Pope Francis is calling for humanitarian aid to reach starving people in the war-torn Tigre region of northern Ethiopia, where Ethiopian and Eritrean troops are withholding food and other aid.
Speaking at his blessing on Sunday afternoon, Francis said he was thinking of the people of Tigre, who are “suffering from a serious humanitarian crisis that has left the poorest in famine. Today is famine! There is hunger. !”
The United Nations and aid groups say more than 350,000 people face famine in the Tigre and more than two million are one step away from the worst famine in Somalia since 2011. Farmers, aid workers and local officials say food has been turned into a weapon of war, with soldiers intercepting or stealing food aid.
More than 2 million of the Tigre’s 6 million people have already fled, unable to harvest their crops. The war in Tigre began in November, shortly before the harvest season, as an attempt by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to disarm the region’s rebel leaders.
On the one hand the guerrillas are loyal to Tigre’s deposed and now fugitive leaders. On the other hand are Ethiopian government troops, Allied troops from neighboring Eritrea and militias from Ethiopia’s Amhara ethnic group who see themselves as rivals to the Tigrayan guerrillas.