition over the next 12 months, the UN Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) warned Friday.
"Our worst fears about the health and well-being of children ... are being confirmed," the agency's spokesperson Marixie Mercado told a press briefing.
"UNICEF estimates that over 100,000 children in Tigray could suffer from life-threatening severe acute malnutrition (SAM) in the next 12 months — a tenfold increase compared to the average annual caseload."
UN calls for unhindered access
Aid is being blocked by ongoing fighting between Tigray forces and Ethiopian government troops. The level of insecurity means around 200 food trucks are stuck on the only remaining road into the region.
High-level talks involving the UN, the US and the Ethiopian government are taking place over the next few days. Time, however, is not on the side of those trying to administer humanitarian aid.
"We need unfettered access into Tigray and across the region, in order to provide support children and women urgently need," Mercado said.
Earlier this week, the chief of the World Food Programme, David Beasley, expressed concern that food would run out on Friday at camps they were battling to reach.
Conflict is blocking aid
Addis Ababa blames the aid blockage on the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), who have managed to make substantial gains in the region.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed deployed troops in Tigray last November as he tried to topple the region's ruling party. It's now become a battle of attrition, with no apparent end in sight.
Fighting not the only challenge facing UN
UNICEF's Mercado said that warring parties have an obligation to not harm children.
"UNICEF calls on all parties to respect their fundamental obligation to protect children from harm," she said. "The dramatic nutrition and food security crisis in Tigray and the neighboring regions is being driven by armed conflict, and it can only be resolved by the parties to the conflict."
Mercado also said it's not just the conflict that is presenting a challenge — food, fuel and funding are also in short supply.
kb/nm (AP, AFP)