Due to a political dispute between the Ethiopian Government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, war has ravaged the state for over 8 months. Since violence broke out in November of last year, the people of Tigray have been pushed to the brink of starvation. According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification System, which ranks levels of food insecurity from Phase 1- minimal, to Phase 5- famine, at least 350,000 people are experiencing famine. In total, there are approximately 5.5 million people facing food insecurity. Ethiopia has seen famine in the past, but the current circumstances are the worst in recent decades.
The political disputes leading to this event began with Tigrayan dissatisfaction towards Ethiopian president, Abey Ahmid, and his attempts to centralise power. Disagreement escalated when Tigray held its own regional elections, against the will of the central government. This led to the government halting funding and cutting ties with Tigray, and war finally broke out when Tigrayan forces were accused of attacking government military bases. The current landscape sees Ethiopian government forces fighting against what have been deemed as ‘Tigrayan terrorist groups.’ The lives of millions of people facing hunger every day have become a causality in this political disagreement. A Nobel Prize winner for his work in ending a territorial dispute in 2019, Abey Ahmid must consider the long-term impacts of the humanitarian damage being wrought upon civilians in the pursuit of a particular structure of government.
According to Mark Lowcock, the U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator, food is being used as a “weapon of war” in this instance. The Ethiopian forces are purposefully targeting food stocks and agricultural equipment, inevitably ensuring that the hunger continues into the next season. Children are likely to be the biggest victims of this starvation – usually two thirds of deaths during periods of famine are children. There have also been reports of mass killings and mass rape, factors which also lead to increased risk of famine. The fear of being subject to sexual violence has forced many girls and women into hiding, preventing them from being able to seek food. Further to this, over a million people have been displaced due to the violence, causing them to leave behind their sources of income and food. Despite humanitarian relief efforts, emergency food and health care has not been able to reach the majority of the Tigray population due to threats initiated by Ethiopian forces.
This famine is man-made, unrelated to natural impacts on agriculture or health conditions. Current and future food supplies are being deliberately targeted by the government in an attempt to force the Tigray forces to back down. This situation displays the cruel side effects of war, highlighting how at least some are preventable. Prior to this violence, Tigray had progressed significantly in terms of development, environmental repair, increasing education rates and wages. Conflict alone would have caused considerable damage to this progress, but the forced destruction to agriculture and health will have deeper and longer lasting impacts upon society, the environment, the economy and the future.