U.N. has this weekend warned for famine in the north Ethiopian region, Tigray, that borders Eritrea. Reuters reports that about 350,000 people are currently living in famine conditions in the Tigray region. Moreover, 2 million people are close to living in famine. The food insecurity is partly due to the ongoing conflict in the area.
The conflict started in November last year between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). There have been claims that the Ethiopian government asked the Eritrean military for help, but until recently that was refuted by both governments. TPLF was founded in 1975 and was a part of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front during the Ethiopian civil war. A TPLF dominated Ethiopian government was later involved in a war with Eritrea over border delimitations. The Eritrean-Ethiopian war ended in 2000, but the peace agreement was not signed until 2018 when Abiy Ahmed Ali became Prime Minister of Ethiopia. The relations seem to have improved significantly, as Eritrean soldier’s military is now helping the Ethiopian government.
Due to the current conflict, more than 2 million people have been displaced. The U.N. reports that 21 percent of the 21,000 children under five years old that they screened for malnutrition had ‘severe wasting.’ It is estimated that 5.2 million people are in need of food assistance in the region. An Official of the Ethiopian government has accused the TPLF of targeting food trucks and aid personnel. Meanwhile, U.N. Official Mark Lowcock has suggested that starvation is being used as a weapon of war by the Eritrean forces. Reuters have also talked to farmers that say that Eritrean soldiers have burned fields where food was grown. According to the U.N., approximately 90 percent of the 2020 harvest has been lost and farmers are now eating the seeds meant for planting the next harvest. Farmers are also being stopped from planting new seeds by Eritrean soldiers, and most of the livestock is believed to have been looted or slaughtered. There is also a problem with water access, the local NGO Relief Society of Tigray has pointed out that several water pumps have been destroyed.
In March, the Ethiopian Prime minister pledged that Eritrean soldiers would leave the Tigray region. However, CNN reports that Eritrean soldiers are still in the region and are disguised as Ethiopian soldiers. An Ethiopian security official reportedly told CNN that “the Ethiopian government has no control over Eritrean soldiers.” If true, this is a deeply troubling development. In addition, the western part of Tigray is under the control of Amhara forces, another region in Ethiopia, who has now claimed the area as their own.
The situation in Tigray is a humanitarian crisis that is caused by an ongoing conflict. Many people are displaced and at risk of starvation. International organizations and actors need to put pressure on all parties to allow the aid to reach its destinations. However, this food insecurity will not be solved if the ending of the conflict is not also. The American State Secretary Antony J. Blinken has stated that despite much diplomatic engagement with the parties, little progress has been made. Therefore, the U.S. is imposing visa restrictions on all conflicting actors. He also called for the international community to follow suit. Hopefully, increased international pressure will convince the parties to take steps towards entering a meaningful dialog in order to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict.