Oxfam warns of growing hunger crisis in Tigray and Amhara regions as families resort to extreme measures to survive

Published: 7th February 2024

Families still reeling from the aftermath of a two-year conflict in Tigray are now resorting to increasingly desperate measures to survive. The conflict and erratic rainfall throughout the north of the country has further exacerbated the planting season which threatens to plunge the region into deeper humanitarian catastrophe if nothing is done, warns Oxfam.

Hareyat (50), a mother of four girls in Kola Tambien at Meles Preparatory school which is now sheltering displaced people, said: “We are hungry, our children have nothing to eat sometimes for an entire day. Pregnant women and mothers with small babies are suffering. The hunger is so unbearable that mothers are forcing their children to sleep for longer hours to avoid hunger pains since there is nothing to feed them. Mothers are also having to feed their children roots meant for animals in order to survive.”

Nearly 400 people according to the national Ombudsman in the Tigray and Amhara regions - mostly children and elderly - have already died of starvation in the last six months. 3.5 million people in Tigray are in urgent need of food assistance with one million people facing acute hunger. Unless humanitarian efforts are drastically scaled-up, the region could risk plunging into further starvation.

Oxfam in Ethiopia’s Country Director Gezahegn Kebede said: “It is morally and politically bankrupt to watch people starve. This is only the tip of the iceberg, millions more people are having to resort to unimaginable ways to stave off hunger and find their next meal.”

Food shortages are at critical level as millions face extreme challenges accessing food in parts of eastern, southern, and central Tigray, and more people are expected to follow from now to May, according to FEWSNET.

Despite the ceasefire between Ethiopian government and the Tigray forces in November 2022, the ongoing conflict in parts of the Amhara region have forced over 1.55 million people to flee their homes, leaving 9.4 million people – or one in three people in northern Ethiopia – in extreme hunger.

The drought, the shortage of seeds and the desert locust invasion which started in late 2023 and persisted to the first weeks of 2024, has halved the harvest from the planned 1.32 million hectare to 660,000 hectares. Even worse, of the reduced harvest, at least 132,000 hectares of crops have died, and tens of thousands of livestock have perished during the current dry season. If the rainy season is delayed further, millions of people will be pushed into further destitution.  

The drop in production of crops has caused food prices to surge to a five-year-high and caused a shortage of seasonal farming work, making food unaffordable for millions of people. Many farmers have also lost their main source of income due to these successive and compounded shocks.

Despite being one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, the humanitarian response in Northern Ethiopia remains under funded. Only 34% of the $4 billion UN appeal for Ethiopia last year was funded.

USAID and WFP suspended food aid for six months, in response to allegations of food diversion in 2023, which has deteriorated the food security, cutting the lifeline of emergency food supplies to millions of people displaced by conflict and climate change. Even though aid has resumed, it’s only a drop in the desert given the immensity of the needs.

“Without an urgent and major inflow of aid and increased humanitarian efforts by donors, the lives of many more people are at risk .” said Kebede. 

Notes to editors

Food insecurity in Ethiopia is determined by the Humanitarian Response Plan which estimates that in 2023, 20.1 million people were experiencing food insecurity. 

The UN appeal for Ethiopia is only 34% $1.3bn funded out of the of the total US$4 billion needed in 2023. 

The UN World Food Programme and USAID announced the immediate temporary suspension of food assistance for from April to December 2023.

Ethiopia Acute Food Insecurity

Oxfam has been responding to the humanitarian needs of the people in Tigray, reaching more than 400,000 people, through intervention in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), food assistance and protection, and gender interventions. 

Ethiopia hosts over 4 million internally displaced people (IDP) – one of the highest IDP population in the world, with over 1million of those IDP’s being from Tigray.

Contact information

Fatuma Noor in Kenya | fatuma.noor@oxfam.org | +254 723944682 
Liban Hailu in Ethiopia | LHailu@oxfam.org.uk | +251991151274
Simon Trépanier in Italy | simon.trepanier@oxfam.org | +39 3888 50 99 70 
For updates, please follow @NewsfromOxfam and @OxfaminAfrica