Over 90% of people in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia need food aid, according to the United Nations (UN). This week the UN’s World Food Program (WFP) appealed for more than 200 million USD in aid to help fight increasing hunger areas in the Tigray region. For nearly seven months now, fighting in Tigray has caused rising hunger levels amongst the civilian population. The WFP’s spokesman Tomson Phiri told reporters that the WFP is “deeply concerned at the number of people [they] see in need of nutrition support and emergency food assistance.” Since March, the agency has already aided more than one million people when it started working in Tigray’s northwestern and southern areas.
The current food crisis stems from the conflict between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Ethiopian government after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered air and ground operations in Tigray in early November 2020. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed accused the TPLF of organizing and executing attacks on federal army camps in Tigray. The TPLF was the ruling party of the Tigray region and had dominated national politics until Abiy was elected in 2018. Abiy was elected in 2018, with his main focus being to end the “territorial stalemate” between Ethiopia and Eritrea. He received a Nobel Peace Prize for his work in 2019. The military operations launched by Abiy were led by the Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) and backed by troops from Eritrea and Ethiopia’s Amhara region.
The ENDF declared victory in late November after capturing the regional capital, Mekelle. However, the fighting is estimated to have killed thousands of people and forced almost two million people from their homes. Along with the deaths and displacements, there have been reports of sexual assault, ethnic cleansing, and other war crimes by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces. Aid workers in the region have reported Eritrean soldiers entering villages and killing as many people as they can. Survivors of those attacks report soldiers attempting to rape and beat women, some attacks even leaving women with organ damage. These reports reached the international community, and the United States’ Biden administration suspended U.S. economic and security assistance to Ethiopia. Along with those suspensions, there are also calls by U.S. legislators to impose sanctions on individual Ethiopian and Eritreans government and military leaders. The suspension of U.S. assistance and the UN warnings of famine because of the violence are meant to pressure officials into declaring a cease-fire; however, no immediate action has been taken yet.
The actions by the Ethiopian government, ENDF, Eritrean troops, and Amhara forces have killed thousands of people so far and left over 5 million people starving. These actions, if continued, will lead the country further into a humanitarian crisis and a refugee crisis. The loss of crops in the Tigray region and the threat of a refugee crisis also poses a risk for the surrounding region. Abiy’s administration’s actions pose a threat to civilians in the Tigray region and the county’s overall maintenance of the stability achieved following the conflict with Eritrea.