War in Ethiopia
While more and more states are involved in the war in northern Ethiopia, millions of people are suffering from hunger. Despite this massive humanitarian catastrophe, aid reaches only a few – and that seems intentional.
An analysis by Fritz Schaap
01/24/2021, 6:26 pm

[Rough translation from a German magazine Spiegel on Ethiopia’s use of mass starvation as weapon of war in Tigray]

TOPSHOT – A boy shows a shrapnel wound that he suffered during the shelling in the town of Mehoni, Ethiopia, on December 11, 2020. The town of Mehoni, located in Southern Tigray, experienced shelling resulting in civilian deaths and injured people. (Photo by EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP)

Hunger as a weapon of war is as old as war itself. And hunger is now eating its way through the whole of Tigray. The embattled state in the north of the multi-ethnic nation of Ethiopia.

For weeks, there have been increasing reports of targeted looting, especially of food, by allies of the Ethiopian army from neighboring Eritrea. According to reports that reached the Belgian Tigray expert Jan Nyssen, the Ethiopian government is diverting aid intended for Tigray to the neighboring province of Amhara.

People sometimes eat leaves and branches, says Nyssen

“Some of the people eat leaves and branches,” says Nyssen. As early as Jan. 8, an Ethiopian government official warned in a meeting of aid agencies that food is either be looted or destroyed, a leaked document shows. If immediate emergency aid is not mobilized, hundreds of thousands could starve, the document continues. But it is the Ethiopian government itself that is preventing that aid.

Situation in northern Ethiopia increasingly catastrophic
And the situation continues to worsen, Nyssen said. Rarely has he observed a region that has been so systematically cut off from the rest of the world. Officially, the government denies the conditions. “There is no famine in Ethiopia,” a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency said on Jan. 19.

On November 4 of last year, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed declared war on the Tigray leadership. For nearly three decades, the Tigrayans had dominated Ethiopian politics with an iron fist. Abiy drove them from the control centers of power. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for his reforms and peace deal with neighboring Eritrea.

Thousands have now died in the conflict in Tigray so far. More than 50,000 people fled to Sudan. But in other Ethiopian states, too, serious, ethnically motivated clashes are occurring with increasing frequency. The security forces are acting with brutal force in some cases. Fears of civil war and the disintegration of the country are great.

UM RAKUBA, SUDAN – JANUARY 08: People collect water that has been sitting on the ground for days on January 8, 2021 in Um Rakuba, Sudan. According to the Tigrayans, the water may pose a health threat. Some 56,000 people have been displaced from Ethiopia to Sudan after nearly two months of ongoing conflict in Ethiopia between federal Government troops and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). (Photo by Abdulmonam Eassa/Getty Images)

In Tigray, where hunger rages, aid organizations still have only marginal access to the people who so urgently need their help. According to the UN, there are more than 2.3 million people. The government-run Tigray Emergency Coordination Center (ECC) even speaks of 4.5 million people in the region in need of emergency food assistance, including 2.3 million internally displaced people. The UN says the number of people who can be reached is extremely small. Since the conflict broke out in early November, only 77,000 people had received food aid by early January.

“There is an extreme urgency to rapidly expand humanitarian assistance. The population is dying every day as we speak.”

Mari Carmen Viñoles, Doctors Without Borders
“There is an extreme urgency – I don’t know what other words to use – to expand humanitarian aid quickly. The population is dying everyday as we speak,” said Mari Carmen Viñoles, head of MSF’s emergency department. The number of civilian casualties, she says, is extremely high. Water supply is also a major problem, she said. The situation is a complete disaster, she says.

Hunger as a weapon
And the hunger seems to be deliberate: According to evaluations of the English “DX Open Network” of satellite images, two suspected warehouses of the World Food Program were destroyed. In addition, the health system has almost completely collapsed. The fear of an uncontrolled spread of the coronavirus is growing.

Refugees who fled the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region ride a bus going to the Village 8 temporary shelter, near the Sudan-Ethiopia border, in Hamdayet, eastern Sudan, on Dec. 1, 2020. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

And the complexities of the conflict in northern Ethiopia, which has now lasted nearly three months, are growing. The fighting in Tigray is changing, moving from larger battles to smaller skirmishes. A typical guerrilla war has emerged, with targeted attacks by Tigrayan units on supply routes and transports.

Outside the state, the war is spreading further and further into regional circles. It has long been known that large numbers of Eritrean soldiers are fighting with the Ethiopian central government against the resistance of the Tigrayans. There are increasing reports that Somali soldiers are also fighting alongside Eritrean units. And tensions on the border with Sudan are also increasing. There is increasing speculation about a possible war between the two countries.

Reports of massacres and shootings
Meanwhile, the government in Addis continues to declare that it will only hunt down the former leadership of the Tigray People’s Leadership Front in Tigray.

Obviously, there is much more to it than that, says Jan Nyssen. The entire population is being terrorized. Again and again, he hears of massacres and indiscriminate shootings. The government is obviously determined to break the will of the Tigrayans. To terrorize the population until a simple message has been indelibly hammered into the collective memory: Never again rise against the Ethiopian government.

The fact that the entire region could go up in flames when this message is delivered is accepted by the government in Addis Ababa and its allies.