About 33,000 severely malnourished children in the Tigray region of Ethiopia are at high risk of death, the UN children’s agency Unicef has warned.
Tigray has been devastated by fighting between government forces and rebels, with 1.7 million people displaced since the conflict began in November 2020.
A UN-backed study released on Thursday found that 353,000 people in the region were living in “severe crisis”.
The Ethiopian government disputes the finding, saying aid is getting through.
According to Thursday’s assessment, the food situation in the region has reached the level of a “catastrophe”, which it defines as starvation and death affecting small groups of people spread over large areas.
Unicef is calling for humanitarian access to cut-off areas in Tigray.
“While this figure of 353,000 does not meet the threshold needed [20% of surveyed population] to trigger a formal famine declaration, let’s not play with terminology when people are dying,” Unicef spokesperson James Elder said on Friday.
About 33,000 are young children and babies are dangerously close to sickness and potential death from malnutrition, Unicef says. A further two million people are classed as on the brink of “severe crisis”.
Ethiopia has rejected the claim by the UN’s humanitarian chief, Mark Lowcock, that there is a famine in parts of the north of the country.
It insists that humanitarian access is being expanded as it restores order across the region.
The US and European Union have jointly urged all warring parties to agree to a ceasefire to allow aid to reach millions in dire need and to prevent large-scale famine.
Meanwhile, the Ethiopian government says Eritrean troops who have been involved in the conflict, have started withdrawing from Tigray region following months of international pressure calling on them to leave the area.