Ethiopian War Weaponized Access To Food Causing A Man-Made Famine

353,000 people in Ethiopia are estimated to be suffering catastrophic food shortages, according to the UN-backed Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC). Additionally, UNICEF reported 33,000 malnourished Ethiopian children at a high risk of death. Currently, starvation in Ethiopia is more widespread than anywhere else in the world. The nation is facing the worst famine since Somalia’s 2011 famine. The crisis in Ethiopia is widely regarded as a man-made disaster.

Tigray, the northernmost region of Ethiopia, became embroiled in a war between the Ethiopian government, backed by Eritrean forces, and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in November 2020. The conflict began when Prime Minister and Nobel Peace laureate Abiy Ahmed ordered military forces to suppress his political opposition in Tigray. 

In Tigray, access to food is being weaponized by Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers. An Associated Press team witnessed the Ethiopian military forcing convoys containing food and medical aid to turn around and leave Tigray. Many farmers have also reported soldiers stopping them from harvesting and plowing, killing their livestock, and stealing their equipment. 

Soldiers threatened the farmers, telling them, “You won’t plough, you won’t harvest, and if you try we will punish you.” The BBC noted that in some remote villages, farmers harvest and plow their fields at night. They have scouts that warn them if soldiers are coming. In Tigray, farming has become an active form of resistance to government abuses. 

According to the BBC, Ethiopia was classified as borderline food secure just seven months ago. The war, which began just before the country’s harvest season, cost farmers the largest production opportunities of the year. Samantha Power, the USAID administrator, recounted her discussions with aid workers who described the famine as “the worst humanitarian conditions they have ever witnessed.” 

Birhanu Gebremedhin, health director of the Abi Adi district, spoke of the children dying from starvation, “this malnutrition is caused by the conflict.” Gebremedhin told the AP, “they’ve stolen their food, their equipment, and some were killed by the troops even. So they are not able to feed their children.”

Humanitarian organizations have struggled to distribute aid to civilians in Ethiopia. Independent organizations estimate that of the 5.2 million people in need of aid, only 13% receive anything. Furthermore, there have been many reports of soldiers showing up after aid distributions and stealing people’s food. 

Jen Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, explained that there needs to be a “famine prevention ceasefire.” The U.S. and E.U. are encouraging the warring parties to agree to a ceasefire to allow civilians access to aid; however, Ethiopian and Eritrean forces won’t commit to a ceasefire and are holding out for the surrender of TPFL troops, which seems unlikely in the near future. Additionally, while the TPLF did commit to helping with aid distribution, the group didn’t even address the possibility of a ceasefire. 

The UN Security Council has not met to address the crisis in Ethiopia, despite the recently passed Resolution 2417, which focuses on “armed conflict and hunger.” BBC highlighted that the resolution allows the UN to impose sanctions on the forces blocking humanitarian aid. Additionally, the resolution would allow the council to classify the man-made famine as a war crime. The G7 leaders are expected to address and work to solve Ethiopia’s crisis in an upcoming summit. 

“We should not wait to count the graves,” Jeff Feldman, U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, said of the Tigray crisis. The Tigrayan famine is currently one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. There must be a strong and unified international response to the blatant human rights violations.