Ethiopia: Aid Groups Warn Time is Running out in Tigray

Aid groups have warned that the continual struggle to send relief to Ethiopia’s plagued region of Tigray could worsen the humanitarian crisis there. Since November, Tigray, the Northern region of Ethiopia, has witnessed thousands of its civilians facing violence and famine with no access to aids or peaceful intervention.

Due to the ongoing conflict, the economy and agricultural production in Tigray have collapsed. The United Nations humanitarian chief has alerted that famine is imminent and hundreds of thousands of lives will be lost due to starvation.

Tigray also has no access to electricity, banking, and telecommunications, making it hard for the locals to request help or broadcast the atrocities committed inside the region. To make matters worse, the International Rescue Committee has recently reported that the Tekeze Bridge, one of the main supply routes in Tigray, has been destroyed, which will further hamper aid efforts.

Although the nature of the conflict is complicated due to the geopolitics of the region, the outcomes are unfortunate just like any other conflict in the world. Besides starvation, people in Tigray are suffering from mass killings, sexual violence, attacks on refugee camps, destruction of mosques and monasteries, identity extermination, and ethnic cleansing. If the conflict continues, more innocent lives will inevitably be taken and this could lead to genocide.

In this complex struggle, two sides are battling against each other. On the one side, there are the Tigrayan forces, and on the other, there are the federal government joined by neighboring forces such as Eritrea. According to Al Jazeera, the Ethiopian government decided to withdraw from Mekelle due to humanitarian reasons and to facilitate agricultural production in the north. However, Getachew Reda, a spokesman for Tigrayan forces disregarded this cease-fire announcement and said that his forces will continue to advance until they fully reclaim the region back. Getachew added that the government and the Eritrean forces are still fighting to recapture new territory and currently controlling a significant part of Tigray.

There is also a disagreement as to why the two sides continue to drag the fighting for so long. The Ethiopian government argues that they fight to restore peace and order while the regional forces argue that they attack for self-defense. However, many aid groups have already reported that the situation has not gotten better yet in Tigray. Alyona Synenko, the regional spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), reported “the situation is very worrying and has been deteriorating in recent months.” According to the ICRC, the situation in the rural area is even worse because the news of atrocities is becoming harder to access due to the “fragile security situation.”

Upon hearing the news, I felt distraught to know about the situation that the people in Tigray are facing. Even worse, those people are more vulnerable than ever, being attacked by their government and their neighboring regions. This is a time that humanitarian agencies need to respond quickly to stop further suffering. I see the conflict as being disastrous for both sides, especially the innocent women and children. For the Ethiopian government, this conflict looks bad for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed who just got the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019, and it could jeopardize the national security of Ethiopia from within. For the Tigrayan side, the cons of using guerilla warfare are obvious due to how many of its own people’s lives are being violated. Both sides need to fully cease fire and come to an agreement supported by international organizations.

Many countries in Africa have suffered years of conflicts and disagreements inside their political systems, Ethiopia is not an exception. Although the conflict between the Ethiopian government and the Tigrayan forces started in November, the tensions arose years before then. The conflict began when the Ethiopian Government ordered ground and air military operations in Tigray after accusing the Tigray People’s Liberation Front of orchestrating attacks on federal army camps. Currently, there are locals, including young civilians who arm themselves to fight. Further, there are reports of young girls and women who are stuck in the middle of the conflict, and reports of sexual assaulted comitted by combatants.

It is evident that if the Ethiopian Government had avoided escalation in November, the death toll and the scale of the conflict would not have increased this much. It is significant for the international audience including the US to keep putting pressure on the responsible actors in the Tigrayan region to end the conflict and the acts of atrocities toward the civilians. It is also important that those most vulnerable, including women, children, and refugees, are receiving proper aid and receiving protection by the humanitarian agencies operating in the region. If this conflict continues, it could very well compromise the security of Ethiopia and the nearer African regions in the future.