IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Hundreds of thousands face famine in Ethiopia's Tigray, United Nations warns

"More than 400,000 people are estimated to have crossed the threshold into famine," said acting U.N. aid chief Ramesh Rajasingham.
Captive Ethiopian soldiers walk towards the Mekele Rehabilitation Center in Ethiopia, on July 2, 2021.Yasuyoshi Chiba / AFP - Getty Images

Top officials from the United Nations have warned the Security Council that more than 400,000 people in Ethiopia's Tigray were now in famine and that there was a risk of more clashes in the region despite a unilateral ceasefire by the federal government.

The Security Council on Friday held its first public meeting since fighting broke out last year between Ethiopian government forces — backed by troops from neighboring Eritrea — and TPLF fighters with Tigray's former ruling party.

Acting U.N. aid chief Ramesh Rajasingham told the council that the humanitarian situation in Tigray had "worsened dramatically" in recent weeks.

"More than 400,000 people are estimated to have crossed the threshold into famine and another 1.8 million people are on the brink of famine. Some are suggesting that the numbers are even higher. 33,000 children are severely malnourished," he said.

The Ethiopian government declared a unilateral ceasefire on Monday, which the TPLF dismissed as a joke. There are reports of continued clashes in some places, as pressure builds internationally for all sides to pull back.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said Ethiopia's government must demonstrate "it truly intends to use the ceasefire to address the humanitarian catastrophe," warning that any denial of aid access is "not an indication of a humanitarian ceasefire, but of a siege."

Download the NBC News app for breaking news and politics

Ethiopia's U.N. Ambassador Taye Atske Selassie Amde questioned the need for the public Security Council meeting, telling reporters the ceasefire was declared to improve aid access and that the government hoped it could also spark dialogue.

Thomas-Greenfield urged the parties in the conflict to "seize this moment," warning that if they failed there could be devastating consequences for Ethiopia and the wider Horn of Africa.

While Russia and China did not object to Friday's public meeting of the Security Council on Tigray, they made clear that they believed the conflict is an internal affair for Ethiopia.

Russia's U.N. Ambassador said: "We believe that interference by the Security Council in solving it is counterproductive."

Russia and China are both council veto-powers along with the United States, France and Britain.