Conflict Alerts # 394, 16 June 2021
In the news
On 10 June, the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) published a report on Ethiopia for the period May-September 2021. It reveals that nearly 5.5 million people in the conflict-ridden regions of Tigray, Afar and Amhara are facing exacerbated food insecurity. It says that approximately 350,000 people are in 'catastrophe' (Phase 5) or the last level, the highest number after the 2011 Somalian famine. Further, 3.1 million people are in the 'Crisis' category (IPC phase 3) and 2.1 million in the 'Emergency' category (IPC phase 4). Over 50 per cent of all the household in the northern regions of Tigray have inadequate food consumption, and nearly one-third of all houses have only one meal per day.
On 11 June, UN humanitarian aid Chief Mark Lowcock commented: "there is a famine in the Northern region of Ethiopia". On 13 June, the G7 leaders have called for an uninterrupted access of humanitarian aid to the northern region to mitigate the impacts of the crisis.
On 15 June, the Ethiopian envoy to the UN "vehemently denied" the assessment and stated that the data are collected in a "very botched" manner.
Issues at large
First, the protracted war in Ethiopia and the conflict-induced displacement. The friction continues between the federal forces of the country and the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF) militants. Contrary to the government's claim that the war started in November 2020, ending by December, the fight continues. Thousands have crossed over to Sudan; many are internally displaced. According to the International Organization of Migration (IOM), most IDP camps are poorly facilitated and facing severe food shortages.
Second, hindrance in mobility and access to aid. The report observes that the roadblocks and other blockades placed by the Ethiopian and Eritrean troops have created significant difficulty for the humanitarian aid-workers and envoys to reach the conflict-hit region. The blockades also hinder the mobility of the common Tigrayans from reaching camps to receive aid and humanitarian assistance. The blockades have also resulted in difficulties in accessing medical care.
Third, continued disruption of agriculture and related activities. Approximately 80 per cent of the Tigrayan population is engaged in agricultural and pastoral activities for livelihood and for means of food. However, in 2020 the harvest was disrupted due to the conflict. The absence of agricultural and pastoral activities in the region has also added to the worsening famine. Further, the unavailability of food products has increased the market dysfunctionality, and food remains inaccessible for the rural population.
It is unlikely that the report will make a significant impact in the region. The Ethiopian government has made it clear that the findings are not credible. An overall surge in the intensity of the famine is anticipated as the crisis is expected to worsen in the months ahead, causing further displacement, disruption of aid networks. Malnutrition and other health issues caused due to poor supply of nutrition are forecasted to rise and can escalate the death toll from the region.
Abiy Ahmed's administration will have to face fresh international condemnation and possibly sanctions if the situation deteriorates. This can also impact the outcomes of the general elections to be held on 21 June. Ethiopia being a key player in the Horn of Africa, the famine can have regional implications. A major migrant crisis is conceivable in the near future, causing further instability in the region.