Andrew Mitchell, the UK’s Africa minister has said that the risk of a humanitarian catastrophe in northern Ethiopia is growing.
Ethiopia has the fourth highest level of maternal mortality in the world, with 10,000 mothers a year dying from pregnancy and childbirth-related causes. Many of these deaths could be prevented by simple support before, during and after pregnancy with medicines, nutrition supplements, clean water and access to sanitation in health centres.
On his return from a two-day trip to the region on Monday, Mitchell said “We have an opportunity to stop a looming humanitarian catastrophe in its tracks. But we must act and act now,”.
According to available reports, the country is suffering from the impacts of long-term El Niño-driven drought and brutal conflict, including the two-year war in the northern region of Tigray that ended in November 2022.
The UK, which has long made Ethiopia a priority country, is slowly reversing large cuts to its aid programme. On his trip Mitchell met the Ethiopian prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, in Addis Ababa and travelled to the Tigray regional capital, Mekelle. The underlying message of his trip was to warn that a famine can be averted but only if aid is prepared now.
Mitchell, like many Foreign Office ministers, has been preoccupied by the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, but fears equally important crises elsewhere – such as in Ethiopia – have lost the world’s attention.
“Across northern Ethiopia, millions of people are facing hunger,” he was quoted as saying. “War, including the conflict in Tigray and climate change, have crippled crop production and driven people off their lands.”
Mitchell was told that 1 million people had been displaced and 3 million plunged into a state of critical food security and hunger.
International donors have also been trying to respond to an estimated 6.6 million people in need of help. Last week the UN said the number of critically food insecure people was likely to reach 10.8 million during the July-September lean season.
“Malnutrition rates in parts of Afar, Amhara and Tigray and other regions have already surpassed globally recognised crisis thresholds, although the situation is currently not reflective of famine-like conditions,” the UN said.
Recall that the UK has launched a fund for ending preventable deaths, targeted at children – particularly under-fives – as well as pregnant and postnatal women. The £100m programme is intended to help more than 3 million Ethiopians through a network of 75 health centres tackle malnutrition and other preventable causes of death, such as malaria and cholera, by increasing access to family planning support, medicines, and childhood vaccinations.
Story was adapted from the Guardian.