As Tigray continues to suffer the wrath of armed forces, the northern Ethiopian country is currently witnessing a dire man-made tragedy. According to the United Nations, famine is now knocking on the doors of more than 400,000 people in Ethiopia’s Tigray, with 1.8 million others also on the brink.
The worst threat in a decade
The huge food insecurity, fueled by the armed clashes, is threatening the lives of the civilians of the whole country. In the light of the past weeks’ events, the situation spiraled out of hand, leaving almost 50,000 individuals facing famine with almost no chance of surviving it.
“More than 400,000 people are estimated to have crossed the threshold into famine and another 1.8 million people are on the brink of famine. Some are suggesting that the numbers are even higher. 33,000 children are severely malnourished,” said Acting UN aid chief, Ramesh Rajasingham.
“Two million people are still displaced and close to 5.2 million people still require humanitarian assistance. The great majority are women and children. One of the most distressing trends is the alarming rise in food insecurity and hunger due to conflict.”
Conflict to hunger
Since November 2020, Ethiopia has been standing ground to a gruesome armed conflict between Ethiopia’s federal government and the forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Not only did the fighting cause the massive displacement of more than two million civilians, but it also spread region-wide infrastructure destructure. Thus, innocents lost their lives, jobs, farms, harvests, livestock, and homes.
Last week, the Ethiopian government declared a ceasefire. Yet, TPLF dismissed the statement as a joke and continued clashing with the other side. Thus, the northern region has been experiencing electricity and communication blackouts. With the TPLF claiming the capture of thousands of Ethiopian soldiers and the government denying the occurrence of the events, experts are fearing the worst. Moreover, tension is now brewing between the two sides in western Tigray.
“In short, there is potential for more confrontations and a swift deterioration in the security situation, which is extremely concerning,” warned the UN political and peacebuilding affairs chief, Rosemary DiCarlo.
As for humanitarian aid, the UN’s World Food Programme can only provide food for one million people in one month in Mekelle. “This is a fraction of what we need,” Rajasingham, the acting UN aid chief, said. “However, we have almost run out of health, water, sanitation, and other non-food item kits. Food alone does not avert a famine.”
Just seven months ago, Experts deemed Tigray a borderline “food secure” region. The country didn’t experience any droughts, and it recovered healthy from last year’s locust swarms. The year was supposed to yield a good harvest. Yet, thousands are now in danger of dying from acute malnourishment.
On the other hand, the ongoing armed conflict isn’t the only reason behind the farms’ abandonment. According to a team from the University of Ghent, most farmers don’t have the needed seeds, oxen, plow, or fertilizers. But even when they do, armed forces threaten them, stating: “You won’t plow, you won’t harvest, and if you try we will punish you.” Thus, many are left to farm in the night, with scouts warning them from afar.
Though many believe that the government is blocking humanitarian aid after the rebels gained control of the capital, Mekelle, officials are denying the accusation. “The allegation that we are trying to suffocate the Tigrayan people by denying humanitarian access and using hunger as a weapon of war is beyond the pale,” Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen told diplomats in Addis Ababa on Friday.
“We have been exerting every possible effort to rebuild damaged infrastructure and restore electricity, telecoms, internet, and banking services.
“These critical infrastructures continue to be a target of attack by the TPLF, which has made it extremely difficult to provide uninterrupted services to the people.”
In order to reverse this tragedy, a cease-fire must take place. However, United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, stated that the Ethiopian government must demonstrate its commitment to a humanitarian ceasefire. “ [Any denial of aid access is] not an indication of a humanitarian ceasefire, but of a siege,” she added.