Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers the U.S. government, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. He can be reached on [email protected]
The United States, the European Union, the United Nations and others, including several human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have been pleading with Abiy Ahmed Ali for seven months to allow humanitarian assistance in the northern region of Tigray to save lives, but the Ethiopian Prime Minister has remained unmoved and defiant. However, with things worsening by the day, what else can the international community do?
On Friday, the United Nations warned that tens of thousands of malnourished children were at risk of dying in inaccessible areas in Tigray, a region in the northern part of Ethiopia, which has been ravaged by a conflict since November 2020.
“Without humanitarian access to scale up our response, an estimated 30,000-plus severely malourished children in those highly inaccessible areas are at high risk of death,” UNICEF spokesman James Elder told reporters in Geneva, Switzerland.
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Elder’s comments came only a day after the United States of America and the European Union warned in a joint statement Thursday that “human rights atrocities” and the “full-blown humanitarian crisis” are alarming in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, and are currently pushing 400,000 innocent people to “the brink of famine and loss of life.” The United Nations also said that some 350,000 people in Tigray were facing famine, warning that two million of the people in the region were on the brink of extreme conditions.
UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said “there is famine now in Tigray,” adding that “every expert you speak to will tell you this is going to get worse.”
His new data showed that the number of people classified as extremely hungry was “higher than anywhere in the world at any moment since a quarter of a million Somalis lost their lives in 2011.”
The United Nations has appealed for more than $200 million to scale up its response in the region, warning that more than 90 percent of the more than five million people in the Tigray region need emergency food assistance.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Samantha Power announced on Wednesday that the United States will be providing more than $181 million to deliver life-saving food, agricultural supplies, safe drinking water, shelter, health care, and essential services to protect the most vulnerable in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, where a worsening humanitarian catastrophe threatens millions of civilians.
“This urgently needed humanitarian aid will address life-threatening hunger and acute malnutrition by providing nearly 100,000 metric tons of food—enough to feed three million people for nearly two months—as well as seeds, tools, and fertilizers for farmers to replant crops intentionally destroyed by armed actors,” USAID said in a statement. “In addition, USAID will help protect the most vulnerable with safe spaces and psychosocial support for women and girls, case management for survivors of gender-based violence, training for social workers and community case workers, and programs to reunite children separated from their families.”
The United States is the world’s largest donor of humanitarian assistance for the Tigray response, contributing nearly $487 million since the crisis began.
The US and the EU in their joint statement on Thursday also accused Ethiopian and Eritrean forces of using starvation as a weapon of war by blocking access to humanitarian assistance to the region, adding that “Using starvation of civilians as a weapon of war is putting at risk the lives of millions.”
In Resolution 2417 (2018), the UN Security Council strongly condemned the use of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare and urged action against those responsible. The Security Council requested that the Secretary-General report swiftly to the Council when the risk of conflict-induced famine occurs.
The joint statement was signed by USAID Administrator Samantha Power; EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission Josep Borrell Fontelles; EU Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič and EU Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen.
Recalling the 1980s famine in Ethiopia, which led to an estimated one million deaths, many as a result of food assistance being blocked, US and EU leaders said they feared the seven-month old conflict in Tigray may be moving in the same direction.
“Of the 6 million in Tigray, 5.2 million people are facing hunger and requiring emergency food assistance. With 90 percent of the population in extreme need of humanitarian aid, the stakes could not be higher,” they said. “We have continuously called for an end to the violence and for unfettered humanitarian access to all parts of Tigray, but we are witnessing increasing restrictions.”
According to them, the restrictions on access are “severely impeding the ability of humanitarian workers to assist the most vulnerable, notably in blocked rural areas, where the crisis is worst.”
“Deliberate and repeated hindrances by the military and armed groups, the regular looting of humanitarian assistance, are driving the population towards mass starvation,” they warned.
“In addition, we are seeing wide-scale human suffering that is entirely preventable. Systematic violence is being inflicted upon civilians, including widespread sexual violence, and extra-judicial and ethnically-motivated killings. The population’s essential livelihood assets and health services are being destroyed.
“Such methods of warfare are grave violations of international humanitarian law. The independent investigation of human rights violations is of paramount importance.
“All parties to the conflict, as well as the international community, need to act urgently to avert a large-scale famine in Tigray and the potential for this crisis to destabilize the broader Horn of Africa region.”
They urged “all parties to the conflict to agree to a ceasefire immediately to facilitate humanitarian assistance to reach all people in need in Tigray regardless of where they are and to stop violence against civilians.”