The United States House of Representatives was told on Wednesday afternoon that Ethiopia is facing food insecurity and vaccination troubles as conflict and instability continue in the East African nation.
The U.S. House’s subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Global Human Rights met to discuss the status of ongoing issues in Africa stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic and its handling.
During the hearing, the subcommittee and its witnesses discussed instability in Ethiopia and the importance of addressing complex issues of food insecurity and economic downturn relating to refugees and widespread displacement in the region.
Referring to the large Ethiopian population in his Minnesota community, U.S. Representative Dean Phillips said, “They are gravely concerned, as all of us are, relative to circumstances in Ethiopia- especially as so many tens of thousands of refugees are fleeing the country, being hosted in refugee camps in Sudan.”
Conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region has caused tens of thousands of refugees to flee to neighboring Sudan and hundreds of thousands have been internally displaced according to Human Rights Watch.
The challenges that refugees and displaced people face are exacerbated by the increased health and economic instability that the region faces, which have severely worsened over the past year’s coronavirus pandemic.
The coronavirus pandemic and the humanitarian crises resulting from ethnic violence have led to an increased food shortage, leaving many Ethiopians unable to provide for their physical needs.
Regional conflict has caused many to flee their homes, often losing access to stable and consistent food production in the process.
U.S. Representative Young Kim spoke on the difficulty of promoting coronavirus-safe protocol and lifestyles in an already struggling economy, saying, “We have seen over the past years that lockdowns have severely impacted food security in a number of African nations.”
Ethiopia’s economy is heavily dependent on agriculture. According to the United States Agency for International Development, agriculture accounts for 40% of Ethiopia’s GDP, 80% of its exports, and an estimated 75% of the country’s workforce.
Regional conflicts and coronavirus-related dangers come together to create a perfect storm, impeding Ethiopia’s agricultural success and devastating its economy.
Expanding on the dilemma, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Agencies for Food and Agriculture Kip Tom said, “People in a lot of these developing nations are always needing to go out and grow their own crops. When you have lockdowns, they can’t go out and access their food and if they do go out to try to access their food, they’re coming into contact with other people.”
Ambassador Tom outlined the severity of food insecurity in Africa and called for international assistance, saying, “This is a lingering crisis that we need to solve and we need help now, not just from the United States but from around the world.”
Speaking on the importance of including refugees and displaced people in vaccination efforts, Rwandan economist and chair of the U.N. Panel on Internal Displacement Dr. Donald Kaberuka said, “We cannot have islands of people not vaccinated. We have to vaccinate 60% of our population- including those in the IDPs [Internally Displaced People]. We have to get to them.”
Kaberuka continued, saying that the top economic priority is “to reach all citizens of a country, including IDPs and refugees.”
To many, vaccinating all of Ethiopia is an incredibly ambitious goal as many Ethiopians do not even have access to basic medical care. Scores of hospitals and clinics across the Tigray Region of Ethiopia have been looted or damaged, leaving them nonfunctional according to Doctors Without Borders.
Chair of the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Global Human Rights, U.S. Representative Karen Bass closed by calling for a global perspective in addressing the pandemic, saying, “It’s great if we can get the virus under control in the United States but until we get the virus under control in the entire world, none of us are going to be safe.”