In Ethiopia, the rising tensions between the Ethiopian central government and Tigrayan rebel force has posed a substantial threat of mass starvation among the civilian population in the northern Tigray region of Ethiopia. The United Nations has warned that the country of Ethiopia is on the path to a worsening humanitarian catastrophe. UNICEF has confirmed that in the next year upwards of 100,000 children could face extreme hunger in response to the continued fighting in Tigray.
The humanitarian crisis in the Tigray region continues to worsen as the Ethiopian government enforces a blockade on the lone road into the conflict-torn region of Tigray. This blockade has made it tremendously difficult for aid workers and relief convoys to distribute humanitarian supplies into Tigray. Many humanitarian aid workers have been under attack for traveling on the road to provide Tigrayan citizens important supplies to combat the food and medical shortages. The United Nations has explained that there needs to be more daily trucks carrying humanitarian supplies to the civilians facing famine-like conditions. However, these trucks are not being permitted to travel to the Tigray region preventing more than 4.8 million people with important humanitarian aid and relief.
A letter sent to the Ethiopian government explaining the inhumane conditions and situations of the civilians in May K’inet’al, points to the larger devastation of the conflict. As explained by the district leader of May K’inet’al, Berhe Desta Gebremariam, in the letter sent to the Ethiopian government, “There is no access to clean water; electricity, phone communication, banking, health care, and access to humanitarian aid are blocked… People are unable to move around to save their lives because Eritrean troops completely put us under siege with no transportation, and people are condemned to suffer and die.” Death by starvation is now becoming much more common especially where humanitarian aid is harder to access.
According to Human Rights Watch, the reactions from the United Nations and influential governments have been slow-moving and mixed. Within the last few months, the United States, the European Union, and the United Kingdom have made a more coordinated response to the conflict by calling for more clear access to aid and an investigation into the human rights abuses. There has been an established commission of inquiry by The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights which needs financial, technical, and political support from the African Union. There has been a much slower response from the UN Human Rights Council who only began to consider the situation of Tigray in mid-July. The UN Security Council was stagnant in its decisions to discuss the matter of Ethiopia with some members, citing that the conflict was an “internal matter.”
The current conflict within Ethiopia has reached a dangerous peak. However, the conflict does not seem to be slowing down despite a unilateral ceasefire declaration. The inability to achieve peace within the Ethiopian conflict points to the larger difficulties surrounding conflict termination. In this case, the declaration of a unilateral ceasefire by the Ethiopian government was not recognized by the Tigrayan rebel forces. Instead, both actors of the conflict have continued their fighting and increased their military forces. However, this continued conflict has taken a tremendous toll on the unarmed Tigrayan civilians who are facing increased humanitarian crises.
Ethiopia’s government’s decision to block humanitarian aid to Tigray points to the larger issue of how hunger and starvation is being used as a weapon of war. Despite the Ethiopian government denying these allegations, it is evident that the block of food and medical aid is very much intentional. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed explained in his remarks that the Tigrayan civilians need to decide who they want as their leaders. This was greatly emphasized in his remarks stating, “If they are cheering after we left — while we were the ones who had been giving them wheat — they need a time of silence.”
There are over four million people in need of food aid in Tigray. Many of them lost their farms and business through the burning of crops and looting by Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Amhara troops which has forced many to flee to Sudan or suffer from intense starvation. The fighting is continuing without any consideration of the civilians in the region. The Ethiopian government has been claiming that it is not responsible for this crisis, however, it is playing a direct role in the deterioration of the safety of civilians and the region at large by blocking humanitarian aid.
It is clear that the conflict between the Ethiopian government and Tigrayan rebel forces will not end anytime in the near future. However, what is clear is that there is a big humanitarian crisis facing the civilians in Tigray. Many are experiencing intense famine-like conditions with no supplies or support providing emergency aid. Not only has there been a blockade preventing the ability of humanitarian relief groups to provide the civilians with food and medical materials, but there have also been numerous atrocities committed by both sides of the conflict directly against civilians.
It is crucial that unbiased international intervention be considered to help end this conflict between the Ethiopian government and Tigrayan rebel forces. Since the unilateral ceasefire proved to not be effective in ending the violent conflict, the next step needs to look at how unbiased intervention can help to alleviate the turmoil in the region. By introducing a third party as a mediator between the two actors in the conflict, there may be a better chance of reaching an agreed-upon settlement. As explained by David Cunningham in his article “Veto Players and Civil War Duration,” external actors’ roles in a conflict have a profound effect on the ability to end it by “intervening to enforce an agreement to end the war or providing support to one side in an attempt to win the conflict” (Cunningham 878). The strong commitment from external actors can provide the country with a better chance of reaching negotiations which can establish the most durable peace possible.
As of right now, the international community needs to make a commitment towards helping these civilians who are facing dire humanitarian crises. There needs to be a clear reprimand from the international community towards the Ethiopian government that should outline the consequences if this type of injustice is continued. Also, the humanitarian aid workers need to have uninterrupted access to Tigray to help prevent famine and human rights abuses against the civilians. This can only happen if there is a dialogue between the Ethiopian government and Tigrayan rebel forces which can lead to the end of the conflict and atrocities.
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