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Ethiopian prime minister dismisses reports of famine deaths

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(NEW YORK) — Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed dismissed reports saying people were dying of hunger in his country, but allowed that people “may have died” due to malnutrition-associated illnesses.

“There are no people dying due to hunger in Ethiopia,” Ahmed told lawmakers in Parliament on Tuesday.

Authorities in Tigray are warning that the northern Ethiopian region is on the brink of a famine as nearly 400 people have died of hunger in Ethiopia’s conflict-hit Tigray and Amhara regions in recent months.

About 91% of Tigray’s population has been “exposed to the risk of starvation and death,” Getachew K. Reda, of the Interim Regional Administration of Tigray, announced in a recent statement.

“Tigray is on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe the likes of which have not been seen since the infamous 1984-85 famine that claimed the lives of millions of people across Ethiopia,” the administration said. “Indeed, at the moment, millions of Tigrayans are simply awaiting their gut-wrenching fate: death.”

A combination of drought — triggered by a shortage of seasonal rainfall — a desert locust infestation, and the temporary suspension of humanitarian aid have caused a “nightmarish humanitarian tragedy,” the administration said.

In a rare admission by the federal body, the national ombudsman last month announced nearly 400 people have died of starvation in Ethiopia’s Tigray and Amhara regions in recent months. There have been at least 351 recorded hunger-related deaths in Tigray, with an additional 44 deaths recorded in Amhara.

The region is still reeling from a devastating two-year civil war which saw the Ethiopian federal government and allied forces engaged in a deadly conflict with Tigray People’s Liberation Front, or TPLF, forces in Northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region.

Speaking to ABC News in January 2023, Professor Jan Nyssen, senior professor at the Department of Geography at Ghent University, said at least 383,000 to 6,000 civilian deaths have occurred in Tigray between November 2020 and August 2022. The conflict left over 20 million people in Ethiopia in need of aid, over 2.8 million displaced.

In a statement sent to ABC News, the World Food Programme has said it is “extremely concerned” about the deteriorating situation in Northern Ethiopia, working to deliver food assistance to up to three million people in the coming weeks.

“Many are already facing severe hunger,” said Chris Nikoi, WFP’s Ethiopia country director.

In March 2023 the United Nations and the U.S. suspended food aid to Ethiopia’s Tigray region following a scandal involving the theft of humanitarian grain. The organizations later resumed deliveries on a smaller scale.

World Health Organization Director General Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus said the WHO is “gravely concerned” about the situation in Amhara: “The internet is still cut off in the region, severely impeding communication with health partners and authorities. Restrictions on movement are impeding the provision of humanitarian assistance.”

“The most pressing need is for access to the affected areas, so we can assess the need and respond accordingly,” Ghebreyesus said.

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