0% OF THE POPULATION NEEDS ACCESS TO EMERGENCY FOOD AID (TUFTS UNIVERSITY, 2021)
400,000 AFFECTED BY FAMINE, WITH ANOTHER 1.8M PEOPLE ON THE BRINK OF FAMINE (BBC, 2021)
How did it begin?
In November 2020, war began in Tigray when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed attempted to disarm Tigray’s dominant political party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), after an attack on a military base. Caught between the TPLF and Ethiopian government troops, local civilians are stuck in the crossfire. To worsen the situation, Eritrean troops have also joined the fighting in support of the Ethiopian government, and are widely accused of sexual violence, ethnic cleansing, and outright massacre of Tigrayans. While all involved in the conflict have been accused of human rights violations and mass killings, the man-made famine is now one of the most pressing humanitarian concerns in the region.
Why is there a man-made famine?
In February this year, Tigray’s most effective aid groups were disbanded by the Ethiopian government (The Guardian, 2021). Subsequently, food aid and medicine that should have reached the most vulnerable in Tigray were blocked by Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers from entering the region or stolen. Alarmingly, soldiers are also preventing farmers from planting, harvesting, or plowing their land. Livestock has also been killed, creating a long-lasting problem with the nation on the cusp of widespread famine.
Local humanitarian groups report that if these methods of war do not stop soon, it will quickly become irreversible. Locals simply cannot wait for the next round of harvest when no food is available now.
While Ethiopia’s government denies that starvation and rape are used as weapons of war, the fact remains that farming has become scarce, and those engaging in farming have not only been beaten, but those given food by the government have not been given enough to live on (AP, 2021).
According to the U.N. World Food Program, the full extent of this hunger situation is hard to pinpoint. Officials and food aid are unable to access remote locations due to inaccessibility and armed groups blocking major entrances. 1.4 million people in Tigray have been reached, but that’s barely half of the population who need access to resources.
What else is happening?
While families and children have been gravely impacted by the famine, perhaps the most disturbing evidence is not just the starvation and malnourishment, but the fact that these point toward a larger aim of ethnic cleansing. Gang rapes and sexual abuse committed against Tigrayan girls and women by Ethiopian and Eritrean troops are commonplace, and worse still, increasing reports are surfacing of women being violently assaulted to prevent them from giving birth in the future. Horrific accounts of a hot metal rod being inserted into a woman’s genitals, or of nails, rocks, and pieces of plastic being found inside rape victims tell a disturbing story of the extent of torture these women face (Al Jazeera, 2021). Many are gang raped over days, and have reported their limbs being broken or even being shot for resisting. Some victims are as young as 9 years old, a sickening revelation.
The combination of widespread starvation and sexual violence is a devastating situation that demands action, yet very little is being done to condemn and stop the fighting, and provide help to the vulnerable civilians who are in need.