The United Nations (UN) advised that urgent measures are needed to avoid famine in Ethiopia’s northernmost region Tigray. Mark Lowcock, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator informed AFP News agency about a “a serious risk of famine if assistance is not scaled up in the next two months.” The Tigray conflict has now persisted for seven. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered ground and air army operations in Tigray in November 2020. This followed accusations against the region’s ruling party at the time, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), of organizing assaults against federal military camps. The TPLF, which ruled the country for many years before Ahmed assumed power, alleged that federal forces and Eritrea unleashed a “coordinated assault” against them.
PM Abiy Ahmed declared victory in November, after the military invasion of the nearby capital, Mekelle. However, violence continues today. This has created fears of conflict escalating, with devastating outcomes on the population. Aid groups have called for full humanitarian access to the region, as Lowcock stated that “[C]oncrete measures are urgently needed to break the vicious cycle between armed conflict, violence and food insecurity.” He also wrote a report on the situation, emphasizing the need for aid in the region.
In the report, Lowcock urged the importance of taking “any steps possible to prevent a famine from occurring.” He also noted that at least 20 percent of Tigrayans “face emergency food insecurity,” as well as continued “destruction and violence.” Since Tigray’s conflict began in November 2020, almost two million people have been displaced, in addition to many civilian casualties and injuries. There has also been widespread rape and other forms of sexual violence. Additionally, Lowcock observed destruction of public and private infrastructure, along with “objects indispensable to the survival of civilians… including hospitals and agricultural land.”
It is estimated that over 90 percent of Tigray’s harvest was lost in the ongoing conflicts and destruction, and that 80 percent of the livestock was stolen. The Ethiopian Overseas Ministry blamed the TPLF partly for the disruptions, adding that the majority of support was administered by the government in food delivery services. Ethiopian authorities assured that “unfettered humanitarian access” will be provided. However, rural areas are mainly cut off due to ongoing violence, according to the UN’s Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). This includes the majority of Tigray being blocked by parties since March, which has facilitated the escalating food insecurity.
The World Peace Foundation has alleged that Tigray’s mass starvation resulted from the Ethiopian and Eritrean militaries “systematically” deconstructing its economy. However, Ethiopia’s embassy in London has stated that these are “unsubstantiated accusations.” Currently, almost 1.7 million people are displaced from their homes in Tigray, while over five million face extreme hunger. Humanitarian aid is urgently needed in the region.