Thursday, April 18, 2024
Wardheer News
  • Global News & Politics
  • News
  • Slideshow

Hunger crisis in Ethiopia threatens to eclipse prior famines

Sertan Sanderson

Drought, conflict, graft: the reasons for Ethiopia’s hunger crisis are varied, and some could have been avoided. As Ethiopians go to bed hungry, the distribution of food aid is suffering setbacks.

In December 2023, this woman was photographed in Tigray counting whatever little grain she had left to feed her familyImage: Million Haileselassie Brhane/DW

In 1985, musician and activist Bob Geldof organized the now-legendary Live Aid benefit concerts in London and Philadelphia to raise money in response to the devastating two-year famine in Ethiopia.

Nearly four decades later, Geldof might need to come out of retirement to plan another event of such proportions if the latest predictions and calculations by experts specializing in hunger in Ethiopia become a reality.

According to the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), some 20 million people in Ethiopia urgently need food assistance.

A former head of the WFP, who doesn’t want to be named, told The Associated Press that the Horn of Africa country is “marching towards starvation” once again.

Those who manage to receive aid in Ethiopia are among the lucky fewImage: Million Haileselassie/DW

Getachew Reda, the president of the beleaguered Tigray region’s interim administration, recently declared that over 90% of the region’s population was at risk of starvation and death. Tigrayan authorities have warned of an “unfolding famine” that could match the disaster of 1984-85, which claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

However, the government in Addis Ababa initially tried to shrug these reports off as “inaccurate,” accusing Reda of “politicizing the crisis.”

From conflict to famine

In 2022, a UN panel published a report accusing Ethiopia’s government of using “starvation as a method of warfare” — among other human rights violations committed during the Tigray conflict.

Building on the growing public awareness of the government’s complicity in hunger in the country’s recent past, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed decided to tone down his accusatory tone, releasing a joint statement with the UN on Friday. In it, the prime minister “makes the link to the current situation with the fact that civilians’ communities in this region have not recovered from the impact of the conflict,” said Laetitia Bader, deputy director for Africa at Human Rights Watch.

After years of deadly clashes, the government is quietly acknowledging that people in the regions of Tigray and Amhara are now facing a new enemy: hunger.

‘Conflict and drought are intricately linked’

According to the latest numbers, at least 372 people have already died as a consequence of suffering hunger in the past six months in the country’s restive north.

Food shortages have accelerated chiefly due to war in the Tigray region and unrest in neighboring Amara. Meanwhile, the worst drought in decades in the Horn of Africa has only exacerbated the dire situation — particularly in Tigray.

“There is no doubt that conflict and drought are intricately linked right now in north Ethiopia and contributing to the devastating food insecurity situation there,” Bader told DW.

The persistent state of insecurity there, both in terms of political developments and agricultural challenges, meant only half of Tigray’s farmland was used during the main planting season last year, according to the UN.

In most cases, only about a third of the yield was usable. In some areas of Tigray, that yield was reportedly as low as 2%.

“Nothing we planted [this year] managed to yield any harvest, and now, there is a famine in the country,” Fitsum Woldegbriel, from the Atsbi district in eastern Tigray, told DW. She added that in all of 2023, she saw rain in the province only twice.

The 65-year-old said she doesn’t even know how to feed her family anymore.

“In the past, when there was a similar problem, you would go somewhere and beg [for something] to eat. Now we don’t even have the energy to go.”

High-level government corruption

The WFP decided to suspend food aid to Tigray in March 2023 following reports of widespread theft of aid donations, especially grain.

In June, the WFP expanded that suspension of aid to all of Ethiopia in response to ongoing aid corruption.

“Food aid programming was halted in Ethiopia at a critical moment for many months while the UN and the US government were investigating allegations of widespread theft of aid supplies across the country,” said Bader.

US officials later said they believed the grain theft may have been the biggest deliberate diversion of grain in history — coming at a time when such commodities continue to be in high demand amid limited exports from Ukraine due to the ongoing war with Russia.

“It’s obviously essential for donors and the aid community to be investigating and to be taking actions against the theft of aid supplies,” said Bader. 

“But at the same time, it is critical that this doesn’t come at the cost of the many people in need,” she added.

Where did the aid go?

It remains unclear whose pockets benefited from the theft of aid donations. Some humanitarian groups have blamed Ethiopian government officials, while others have pointed the finger at the country’s powerful military.

“This is a government — and forces that [the prime minister] oversees — that have deliberately hampered civilians’ access to food as part of their strategy of war in the Tigray region,” said Bader.

Following the discovery of the widespread fraud, the WFP took a set of precautions to avert future theft, resuming some of its limited aid distribution to Ethiopia just six months ago. The US only restarted its aid program in December.

Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced as a result of the Tigray war

However, even just one month into the resumption of aid deliveries by the WFP and other aid agencies and governments, only a small fraction of people in Tigray said they are receiving food aid.

The Tigray Food Cluster, a group of aid agencies co-chaired by the WFP working with Ethiopian officials, announced two weeks ago that only 14% of more than 3 million people targeted for food aid in the region were able to eat.

Children most affected

Yosef Gebremichael, a child nurse in Central Tigray, is worried that hunger might again become the greatest killer of children in the country, telling DW that the rate of malnutrition among children had tripled in recent months.

“In just a few months, more than 80 children suffering from severe malnutrition have received support at our hospital. And even those who were discharged from treatment [had to] come back again.”

Meanwhile, in neighboring Amhara region, the distribution of aid also appears to be suffering setbacks made more difficult by a rebellion since last August, which experts say is obstructing the movements of humanitarian organizations there.

HRW’s Bader worries that any potential escalation of the Amhara conflict would result in further suffering.

“Government forces and their allies restricted humanitarian assistance, targeted humanitarian actors, deliberately targeted food sources and livelihood sources throughout the conflict [in Tigray],” she said.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was recently recognized for his ‘vision, leadership and commitment to food security’ by the UNImage: United Nations FAO 2024

Abiy honored for ‘vision, leadership and commitment to food security’

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed just returned from a recent trip to Italy, where he was awarded the Agricola Medal — the highest award given by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

The UN body said the award recognized Abiy’s “vision, leadership and commitment to food security and nutrition as well as the pursuit of innovative solutions in wheat self-sufficiency in the context of fast-changing and challenging circumstances.”

“So, of course, there is an irony,” said Bader, referring to Abiy’s recognition in light of the cascading hunger disaster in Ethiopia.

Million Haileselassie Brhane contributed to this article

Edited by: Chrispin Mwakideu

Source: DW

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.