At least 33,000 severely malnourished children in Ethiopia's battle-scarred Tigray region face imminent death without immediate help, the head of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) warned late on Monday.
Henrietta Fore, UNICEF executive director, said the fund estimates 56,000 children under the age of 5 need treatment for severe acute malnutrition, and in parts of Ethiopia's northernmost Tigray region inaccessible to humanitarian workers, the 33,000 children without aid will die.
"These children are among more than 2.2 million in northern Ethiopia who are acutely food insecure, including at least 140,000 in Tigray who are already facing famine-like conditions," she said in a statement.
"In the last month alone, we have seen a four-fold increase in weekly admissions of children for treatment of severe acute malnutrition."
The region has reached the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification of Level 5: "Catastrophe/Famine" after seven months of conflict between government troops and Tigray forces. Humanitarian workers complained for months of the lack of access to help the needy.
"These developments could lead to outbreaks of disease, putting malnourished children at even greater risk of death," Fore said. "Sites hosting displaced children and families are especially vulnerable to disease transmission because of overcrowded and unsanitary conditions."
While already a catastrophe, she said the situation could deteriorate further as food insecurity worsens over the coming months and crops cannot be planted.
Last week it was reported some harvests in Tigray were being looted and even set on fire.
"Our aim is to reach every child across the region with critical health, nutrition, water, sanitation, education, and protection services," the UNICEF chief said. "This includes working with our partners so that all severely malnourished children get lifesaving treatment before it is too late."
"But, we urgently need strengthened funding support from donors as we expand our critical programs for children over the coming months to reach all those in need," Fore said.