Ethiopia faces resurgence of famine amid war in Tigray


Almost four decades ago, a devastating famine ravaged Ethiopia, claiming an estimated 1 million lives.

Now the United Nations says the country is on the brink of another famine, which could potentially rival the scale of the disaster that Ethiopia experienced in the 1980s, that is, if nothing is done. The crisis, which threatens at least 350,000 Ethiopians, otherwise millions more – would be the worst known in a single country in the last decade. This is a result of seven months civil war which cost the life of thousands of people and forced the displacement of an estimate 2 millions.

Almost four decades ago, a devastating famine ravaged Ethiopia, claiming an estimated 1 million lives.

Now the United Nations says the country is on the brink of another famine, which could potentially rival the scale of the disaster that Ethiopia experienced in the 1980s, that is, if nothing is done. The crisis, which threatens at least 350,000 Ethiopians, otherwise millions more – would be the worst known in a single country in the last decade. This is a result of seven months civil war which cost the life of thousands of people and forced the displacement of an estimate 2 millions.

“There is famine now in Tigray”, mentionned Mark Lowcock, the top UN humanitarian official, before saying later Reuters: “Food is definitely used as a weapon of war. A protracted conflict could risk further destabilizing the region and plunging the country – and its neighbors – deeper into crisis.


How did we get there ?

It’s complicated, to say the least. Humanitarian organizations have been Warning of a brewing crisis in Tigray, a Region in northern Ethiopia, for month. War erupted in November 2020, although the underlying roots of the conflict extend far beyond. On the one hand, the Ethiopian central government, headed by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and allied with neighboring Eritrea; on the other, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray (TPLF), once politically dominant, and the forces true to him.

Addis Ababa considered the TPLF as a terrorist organization; early November, Abiy launched a military offensive in the region after Strengths of the TPLF attack a government military base. A low level war continues.


So what’s going on now?

Aid organizations fear the worst, although the scale and scope of the crisis are not fully known. The limited information that does exist is often disputed by different parties, and humanitarian organizations remain largely unable to access areas outside major cities, according to the report. Unicef.

What we do know is that Ethiopian and Eritrean troops allegedly blocked and even stole incoming food aid while preventing access to convoys of medical aid. According to The Associated Press, soldiers have also been accused of slaughtering livestock, preventing farmers from harvesting crops and stealing farm equipment. As much as 140,000 the children of Tigray are experiencing conditions close to famine; an estimated 33,000 of these children are severely malnourished and at risk of dying. At least new aid workers have been killed in Tigray since the start of the conflict.

These reports come in the middle of months of allegations of ethnic cleansing and human rights atrocities, including massacres and rape by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces — and all parties are suspected to commit war crimes. “It’s a catastrophic situation,” said Yohannes Woldemariam, who teaches international relations at the University of Colorado.

“The actions of the belligerents have targeted the ability of civilians to survive, their food systems, [and] their ability to move safely to receive assistance [and] protection, ”said Laetitia Bader, Horn of Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

And these disastrous effects were only aggravated by rain, locust swarms, and the COVID-19 pandemic, which have all contributed to food crises amid escalating violence. But not everyone is without.

“People might not have food, but they have AK-47s,” Yohannes said.


How did the international community react?

The United Nations urged access in Tigray, while the African Union also launched a commission to investigate human rights violations in the region. Washington has also taken a clear position. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has called for an immediate withdrawal of Eritrean and Ethiopian forces, and in March, US President Joe Biden dispatched the senator. Chris Coon to deal with the deteriorating situation with Abiy. In May, the Biden administration also imposed visa restrictions against Ethiopian and Eritrean officials suspected of being responsible for atrocities in the conflict.

“You can’t make the same mistake twice” declared Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US Representative to the United Nations, while referring to the famine Ethiopia experienced in the 1980s. “We cannot let Ethiopia starve. We must act now. “

But Washington’s approach so far has been “more symbolic than anything else,” said Yohannes, who noted that the steps taken have not responded to the gravity of the situation.

“The EU and the US are the ones who have tried the most to put pressure on the Ethiopian government,” said Bronwyn Bruton of the Atlantic Council’s Central Africa Council, referring to the G-7 summit. “And when the going and they sat down together, the statement that came out was not strong.”


What does this mean for the region?

When the conflict in Tigray escalated in December, more than 50,000 Ethiopian refugees fled to neighboring Sudan. About 2 million people have been displaced because of the crisis. As the situation continues to deteriorate, experts fear the global ramifications will be even more severe – especially with Ethiopia being the second most populous country in Africa – and could risk further destabilizing the region.

“It’s going to be a lot more catastrophic and a lot more intense because Ethiopia is a very populous country,” Yohannes said. “It will spread to countries in the region. It will not be contained in a single country.


So what’s the next step?

Ethiopians are heading to the polls for its twice postponed national elections on Monday, June 21, although the election was marred by controversy. About a fifth of polling stations remained closed on polling day, popular opposition leaders have boycotted the election on allegations of intimidation, and due to the ongoing crisis, millions Ethiopians were unable to participate in the vote. Abiy, the expected winner of the election, also rejected Washington’s calls for a cease-fire.

But as long as political disputes persist, they risk prolonging the crisis and hurting Tigrayans, and further fracturing an already fragile country.

“There is no room for a conversation. There is no place for a ceasefire. There is no room for any ongoing negotiations, and people are talking over their heads, ”Yohannes said. “It’s really hard to see a ray of hope.”


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