Ethiopia is starving. It’s difficult to imagine anything that could make a famine ‘worse’. However, the fact that this famine was man-made and avoidable only exacerbates the dire situation of millions of Ethiopians.
Ethiopia is located within Africa and shares borders with Eritrea (who we will come to shortly) and Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, and Sudan. There are over 117 million people in Ethiopia, ranking it 12th globally; however, it only has a GDP of $974 per capita, which is 65th in the world. Yet, out of 189 countries, it ranks 173rd in the Human Development Index, a statistic composite index of life expectancy, education and per capita income indicators. The Ethiopian people are suffering, primarily the consequences of decades of conflict, leading to population displacements, movement restrictions, limited humanitarian access and dysfunctional markets.
The northern Ethiopian region of Tigray has been significantly impacted over the last few months, resulting in confirmation of a famine whereby an estimated 353,000 people are in catastrophic famine, while another 1.769 million people are in emergency famine. Moreover, it’s children who feel the full force of starvation, with an estimation that over 300,000 children could die in the region if the current situation doesn’t rapidly improve.
The chances of rapid improvement? Unlikely. The people of Tigray are split between 3 sides, all vying for control and power. These are the Ethiopian government, the Eritrean army (Ethiopia’s military ally but doesn’t cooperate with humanitarian groups), and the Tigrayan rebels who refuse to allow aid workers to enter their territory.
Under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the Ethiopian government began a conflict in Northern Ethiopia (yes, its own country) in early November against the Tigray People’s Liberation front. This is the rebel/terrorist group that was meant to be targeted by the Ethiopian army; however, civilians after also been attacked and held in detention without charge. Why attack the Tigray People’s Liberation Front? Power. Abiy Ahmed wants to consolidate his position and has openly jailed political rivals to ensure this occurs. The one group that has resisted Ahmed’s totalitarian desires? Tigray. They have refused to surrender to the party, leaving Ahmed compelled to engage in conflict.
Eritrea has also joined in on the war by supporting Ethiopia in attacking and abusing soldiers and civilians in Tigray. The conflict taking place in the region is the direct cause of the humanitarian crisis unfolding. Food aid is being looted by soldiers, and as mentioned, aid workers cannot reach the rural areas of Tigray due to the presence of soldiers denying access. Furthermore, military forces have occupied farms, impeding any ability for the peasants to cultivate the land. Eritrean forces have burnt crops, destroyed health facilities and threatened farmers who continue to plough! There is no drought, the ground is fertile, these farmers are being banned from doing their work due to the disgraceful actions of the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments.
It’s important to note that there is no ‘good’ side in this conflict, whichever perspective you may have. The Ethiopian and Eritrean governments are arguably engaging in ethnic cleansing, deliberately targeting all Tigray people and denying access to much-needed supplies. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front is trying to fight back against the government and protect their party; however, they too are causing more damage to their people than could ever be achieved by ‘winning’ the conflict. It is the people of Tigray who suffer the consequences of the war.
In any multi-party conflict involving a self-obsessed dictator and prejudice towards an ethnic group, solutions are complex and difficult to rapidly occur. A famine prevention ceasefire is required immediately, which would involve a cessation of hostilities to protect civilians at risk of violence and the impacts of starvation. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front seem willing to initiate a ceasefire; however, statements from both the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments over the past week indicate that a ceasefire is highly unlikely. While we have to wait for a ceasefire, we can’t wait to send aid to the region. Humanitarian agencies are beginning to realise the catastrophic situation in many villages across Tigray, and at the very least, all parties involved in the conflict need to allow these aid workers to support the civilian population.
The current conflict in Ethiopia requires an immediate ceasefire. By continuing to talk about the famine and war, we can raise awareness surrounding the issue and lead to calls from more foreign governments condemning the conflict. To the people of Tigray, we hear you. We may not understand now, and we may not ever understand, but we hear you, and we will continue to support you.