In Ayder hospital in Mekelle, the capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray region, the corridors are filled with the hubbub of any busy medical facility. But in the paediatric wing, there is a stillness to the wards.
For here lie children numbly bearing witness to the latest food crisis to ravage northern Ethiopia. Mostly babies, they are suffering from severe acute malnutrition.
Their mothers sit silently at their beds, staring into the middle distance, clutching their infants to their breast, hoping what milk they have can deliver the salvation for which they yearn.
For they and Ethiopia are suffering once again from a devastating legacy of conflict and drought, twin evils that in recent years have destroyed farms and crops and forced millions from their homes.
The government says 16 million people across the country are facing food shortages, with almost half of those suffering emergency or severe levels of food insecurity. That means many are not just hungry, they are starving.
This is why Tsega Tsigabu, 23, and her four-month-old son, Kidisty, are languishing in Ayder hospital.
Her family were farmers. But their crops failed and they moved to Mekelle to try to survive. Like so many others, they ended up in a camp for people forced from their homes.
Tsega’s husband was in the army but he injured his hand and cannot work. She took her baby for a vaccination and the nurses saw instantly it was malnourished.
“Even when I was pregnant, I was not eating a balanced diet,” Tsega tells us. “I was not producing enough breast milk, that’s why the baby has developed malnutrition. I just didn’t have enough to eat at home.”
Doctors at the hospital tell us the numbers of severely malnourished children being admitted have doubled since 2020 when the war between Tigrayan forces and Ethiopian and Eritrean armies began.
A ceasefire was agreed in 2022 but the impact of the conflict still lingers with at least one million people still unable to return home remaining in the region.