Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has denied that there is hunger in Tigray, refuting the UN statement that says five million people are in need of food aid in the country’s war-torn Tigray region.
According to a recent UN-backed estimate conducted in Tigray and the neighbouring zones of Amhara and Afar, over 350,000 people are living in famine conditions.
“There is no hunger in Tigray,” Mr. Abiy told the BBC’s Catherine Byaruhanga at a polling station on the day of the country’s general election.
“There is a problem and the government is capable of fixing that,” Mr. Abiy said.
The fighting in Tigray, which is now in its eighth month, has left five million people in need of food aid, the UN said.
Last week, the UN’s humanitarian chief, Mark Lowcock, told a closed session of the Security Council that there was famine in Tigray.
He also said that starvation was being used as a weapon of war by troops from neighbouring Eritrea who are fighting alongside Ethiopian forces in Tigray. Eritrea has denied the accusation.
Mr. Abiy said Ethiopia would not push the Eritreans out but was working with them to “finalise… issues peacefully”.
A study released on June 10 by the UN-backed Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) initiative found that 350,000 people were living in what it described as “catastrophe/famine” and a further five million people were either in “crisis” or “emergency”.
At the time, Ethiopia denied that this was the case and authorities have said that they are distributing food aid and denied reports that they are restricting access to humanitarian agencies.
People in Qafta Humera, an isolated district in the west of Tigray, told the BBC earlier this month that they were on the verge of starvation.
“We don’t have anything to eat,” one man said by phone, explaining their crops and livestock had been looted during months of war.
The conflict, which began in November last year, has forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes and disrupted agriculture.
Ethiopia’s government launched an offensive to oust the region’s then ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
The party had a massive fallout with Mr. Abiy over his political reforms though the TPLF’s capture of federal military bases in Tigray was the catalyst for the invasion.
Ethiopia has allied with neighbouring Eritrea, whose troops have crossed the border and have been accused of human rights violations, including deliberately causing the lack of food – charges it denies.
Ethiopian soldiers and others involved in the conflict have also been accused of violations.
In March, Mr. Abiy said that the Eritrean soldiers “will withdraw” without specifying when.
At the beginning of this month his spokesperson said reports from the defence ministry indicated they had begun withdrawing.
“We are not pushing them out but we are making it peacefully, I am sure it will happen,” Mr. Abiy told the BBC.
“We are working with [Eritrea] to finalise our issues peacefully.”
He also said that Sudanese troops were in Ethiopia, referring to the al-Fashaga triangle, which both countries claim. (Source: BBC)