Category Archives: Ethiopia

Ethiopia’s Tigray crisis: Tragedy of the man-made famine

A displaced child from Western Tigray waits at meal time to receive a plate of food outside a classroom in the school where they are sheltering in Tigray's capital Mekele on February 24, 2021.

“There’s famine now in Tigray.” The world’s most senior humanitarian official, UN emergency relief coordinator Mark Lowcock, said these frank words on the situation in the northern Ethiopian region on Thursday.

His statement – at a roundtable discussion ahead of the G7 summit – drew on the authoritative assessment of the crisis by the UN-backed Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC).

In a report, it estimated that 353,000 people in Tigray were in phase 5 (catastrophe) and a further 1.769 million are in phase 4 (emergency).

That’s a technical way of saying “famine”. The IPC didn’t use that word because it’s so politically sensitive – the Ethiopian government would object.

Behind these numbers lies a brutal human tragedy. Huge numbers of deaths by starvation are unavoidable. Indeed, it is already happening.

Tigrayans tell of remote villages where people are found dead in the morning, having perished overnight. Women who were kidnapped by soldiers and held as sexual slaves, cared for in hospitals or safe houses, are tormented by the children from whom they were separated, who may well be starving without their mothers’ care.

Starvation is a cruel way to die, as the undernourished body consumes its own organs in order to generate enough energy to keep a flicker of life.

Those who succumb first are young children – typically two-thirds of those who die in a famine. Based on the just-released numbers from Tigray, it is quite realistic to fear 300,000 child deaths – equivalent to half the pre-school children in London.

The numbers err on the side of understatement. The survey teams could not reach all areas and relied on extrapolating from limited data.

According to the Tigray Humanitarian Atlas published by researchers at Belgium’s University of Ghent, out of Tigray’s six million people:

  • Just one-third live in areas controlled by the Ethiopian government
  • Another third are in areas occupied by the Eritrean army, which is Ethiopia’s military ally, but which doesn’t cooperate with humanitarian agencies
  • A further 1.5 million live in rural areas controlled by the Tigrayan rebels, where aid workers cannot go and mobile-phone coverage has been shut off.

The government says that there are only “remnants” of resistance by Tigrayan rebels and promises it will soon be in full control.

The UN forecasts that the situation will deteriorate – the question is just how far and how fast.

The IPC report includes the line that “this report has not been endorsed by the Government of Ethiopia”.

That’s a warning.

The Ethiopian authorities will probably dispute the “famine” warning, on the technicality that the “catastrophe” conditions were spread out across different parts of Tigray and in no single location did the proportion of people in phase five reach 20%, the standard threshold for declaring famine.

Ploughing in the darkness

At the roundtable, USAid administrator Samantha Power waved away what she called “attempts at obfuscation by the Ethiopian government”.

Humanitarian workers are worried that, with the summer rains now falling across Tigray, farmers need to be busy cultivating – and they’re not.

A team from the University of Ghent, until last year working on agricultural projects in the region, describes how large areas of farmland are abandoned this year because peasants don’t have seeds, oxen to plough, or fertilizers.

Worse, soldiers threaten them: “You won’t plough, you won’t harvest, and if you try we will punish you.”

In remoter villages, farmers rouse their oxen at midnight and plough in the darkness before dawn, with scouts to warn them of marauding soldiers.

If there’s no harvest later this year, Tigrayans will depend on aid – or starve.

This is a man-made famine. There’s no drought, and last year’s locust swarms have gone.

The region was classified as borderline “food secure” seven months ago, before fighting erupted between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) – then the party in power in the region – and the federal government, led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

Food aid stolen

The war disrupted services, closed banks and stopped the government’s biggest emergency response system – the “productive safety net programme”.

The most fertile parts of Tigray were occupied by forces from neighbouring Amhara region, depriving Tigrayans of their farms and also shutting down the biggest seasonal labour opportunities.

The Eritrean forces that joined the conflict have been accused of widespread pillage and, along with the Ethiopian army, of burning crops, destroying health facilities, and preventing farmers from ploughing their land.

The UN conservatively estimates that 22,000 survivors of rape will need support. Fear of sexual violence means that women and girls stay in hiding, unable to seek food.

Humanitarian agencies have been slow to respond, impeded both by the insecurity and by numerous bureaucratic obstacles placed in their way by the Ethiopian authorities. To operate in a context such as this, aid workers need communications equipment.

The UN officially claims that aid distributions have reached 2.8 million people. Privately, the humanitarian workers say that is far too rosy.

Many of those have received one distribution of rations, perhaps 30kg of flour – enough to feed a family for 10 days. Luckier ones have got two allocations.

And there are persistent reports that aid offloaded from trucks is then stolen by troops. Some villagers report that Eritrean troops show up immediately after aid distributions and take the food.

Independent estimates are that just 13% of the 5.2 million people in need are getting aid.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-57422168

Tigray crisis: ‘Overwhelming’ humanitarian needs in Ethiopia’s region

Workers from the International Committee of the Red Cross and volunteers from the Ethiopian Red Cross distribute relief supplies to civilians in Tigray region, Ethiopia. Photo: January 2021
The Red Cross also said the humanitarian response to the situation needed to be urgently scaled up

The needs of people affected by deadly fighting in Ethiopia’s Tigray region are “overwhelming”, the International Committee of the Red Cross has warned.

“The people in Tigray… lost the harvest season,” the ICRC’s director of operations, Dominik Stillhart, told the BBC during his visit to Ethiopia.

He said there were “serious issues with regards to access to medical care”.

Ethiopia’s government had earlier said was being delivered and nearly 1.5 million people had been reached.

Thousands of people are reported to have been killed, and about two million have been internally displaced.

About 100,000 Eritrean refugees who had been living in UN-run camps in Tigray have also been caught up in the conflict.

Conflict broke out in November after the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) seized federal military bases in the region following a breakdown in relations with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government in Addis Ababa.

What is the background to the conflict?

The TPLF had been the ruling party in Tigray, with an estimated 250,000 fighters under its command, for almost 30 years.

It was ousted from power on 28 November after Ethiopian government troops captured the regional capital, Mekelle.

Mr Abiy accused the TPLF of threatening the territorial integrity of Ethiopia, and of trying to overthrow his government by seizing military bases earlier that month.

The TPLF said it had captured the bases as a pre-emptive strike as it feared federal intervention in Tigray.

In August, it organised elections in Tigray in defiance of a decision taken at federal level to postpone all polls because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Mr Abiy’s government condemned the election as illegal, while the TPLF said his government was “illegitimate” and did not have a mandate to govern Ethiopia.

Tensions boiled over, leading to the outbreak of conflict.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-56147512

‘Double burden’ for Ethiopian migrants stranded as conflict rages in Tigray

An Ethiopian woman who fled the ongoing fighting in Tigray region prepares a meal in Hamdait village on the Sudan-Ethiopia border in eastern Kassala state, Sudan November 14, 2020. REUTERS/El Tayeb Siddig

ADDIS ABABA,- When migrant worker Lula flew home to Ethiopia after eight months in Saudi detention, she thought her ordeal was over.

But instead of returning to her family in Tigray, she found herself stranded in the capital, unable to contact her parents and daughter as fighting has cut off the northern region and raised fears of a humanitarian crisis.

Lula is one of dozens of migrants who returned from Saudi Arabia last week to find that internet and phone connections to Tigray have been suspended and roads and airports closed.

“I have tried to contact my family but the phone is not working,” 29-year-old Lula, who declined to publish her full name, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from Addis Ababa.

“It is concerning not to hear from them at this point.”

Two weeks of escalating conflict between federal forces and rebellious local rulers has killed hundreds and pushed 30,000 refugees into Sudan, leading the United Nations (U.N.) to warn on Tuesday of a “full-scale humanitarian crisis”.

It has called into question whether Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, Africa’s youngest leader and last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, can hold his fractured nation together ahead of national elections next year.

More than 14,000 Ethiopians have returned from Saudi Arabia since March, according to the U.N. migration agency, IOM, where many like Lula were detained in camps that the U.N. described as overcrowded and unsanitary.

Every year, it is estimated that tens of thousands of Ethiopians travel irregularly to the Gulf in search of better paid work. Many end up exploited as maids or on building sites.

STRESSFUL

More than 80 out of about 260 migrants who flew home to Ethiopia after the conflict broke out had to stay in a hotel in Addis Ababa because they came from Tigray and had no relatives in the capital. This included about 20 minors.

Shimeles Belaso, a director at Ethiopia’s ministry of peace said that the stranded returnees will be transported to their respective towns and villages when the situation calms.

“There are now security issues … just letting them go there is troublesome and (they could) be troubled and endangered,” he said.

“Therefore, the Ethiopian government is handling them, covering all the necessary costs for them.”

Lula was relieved that she had a friend in Addis Ababa who was willing to take her in, providing some home comforts and a familiar face to help brush away her painful memories of prison in Saudi Arabia.

Her dream of working abroad fell flat this year when rebels in Yemen – through which she and scores of other migrants were travelling to Saudi Arabia – rounded them up, while shooting and calling them “coronavirus carriers” and took them to the border.

Lula was one of thousands of migrants who were held in Saudi detention centres, described by Human Rights Watch as squalid and abusive, before being repatriated to Ethiopia.

“There were illnesses, hunger, deaths,” Lula recalled.

“It is better to beg in your own country,” said Lula, who has twice made the dangerous journey to Saudi Arabia, adding that she would not return there illegally.

Kassahun Habtamu, assistant professor at the School of Psychology of Addis Ababa University, said that the conflict and ensuing communications blackout put returnees at risk of developing mental health problems.

“Their migration experience is a very big burden by itself,” said Kassahun, who has studied the mental health problems faced by Ethiopian returnees from the Middle East.

“And this conflict now … they don’t know what is happening to their family members, they can’t even tell them that they are back. So this is a double burden, and it is very, very stressful.”

For Lula, the only option now is to find work in Addis Ababa while waiting for the conflict to end.

“I’m worried not to find a job, to have no money,” she said, after days of fruitless searching in the capital. “If the roads were open and I could see my daughter, I would go today.”