Addis Abeba — At least 30 refugees have died from hunger and malnutrition since May after food aid was halted at camps in Ethiopia's Gambella region, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said on Wednesday.
In a statement on Wednesday, the commission expressed a grave concern over rapidly deteriorating and increasingly concerning shortage of food provision in refugee camps hosting refugees and internally displaced persons with conflict spreading across Ethiopia.
The rights body conducted monitoring visits to refugee camps in Gambella, which hosts around 400,000 refugees, in late August. It found that no new food assistance had been provided since May at the Nguenyiel camp, housing 112,000 refugees, and since June at the Tierkidi and Kule camps.
"The halting of food aid combined with lack of nutritionally adequate food for children is creating concern of malnutrition, which is affecting not only those under 5 years old but also children above the age of 10 years," the EHRC said in a statement.
Refugees reported "struggling to survive due to acute shortage of food," the EHRC said. The lack of food aid has "contributed to hunger-related deaths." According to refugee representatives and the Refugee and Returnee Services (RRS), lack of food aid has contributed to approximately 30 hunger-related deaths in Gambella camps so far.
Refugees have been attacked and killed while leaving camps to search for food, according to the EHRC and refugee representatives. The Commission warned the situation threatens to destabilize refugee-host community relations. The UN refugee agency UNHCR has also confirmed to the EHRC that the total suspension of food aid since May has severely impacted refugees' welfare nationally.
The Commission called for urgent coordinated efforts between government and aid agencies, in particular the USAID and the WFP "to resume vital food assistance and wider humanitarian support to refugees, in order to prevent further tragic loss of life."
In June, both the USAID and WFP suspended the distribution of food aid in Ethiopia following country-wide donor-funded food diversion covering seven regions and involving the federal government and regional entities.