Conflict in Ethiopia eases, but millions there still face risk of starvation

Mekelle:  21 April 2024 (Tigray Herald)

Conflict in Ethiopia eases, but millions there still face risk of starvation

As Ethiopia continues to face one of the worst droughts in recent history, millions of its people are suffering from acute hunger. The United States resumed shipments in December after suspending aid due to theft allegations. But starvation is still prevalent. Special correspondent Jack Hewson reports from the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia.

Ethiopia continues to face one of the worst droughts in recent history, and millions of its people are suffering from acute hunger.

Back in December, the United States resumed aid shipments after previously suspending them due to concerns about theft, but starvation is still prevalent.

Special correspondent Jack Hewson reports from the Tigray region in Northern Ethiopia.

• Jack Hewson:

These might be the last days of Gebremichael life. After months of little or no food, he’s starving, his stomach swollen from water retention that results from protein deficiency, skin stretched taught across his upper body, his heartbeat visible.

• Gebremichael Tesfey, Farmer (through interpreter):

I have a hard time breathing. It gets worse each day. I’m also feeling sick in my kidney. I can’t go to the toilet because everything I eat, I vomit out.

• Jack Hewson:

Gebremichael is so acutely malnourished that his body is rejecting food. His wife, Gember, grinds a few grains outside their home in the Yechila district of Northern Tigray province.

This is all they have. After the rains failed to fall in August, the crops failed too. As climate change bites, Ethiopia’s drought is the worst many here have ever experienced. People here are just trying to forage the last grains and berries that they can get from this arid landscape.

Food aid is beginning to arrive, but, for some, it may be too late. Millions face acute food insecurity in the region. Approximately 400 have reportedly died of starvation in Tigray and Amhara. Gebremichael is dangerously close to becoming the next fatality.

• Gebremichael Tesfey (through interpreter):

There’s nothing we can do about the pain. Our insides hurt.

• Jack Hewson:

The legacy of conflict, visible across the region, is also making the situation worse. The civil war that ended in November 2022 displaced 2.5 million. These people here in Yechila have fled ethnic persecution in contested Western Tigray.

Among them was Dessalegn Abadi Tafere and his family.

• Dessalegn Abadi Tafere, Ethiopia (through interpreter):

I have so many problems. I lost my house,. I lost everything. I have to beg. I ask people to help me for the sake of my babies. I ask people to support me until we get through this hard time.

I used to go to local people before. But now I can’t even go to them, because they are also suffering themselves.

• Jack Hewson:

Despite this widespread suffering, in January, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was awarded the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s highest award for his contribution to rural and economic development, this for a leader accused of using starvation as a weapon of war as government forces laid siege to Tigray two years prior.

• Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopian Prime Minister (through interpreter):

I am deeply honored and grateful for the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization for recognizing Ethiopia’s diligent efforts over the past five years in addressing food and nutrition security.

I would like to emphasize my government’s commitment to meeting zero hunger goals.

• Jack Hewson:

Zero hunger? That’s the rhetoric. But, in Tigray, the reality looks very different. Baby Leul was brought to Ayder Hospital in Mekelle by his mother, Alem Degefu Birhan, after she was unable to produce breast milk and he became dangerously underweight.

• Alem Degefu Birhan, Mother (through interpreter):

When I was pregnant, there were food shortages. When I got close to giving birth, I had so many problems. My breasts ran out of milk because I had no food.

• Jack Hewson:

Further down the ward are other children that have developed hydrocephalus, the swelling of the brain with spinal fluid, a condition that can be caused by malnutrition in pregnant mothers.

If nothing is done, Tigray could slide into famine. But using what’s termed the F-word is sensitive for the government and aid agencies alike. The memory of 1984 haunts Ethiopia, when pictures of the devastating famine shocked the world. Forty years later, the death rates and numbers suffering severe acute malnutrition do not now meet the U.N.’s technical famine definition.

But for Reda Getachew, interim Tigrayan president, he’s not interested in semantics.

• Getachew Reda, Interim President, Tigray Region:

I see people dying because there is no food on their plate. No amount of technical obfuscation is going to convince me that this is not hunger.

Whether the F-word should be avoided at this point is overly academic, as far as I’m concerned.

• Jack Hewson:

Tigray’s hunger was exacerbated by the World Food Program and USAID suspending food deliveries last March. The grain was being systematically stolen and sold on the black market, reportedly by both the federal and Tigrayan military.

After changes to prevent theft, WFP resumed shipments in August, and USAID in December, but, according to Mr. Getachew, it’s not enough.

Getachew Reda Add The response is not adequate at all. The resumption of food aid only covers 20 percent of what used to be the humanitarian need in Tigray. I know the federal government for quite some time has been dragging its feet to come to terms with the reality on the ground.

Source፡ PBS NewsHour

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