Ethiopia: Man-Made Famine Silently Killing More Than Thousands In Blockaded Tigray

The humanitarian situation in Ethiopia’s Tigray is set to worsen dramatically. After 10 months since the war began, “stocks of relief aid, cash, and fuel are running very low or are completely depleted. Food stocks already ran out on August 20,” Grant Leaity, United Nation’s acting humanitarian coordinator for Ethiopia said.

The region continues to be under humanitarian aid blockade, where access to life-saving humanitarian relief is extremely restricted. As a matter of fact, it is reported that no trucks have been able to enter Tigray since August 22.

War broke out in November 2020 between Ethiopia’s federal troops and forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which controls the region of some six million people.

The TPLF says it is the legitimate government of Tigray, having won regional elections in 2020, but the Ethiopian government denounced the poll as illegal and regards the TPLF as a terrorist organization.

Thousands have died, more than 2 million people have been forced to flee their homes, 5.2 million people need urgent assistance, and 400,000 people are facing famine-like conditions, according to the World Health Organization.

Leaity has explained that “to date, and since 12 July, only 335 trucks have entered the region – or about 9 percent of the required 3,900 trucks.”

The situation is so maddening that mothers and parents are sharing photos of their malnourished children. The famine conditions, which up until early July were limited to rural areas of Tigray, have now reached the outskirts of Mekelle, endangering even more lives.

During the past two months, the main hospital in Mekelle has received 60 children with severe acute malnutrition. Of those 60, six have died, according to Dr. Abrha Gebregzabher, a pediatrician supervising the treatment of malnourished children at Ayder hospital, Al Jazeera reports. Medical supplies and medicines are also scarce, and some hospitals could run out of therapeutic milk in three weeks.

Who is to blame?

Since the conflict erupted, the Ethiopian authorities and the Tigrayan rebels have traded blame for the issue, with each side accusing the other of obstructing aid convoys and growing famine bigger.

Although aid can now move more easily than before within Tigray, there is a problem getting aid trucks into the region because the only viable land route is through the neighboring Afar region, but there are logistical and bureaucratic hold-ups.

Aid agencies have run out of food for distribution in most areas. According to UN officials, less than 10 percent of needed humanitarian supplies reached Tigray over the past month due to obstruction of aid access.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s spokesperson Billene Seyoum has several times dismissed allegations that the Ethiopian government is blocking aid. She said trucks were “en route” to Tigray, adding that the number of checkpoints on the road referred to by the UN had been reduced to three from seven.

While aid corridors and telecommunications remain shut, Tigray’s banks have also been cut off from the federal system. According to Al Jazeera, this makes it impossible to send remittances into the region and cash is beginning to run out. People are only allowed to withdraw 1,000 birrs ($22) per month, but the prices of basic food items are high. For example, cooking oil is 700 birr, ($15).

The war in numbers

As the war has spilled into neighboring Afar and Amhara regions, the situation there has also worsened, and 1.7 million people are on the brink of famine.

To put the conflict in numbers is extremely difficult due to secrecy and poor communication services at times. Rebel forces have said that they have killed more than 3,000 “enemy forces”, and injured around 4,500. The military has announced that it has killed more than 5,600 rebels, without specifying a timeframe. 

About 150 people have died of starvation in August picking up TPLF’s information. These are the first hunger-related deaths that the TPLF has reported since its fighters recaptured most of the region from federal forces in June. Nevertheless, there is no independent confirmation of its statement.

If Tigray does not receive sufficient and sustained levels of humanitarian supplies, cash, and fuel, the humanitarian situation in the north of Ethiopia will get much worse. Over half of the health facilities are not operational, people are suffering from trauma and injuries, food insecurity and malnutrition, sexual and gender-based violence, communicable diseases such as malaria, cholera, as well as reduced access to treatment and maternal and child health services. The conflict has also disrupted the COVID-19 response.

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