The United Nations humanitarian chief, Mark Lowcock, stated that the lives of hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians, specifically those residing in the Tigray region, are in danger due to famine. The crisis is the worst famine the world has seen in the last decade.
Starvation-related deaths have been occurring for months in the East African country. The issue is linked to the state’s ongoing political conflict between Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the northern region’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). In November 2020, Abiy Ahmed initiated a military operation in Tigray after the government accused the TPLF of attacking its federal army camps. The Prime Minister claimed that he attempted to resolve the conflict with the TPLF peacefully but was forced to act when they attacked the military bases.
Ethiopia’s neighboring country, Eritrea, which is highly militarized, has assisted the Ethiopian government in carrying out its agenda. Some of their military forces have started wearing Ethiopian camouflage to aid in the fight against the TPLF. Members of the United Nations (UN), including the United States, agree that Eritrean troops possess an enormous amount of control in Tigray, yet the Ethiopian government continues to deny the country’s role in the conflict. Eritrea’s Minister of Foreign Affairs said, “We are not involved.”
Most of Tigray has been completely isolated from the world. Chief Lowcock states that “the conflict has destroyed livelihoods and infrastructure … brought about mass killings, abductions, and sexual violence.” The economy has been severely impacted due to the destruction of businesses, crops, and farms. Additionally, there are no banking and communications services. Aid agencies have begun to withdraw their staff since so many people are beyond the reach of aid. Regarding the lack of aid, the head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, Jan Egeland, stated, “In all my years as an aid worker, I have rarely seen a humanitarian response so impeded and unable to deliver in response for so long, to so many with such pressing needs.” Although the UN and the Ethiopian government have provided some aid that has helped the people residing in northern Ethiopia, it is only distributed in government-controlled areas. This uneven distribution excludes a significant portion of the population who are in desperate need of help.
Given the current communication blackout from the areas of conflict, it is hard for outsiders to understand the gravity of the situation. The lack of information and deliberate secrecy comes as no surprise since the Ethiopian government possesses a history of hiding famines. Jonathan Dimbleby’s film ‘The Unknown Famine’ exposed the mass starvation and deaths of 200,000 people, hidden by Emperor Haile Selassie in 1973. Once more, in 1984, the BBC film crew exposed the Ethiopian government for hiding a famine in which approximately one million people died of starvation. The government continues to conceal the wellbeing of its people to avoid being seen as beggars by other countries. However, a communication blackout should not be used as an excuse to ignore the ongoing crisis. An effort needs to be made to publicize the topic. Through more awareness, there is a chance the government of Ethiopia will concede under pressure and stop its military to preserve its image.
International pressure should also be utilized by encouraging other countries to donate and send as much foreign aid as possible. As recommended by Lowcock, the humanitarian crisis and threat of widespread famine in Ethiopia should be on the agenda of the G7 Summit, in which the U.S., U.K., Germany, France, Italy, and Canada will be participating. Discussing the topic among the world’s major industrialized nations is of utmost importance and is bound to increase awareness of the humanitarian crisis. In addition, steps need to be taken for the immediate removal of the Eritrean military. Areas controlled by the Eritreans have been the hardest to deliver aid to. Chief Lowcock agreed that withdrawing the Eritreans is necessary because they are “who are responsible for a lot of this and need to withdraw.” By doing this, humanitarian aid can finally make it to those who need it.
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