Tigray war and famine

September 25, 2022

From the September-October 2022 issue of News & Letters

The five-month “truce” between Ethiopian government troops and the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front collapsed, with both sides claiming the other reinitiated the conflict. Both had been militarizing their forces throughout August. The fighting began on Tigray’s southern border, but a government air strike has now killed seven at a kindergarten in northern Tigray.

Even before the ceasefire breakdown, the specter of mass starvation loomed over the people of Tigray (Nov. 2020 to March 2022—see “Abiy Ahmed’s bloodbath in Tigray,” July-August 2021 N&L).

That threat was raised by the war, devastating drought, and the failed delivery of humanitarian aid, combined with lack of fuel for its distribution. Drought, in turn, is worsened by the climate crisis and decades of deforestation under the impetus of imperialism, with small farmers dispossessed, driven to marginal land or cities, and privatized land devoted to export crops for the capitalist world market.

Close to half of Tigray’s six million people are said to be in “severe” need of food. Before the new outbreak of fighting, the head of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, called the Tigray crisis “the worst disaster on Earth.” He accused the West of ignoring the suffering and wondered, “maybe the reason is the color of the skin of the people in Tigray.” (Compare the deserved humanitarian aid arriving for Ukrainians to the lack of aid reaching Tigrayans.)

The fact that conditions worsened for Tigrayans during the five-month ceasefire was no accident. Ethiopian President Abiy Ahmed’s government had cut off telecommunications, stopped banking services, and worked to prevent financial remittances from entering Tigray.

Smugglers, who take a large cut of the money family members attempt to deliver to Tigray, are now giving up, saying both Ethiopian and Tigray officials are confiscating the much needed funds.

The effects are devastating, particularly for women. As Tigrayans starve, women are forced to sell their bodies to survive. One woman told The Guardian: “Now I am hungry. My parents and siblings are hungry. For months, we waited in vain to receive aid. Relatives abroad had been sending us money through smugglers. But it is tough to find remittance smugglers these days. Those we knew are no longer operating. We sold every property we had. There is nothing to eat at home. So, I went to the street to sell my body. What option do I have?”

A second woman added: “I watched my father die from malnourishment. He died in my hands. My mother is all bones. The warehouses are full of aid enough to feed the city. Fuel is not required to distribute aid within Mekelle. But people are dying unable to receive the aid they are entitled to. After I lost my father to starvation, I needed to do something to save my own life and my mother’s. Hunger does not give you time. I tried begging. But it does not work as there are many beggars. I became a prostitute.”

Are the rich nations of the world going to continue participating in this travesty?

—Eugene Walker

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