UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock has said there is famine in northern Ethiopia after the release of a UN-backed analysis of the situation.
“There is famine now,” he said, adding: “This is going to get a lot worse.”
The analysis found that 350,000 people were living in “severe crisis” in the war-torn Tigray region, as well as neighbouring Amhara and Afar.
Tigray has been devastated by fighting between government forces and rebels, with 1.7 million people displaced.
According to the analysis, 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.
The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP), Food and Agriculture Organization and children’s agency Unicef have all called for urgent action to address the crisis.
The analysis – or Integrated Phase Classification (IPC) as it is known – was not endorsed by Ethiopia’s government, which insists that humanitarian access is being expanded as it restores order across the region.
People in Qafta Humera, an isolated district in the west of Tigray, told the BBC this week they were on the verge of starvation.
“We don’t have anything to eat,” one man said by phone, explaining their crops and livestock had been looted during seven months of war.
They were being prevented from seeking aid by a militia fighting with government forces, he added.
“We were eating small remains of crops that we managed to hide, but now we don’t have anything,” said a farmer in his 40s.
“Nobody has given us any aid. Almost everyone is on the verge of death – our eyes are affected by the hunger, the situation is perilous. Death is knocking on our door. You can see the hunger on the face of each of us.”
Residents said they had seen vehicles carrying aid pass by, but no-one had bothered to inquire about their predicament.
In 1984, Tigray and the next-door province of Wollo were the epicentre of a famine caused by a combination of drought and war that led to between 600,000 and one million deaths. (Courtesy BBC)