Information and stories about Ethiopia

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance DamThe Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) will allow over 65 million Ethiopians access to electricity. Many estimate it to cost as high as $5 billion. Using two large turbines, the dam will bring more than 6,450MW worth of power to the country.

Project Background

Construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam began in April of 2011 and finished in July of 2020. The dam can hold up to 74 billion cubic meters of water, which makes it the largest hydropower project in Africa.

Located in the Benishangul-Gumuz Region, about 30 km upstream from Sudan, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation identified the site between 1956 and 1964. But, construction only actually began after surveys in 2009 and 2010.

Funds from local taxes, donations and government bonds raised the necessary $4.8 billion to cover construction costs. Ethiopian’s at home and abroad provided the first $350 million. Then, the state-owned Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation invested some of its own revenue, as well as money borrowed from state-owned banks.

Controversy

Despite the benefits some say the dam will have, the project is not without controversy. Over the last decade, the governments of Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan are working to come to an official agreement on how the GERD will operate.

The Egyptian government voiced strong opposition to the GERD stating that it will cause major disruptions to the Nile. Egypt depends on more than 90% of its water from the river. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said that Egypt is facing “an existential threat” because of this project.

For Egypt, the main concern lies in the impact on the water supply of previous dams on the Nile. They worry GERD will do the same. The annual flooding of the Nile is one of the most important natural events that occur throughout Egypt’s history. Egypt relies heavily on this annual event for its agriculture. Additionally, there is concern that the GERD could alter this flooding and/or interfere with the flow of sediments that are vital for growing food in the region.

Furthermore, the Sudanese government expressed concern over the effect of the dam on its people and their water rights. In June 2021, Sudan and Egypt released a joint statement. They urged for a legally binding agreement between the countries before Ethiopia began its second filling of the dam.

Water Rights

The Nile Waters Agreements of 1929 and 1959 gave Egypt and Sudan the right to all the water in the Nile. These agreements also gave Egypt the right to veto any upstream construction, such as the GERD. However, The agreements did not include Ethiopia. Therefore, Ethiopia does not recognize the agreements as legitimate.

Since Ethiopia does not recognize the Nile Waters agreements, Egypt and Sudan pushed to get a legally binding agreement. The new agreement would place restrictions on the amount of water Ethiopia may hold in the dam. However, Ethiopia refused to agree to any of these restrictions, instead favoring looser guidelines that are not legally binding.

However, the international community supports Egypt’s calls for a formal agreement. The United States warns that filling the dam without an agreement in place would lead to heightened tensions in the region. In July 2021, the United Nations Security Council made another attempt at mediating the conflict, the latest in the decade-long struggle to reach an agreement. These talks also failed and Ethiopia proceeded to fill the dam.

Looking Ahead

Despite the controversy and the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam’s effect on Egypt and Sudan, it appears that the Ethiopian government will continue to move forward with filling the dam. In July of 2021, the second filling of the dam was completed. Even with the controversy, the project will provide electricity to millions in the region who previously did not have access. This is sure to have a positive impact on the citizens of the region.

– Taryn Steckler-Houle
Photo: Flickr

Environmental Solutions to PovertyChanging ecosystems from economic development have increased the risk of poverty and food insecurity around the world. Informal sectors, which mostly exist in lower-income countries, sidestep environmental regulations. This further degrades the environment and puts more people at risk of poverty. However, these high-risk environments also provide an opportunity to implement environmental solutions to poverty and lower the risk of environmental destruction.

Demi-Lune Agriculture to Stop Desertification

In the past century, deserts have expanded rapidly due to industrialization and rising global populations. This threatens millions of people living on the periphery of deserts who farm for a living, people who may see their crops dry up in coming years. Environmental solutions to poverty often focus on stopping the expansion of deserts.

For example, farmers on the periphery of the Sahara Desert have adopted a new style of farming to adapt to the desertification of their farmland: half-moon agriculture. This environmental solution to poverty, introduced in the 1980s, has many benefits.

Half-moons retain water much more efficiently than traditional agricultural techniques, an important feature in water-scarce climates. Farmers can easily understand and execute the process, which only requires basic tools, increasing its usability in communities with poor education and literacy.

In West Africa, half-moon agriculture has led to an incredible transformation of the landscape, with formerly arid land now covered in grass, trees or crops. Binta Cheffou, a farmer in Niger, planted half-moons in the 1990s when her community’s land was bare and unproductive.

Now, according to Cheffou, “Many people are no longer hungry” due to increased livestock yields and more agriculture. Communities using this environmental solution to poverty have witnessed a large increase in biodiversity as well, a useful safeguard against ecological disasters.

Planting Trees to Reduce Landslides

Natural disasters pose a large barrier in the fight against poverty, causing $210 billion in damage in 2020, according to major insurers. Landslides, a common disaster in developing countries, kill nearly 4,500 people each year, according to earth scientist Dave Petley. There are several environmental solutions to poverty and natural disasters, including a simple one: planting trees.

Landslides largely occur in environments where erosion is widespread and the ground can no longer hold its weight. These conditions often emerge just after deforestation and unregulated mining, where people extracting resources leave hillsides barren and organic structures rotten.

The lack of organic structure holding the slopes together leads to these tragic natural disasters. Reverting the hillside to its natural state with biodiverse trees can provide the structure necessary to prevent landslides while also providing revenue to those caring for the trees.

This strategy, popularized worldwide in the past few years, has seen major success in preventing landslides and reducing poverty. In Ethiopia, studies in communities with tree-planting initiatives noted a dramatic increase in community income and food supply. In Indonesia, research confirmed a decrease in landslides where trees were present. The study found that coffee trees prevent landslides especially well with the added benefit of providing coffee beans for communities to harvest and sell. This would decrease the motivation for unregulated logging and mining, further reducing landslide risk.

Cleaning Rivers for Clean Water

Rivers serve as key assets for countries to fuel their development. Rivers can provide power, food, drinking water and trade routes. Furthermore, recreational activities on rivers provide economic stimulation. However, many of the world’s key rivers, especially in developing countries, are experiencing a crisis of pollution and wastewater. This pollution costs countries billions of dollars. As such, key environmental solutions to poverty should focus on cleaning rivers and ensuring proper wastewater systems to prevent pollution.

In Indonesia, where riverway pollution costs $6.3 billion each year, or 2.3% of GDP, the government aims to make river water drinkable by 2025. Indonesia is implementing several strategies to address river pollution and protect the environment, including tree planting to combat erosion and regulations to ensure water factories produce drinkable water from rivers. Indonesia also focuses on environmental education as many people discard domestic trash in rivers without considering the consequences.

India also suffers from polluted rivers. The Ganga River, sacred to Hindus, serves almost 400 million people, providing water for drinking, irrigation and industry. It also deposits significant amounts of plastic into the Bay of Bengal and is filled with damaging pollutants which cause waterborne diseases that kill 1.5 million children per year.

The Indian government is focusing on the tributaries to the Ganga, ensuring clean water flows into the major river for a long-term cleaning strategy. So far, the government has spent $3 billion on cleanup initiatives since 2015 and has doubled sewage capacity.

The Future

These environmental solutions to poverty can increase both wealth and living standards. Studies show that access to a green and clean environment can boost mental health and life expectancy. Clean rivers, green hillsides and re-purposed desert land can provide access to these benefits worldwide. Going forward, governments should focus on innovative solutions to both improve the environment and reduce poverty.

– Justin Morgan
Photo: Flickr

Charity: Water Access in EthiopiaMillions of people in Ethiopia do not have access to clean water, which causes serious health and economic problems. The severity of the water crisis inspired international organizations to engage with local communities and provide technology and resources to improve  Ethiopia’s access to clean water. One of those organizations is charity: water, which has served more than three million Ethiopians during the past four years.

Water Crisis in Ethiopia

Millions of Ethiopians, like many in the region, suffer from a lack of access to clean water. A global database of water, sanitation and hygiene data, the Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) published a report on the matter. According to the report, 31% of the Ethiopian population consumes unprotected water for daily use. Furthermore, another 28% of the population has limited access to clean water. Together, these figures account for 62 million people. The situation is particularly severe in rural parts of the country, where water shortages create serious health problems for villagers and their livestock.

Health Consequences of Inaccessible Clean Water

The lack of access to clean water has significant consequences on people’s health. During times of drought, when springs, ponds and other surface waters dry up, people are forced to look for alternative water sources. As a result, they often end up consuming water that is heavily contaminated with human and animal excrement and other environmental waste.

The consequence of consuming the contaminated water is widespread water-borne illnesses, particularly cholera and diarrhea. According to UNICEF, between 60-80% of communicable diseases in Ethiopia are caused by lack of access to clean water and poor sanitation. Moreover, approximately 50% of undernutrition cases are related to environmental factors, including inadequate hygiene. Open defecation and other sanitation-related issues cause fecal-oral diseases like diarrhea, which kills more than 70,000 children under the age of five every year.

Progress on Clean Water and Sanitation

Limited access to clean water and the consequences of inaccessibility have claimed countless Ethiopian lives. Due to the urgency of the crisis, the Ethiopian government and international organizations have been working tirelessly to improve the situation. As a result of their work, significant progress has been made. For example, in 2000, 75% of Ethiopians consumed unsafe drinking water. By 2015, that percentage had been reduced by 50% and continues to fall.

There has been notable progress in the sanitation facilities as well. In 2000, approximately 80% of the population was using the restroom outside and in the open. By 2017, the number was reduced to 22.35%. This was mainly achieved by developing constructions called “pit latrines.” “Pit latrines” are toilets usually built outside a house. They have four walls, a roof and a door to keep insects and flies out and reduce the spread of diseases.

Charity: Water and Gasi Spring Project

One organization’s work has had a massive impact on Ethiopia’s access to clean water — charity: water. The organization started working in Ethiopia in 2017. Since then, it has invested $99,120,769 and funded 10,425 projects that have served more than three million people.

One of the projects implemented by charity: water dealt with installing a protection system for Gasi spring. Gasi spring was a mud pit contaminated by excrement and was used by locals to gather water. Now, an installed concrete box protects Gasi’s pure water and sends it to water points where villagers can collect it. After installing the protection system, Gasi spring produced so much water that it was possible to establish a community shower, a washing station for clothes and a cattle trough for animals.

Founder and CEO of charity: water Scott Harrison recalled one instance of the organization’s impact. At the opening ceremony of Gasi’s new spring protection tank, a local health extension worker named Gedey told him that for the first time, villagers started building dish racks because they had a reason to keep dishes off the floor.

– Aleksandre Jgarkava
Photo: Flickr

USAID in Ethiopia
USAID is concerned about Ethiopia’s civil war as the severity of humanitarian assistance needed continues to rise in Tigray, Ethiopia. Millions of civilians are displaced, and health access is critically disrupted across the region. In response to these conditions, USAID in Ethiopia officially launched the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART). This team intends to mediate assistance and data analysis to provide much-needed humanitarian aid. Tigrayans continue to endure a civil war that has left millions shackled to poverty, terror and a lack of proper assistance.

Tensions Create a Civil War

The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) governs Tigray, the populous region in Northern Ethiopia. TPLF is a large political party that has militarily enforced the autonomy of Tigray for 46 years, as it seeks to make Tigray a separate kingdom. In 2018, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed overtook the election and proceeded to minimize the TPLF’s influence in ruling coalitions. However, federal troops met him with opposition in Tigray. In response, the prime minister launched a domestic law and order operation on TPLF on November 4, 2020. The operation was only set to last for five days. Yet, as tension grew, Ahmed joined military forces with Eritrea to disarm the TPLF troops. Eritrean forces committed the majority of the human rights violations that followed during the five-day operation that turned into a five-month war.

Disaster Assistance Response Team in Ethiopia

USAID in Ethiopia launched DART to assess conditions within the country. The organization reported, “[DART is] identifying priority needs for the scale-up of relief efforts and working with partners to provide urgently-needed assistance to conflict-affected populations across the region.” The population in Tigray is roughly six million. Approximately one million civilians require assistance amid the civil conflict, and four million require urgent food aid. As conditions and access allow, DART conducts humanitarian health programs around the regions. Red Cross assists by distributing medical supplies and essential medicines.

The Stance of Ethiopia’s Government

Some Ethiopians feel deceived by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Since the declaration of war on Tigrayans on November 4, 2020, Ahmed has used Twitter to state his stance against any mediation offers from neutral parties and the international pressure for an inclusive dialogue with all parties involved.

On November 28, 2020, Ahmed tweeted the victory of Ethiopia against the TPLF forces. He stated, “I am pleased to share that we have completed and ceased the military operations in the Tigray region.” The Ahmed administration is reportedly rebuilding the region. However, the war has yet to cease. The following are current predicaments since November 4, 2020:

  • Reports of ethnic cleansing and sexual crimes have killed more than 52,000 Tigrayans.
  • Eritrean troops raped and killed in extrajudicial massacres. They also failed to exit Ethiopia following Ahmed’s victory announcement on November 28, 2019.
  • More than 61,300 Tigrayans have fled to Sudan as refugees. Of these refugees, 28% are children, and 4% are elderly.
  • As a result, women and girls reported rape cases and gang rape by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces.
  • More than two million children remain cut off from emergency federal humanitarian assistance due to families suspected of TPLF ties.
  • The government concentrates resources on warfare; thus, food, water, electricity and other health benefits are extremely limited.
  • Civilians have limited media access. Reporters and journalists are killed or arrested if they do not abide by laws set by the nation.

Progress of USAID

DART has monitored the conditions in Tigray with uplifting progress. The U.N. reports that 16% of Tigray’s hospitals are functioning. Of those functioning, 22% offer vaccination services. Thus, by increasing analysis and focus on critical areas, DART has successfully secured numerous smaller regions in Tigray. Prime Minister Ahmed requested that the Eritrean troops evacuate Tigray due to increased rates of gender-based violence which generated concern for USAID relief workers. Food also remains a critical issue. Other relief organizations, such as the Catholic Relief Services, contribute food and other commodities, in addition to assistance from USAID in Ethiopia.

Ayesha Swaray
Photo: Flickr

Water Filters to EthiopiaIn 2012 and 2014, NativeEnergy visited Ethiopia to assess the water situation and determine the viability of water filters. According to NativeEnergy, about 65% of people in the Sidama Zone of Ethiopia are forced to utilize “unclean water sources.” In 2019, about 98.52% of people in Sidama voted for it to be an autonomous, self-governing state. In June 2020, the state became independent. However, the people of the Sidama Zone and other rural areas in Ethiopia face serious issues regarding access to clean water sources. To address this issue, the Desert Rose social enterprise is providing water filters to Ethiopia.

Water Studies in Ethiopia

According to Water.org, only around 42% of Ethiopians have access to clean and safe water sources. In rural areas of Ethiopia, access to clean water is even more limited. Severe climate conditions and political issues largely contribute to Ethiopia’s water shortages. Many rural Ethiopians resort to collecting water from water sources that are often contaminated and only serve to spread disease.

The World Health Organization (WHO) outlines the consequences of drinking unclean water. Contaminated water sources lead to the spread of diseases such as cholera and dysentery. Agriculture is central to the lives of almost 95% of people in Sidama. Since agriculture plays a significant role, water is needed for a thriving agricultural industry that supports food security and livelihoods in Sidama.

Desert Rose

Desert Rose is an Ethiopian-based social enterprise that has focused on community development through engineering consulting in rural Ethiopia since 2008. Thomas Berger, a swiss anthropologist, and British engineer, Andrew Smith, established Desert Rose as a force for social good. Desert Rose has come up with a water filter solution to ensure Ethiopian people in rural areas like Sidama have access to clean water.

The water filter called Minch is able to mechanically remove 99.9% of E. coli bacteria. There is no need for chemicals and the filter is much more effective than conventional biosand water filters. The Ethiopian government tested the filter. It is simple to use, “lasting up to two years in rural areas and up to five years in the towns.” The low-cost filter targets impoverished communities in Ethiopia. The water filter is produced entirely in Ethiopia, enabling the company to save on costs and keep the water filter affordable to all. The filter also has “an internal 15-liter water reservoir” to protect water from contamination during storage.

The Minch water filter provides a form of water purification for Ethiopian households who cannot afford to boil water due to the high cost of firewood. After three years in development, by 2019, Desert Rose produced 1,000 water filters. Oxfam bought 50% of these filters for use in its humanitarian efforts. With funding and support, the Minch water filter has the potential to reach large-scale production so that all Ethiopians can have access to clean water.

Water for All

Since water access and poverty are linked, better water access means reduced poverty. According to the United Nations, water is essential for socio-economic development and plays a significant role in decreasing “the global burden of disease and improving the health, welfare and productivity of populations.” With companies and organizations working to improve water access in Ethiopia, poverty in Ethiopia is reduced.

– Jacob Richard Bergeron
Photo: Flickr

Involvement in the Tigray Region

At the northernmost border of Ethiopia is the Tigray Region that stretches for more than 19,000 square miles. Tigray is home to about seven million Tigrayans, an ethnic minority that accounts for only about 6% of the country’s population. The region is now experiencing a humanitarian crisis that requires urgent aid. U.S. involvement in the Tigray Region aims to end the conflict and protect the human rights of Ethiopians.

Conflict in Tigray

Decades of conflict regarding the self-determination of the Tigrayan population boiled over in 2020 when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed postponed the election due to COVID-19. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a leftist party in control of the regional government, deemed this an “unconstitutional extension” of Ahmed’s term and held elections anyway.

The Ethiopian government declared the election void, leading to an outbreak of violence between the two sides. As the Ethiopian government and the TPLF wage a war against each other, an unprecedented humanitarian crisis has arisen. Ethiopian forces have killed thousands of people in indiscriminate shootings. The conflict has left more than two million people displaced as of January 2021. The violence on the part of the government has been described as a “campaign of ethnic cleansing.” This crisis has caught the world’s attention, with the U.N. and other international organizations working to address it. However, U.S. involvement in the Tigray Region also aims to bring resolution.

The US Takes Action

On May 26, 2021, President Biden released a statement on the crisis in Ethiopia. Biden urged Ethiopian leaders to work toward “reconciliation, human rights and respect for pluralism.” Furthermore, Biden called for a ceasefire, citing a warning from the U.N. Office of Humanitarian Affairs “that Ethiopia could experience its first famine since the 1980s.”

The administration has also implemented visa restrictions targeted at Ethiopian and Eritrean officials responsible for the conflict. The restrictions press for the resolution of the conflict. U.S. involvement in the Tigray Region involved months of failed diplomatic talks between Ethiopia and the U.S. The administration heeds warnings that further action may be taken if Ethiopia does not take steps to address the humanitarian crisis. The actions could include halting U.S. security and economic assistance and possibly leveling sanctions against Ethiopian officials.

In March 2021, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that additional humanitarian assistance of $52 million would be provided to the region. This brings the total of U.S. aid to the region to nearly $153 million since the beginning of the crisis. The aid aims to help nearly 4.5 million people in the region in need of shelter, healthcare, food, water, sanitation and hygiene services.

Concerns of Congress

The concerns of members of Congress call for greater U.S. involvement in the Tigray Region as well as greater involvement from the international community. An op-ed by Senator Bob Menendez and Congressman Gregory Meeks called attention to the tragedy unfolding in the region. Menendez and Meeks call for more decisive action to be taken to address the Ethiopian crisis.

The representatives suggest that the U.S. lead “an international arms embargo on the Eritrean regime.” The U.S. should also implement “targeted economic sanctions” and “must oppose the assistance from international financial institutions that would flow to the Ethiopian government.”

On May 28, 2021, Representative Karen Bass introduced H.Res. 445, titled “Condemning all violence and human rights abuses in Ethiopia.” The bill calls on “the Government of Ethiopia and the Government of the State of Eritrea to remove all Eritrean troops from Ethiopia.” The bill also calls for other armed groups to cease hostilities and uphold the human rights of Ethiopians while allowing humanitarian access to provide aid.

Meaningful Action

As the crisis continues, U.S. involvement in the Tigray Region continues to be a topic of discussion. Both the Biden administration and U.S. Congress will have to move forward with policy decisions to ensure meaningful action and outcomes. Every action from the U.S. and other international actors will ensure that the fundamental rights of Ethiopians are protected.

Taryn Steckler-Houle
Photo: Flickr

Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in EthiopiaThe ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has become another challenge for Ethiopia as the East African country faces civil conflict, food scarcity and increasing poverty. For the first time in 22 years, the number of people living in extreme poverty globally may increase due to the pandemic. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Ethiopia has been substantial. Roughly 42% of registered businesses in Ethiopia’s capital closed down completely and other businesses saw drastically reduced or no income. The COVID-19 pandemic may potentially reverse Ethiopia’s poverty progress over the last two decades.

COVID-19 in Ethiopia

As of May 14, 2021, Ethiopia had almost 265,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and almost 4,000 recorded deaths, straining an already fragile health system and delaying access to other crucial medical care. The pandemic has also caused delays in distributing childhood vaccines for polio and measles. Furthermore, it is also likely to increase the morbidity rates of other common diseases. In April 2020, half of all households in Ethiopia saw their incomes reduce or disappear entirely. Urban areas were formerly the foundations for Ethiopia’s economic growth. These areas have been the most affected by COVID-19 as employment and income have fallen.

The economic setback of COVID-19 may have lasting repercussions for Ethiopia’s future. The pandemic’s impact on education has become an even more significant concern. Schools in Ethiopia closed in March 2020 and an estimated 26 million students lost access to primary and secondary education. Such a halt in education puts many children at risk of dropping out or being forced into child labor or child marriage. According to a survey in 2018, roughly 16 million children between 5 and 17 are involved in child labor across Ethiopia. While schools began to reopen in October 2020, there are still concerns over the lost time and how it might affect students’ success later in life.

COVID-19 and Civil Conflict

The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Ethiopia may be the highest in the Tigray region. Conflict erupted in November 2020 as tensions rose following a delay in national elections. By January 2021, about two million people were displaced by the violence, many of whom have fled to neighboring Sudan. The fighting has negatively impacted the availability of healthcare. At one point, only five out of 40 hospitals in the region were accessible. This dramatically increases the challenge of responding to the pandemic and makes it difficult to assess the full extent of COVID-19 in the area.

Food scarcity is another significant problem following extensive crop losses caused by swarms of desert locusts. Some farmers lost up to half of their harvests due to locust plagues. At the same time, the conflict has made it very difficult to procure food from outside of the region. Malnutrition is a real risk, especially for children. Many families are already experiencing decreased income and are unable to afford the rising food prices. The effects of the conflict, pandemic and food insecurity have placed an estimated 4.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.

Humanitarian Aid

Through a partnership with the World Bank, the Ethiopian government has been able to fund a comprehensive response plan to improve the country’s ability to address the impact of COVID-19 on poverty. The Ethiopia COVID-19 Emergency Response Project’s primary focus is increasing resources and testing capacity. Now, there are 69 testing laboratories across Ethiopia. This is in addition to the establishment of contact tracing systems, 50 quarantine facilities, 332 isolation wards and 64 treatment centers. Public awareness and health education are prioritized with door-to-door campaigns to reach vulnerable populations.

It is also vital to stimulate the economy by focusing on supporting the small businesses that the pandemic has hit hardest in order to see true poverty reduction. Because of the uncertain nature of the outbreak, a recovery plan will have to be adaptable. Addressing poverty in Ethiopia, and Tigray specifically, will also require a peaceful resolution to the ongoing conflict in the region, an act that multiple world leaders encourage. These goals can mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Ethiopia, furthering recovery progress.

Nicole Ronchetti
Photo: Unsplash

The Tigray Conflict
Thousands of refugees have fled the Tigray conflict in Ethiopia since early November 2020 to seek safety in eastern Sudan. This has resulted in a full-scale humanitarian crisis. Refugees, many of whom are children and women, have been arriving at remote border points that take hours to enter from the closest towns in Sudan. Most of them do not have any possessions and arrived exhausted from walking long distances over harsh terrain. The steady influx of daily arrivals is exceeding the existing capacity to provide assistance.

The Tigray Conflict

The Tigray conflict is an ongoing armed conflict between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia. According to the International Crisis Organization think-tank, the violence in Tigray has left thousands dead and sent tens of thousands of refugees into Sudan. Estimates have determined that the conflict has displaced more than 222,000 people, in addition to the 100,000 people who experienced displacement prior to the conflict. Moreover, the loss of livelihoods, destruction of homes and lack of resources have affected local neighborhoods. As a result, people living in those areas urgently need shelter, food, water, sanitation, and hygiene, as well as health and protection.

Humanitarian Efforts

While humanitarian efforts are emerging to provide aid after the Tigray conflict, they remain challenged by the insecurity and bureaucratic constraints throughout the region. As a result, it can be challenging for humanitarian groups to access countrysides as well as Shimelba and Hitsats refugee camps.

The U.N. is working with Ethiopia’s government and all relevant interlocutors to aid in the safe passage of humanitarian personnel and the provision of supplies to all parts of the Tigray region. Meanwhile, health facilities in major cities are partially working with limited-to-no stock of supplies and the absence of health workers and facilities outside major cities are not operational.

In addition, UNHCR and Sudan’s Commission for Refugees are continuing to relocate refugees from the border to designated refugee camps. These are further inland in Sudan’s Gedaref State, in support of the government-led response in Sudan. Um Rakuba refugee camp is approaching its full capacity. UNHCR and its partners are swiftly relocating refugees to a newly opened refugee camp, Tunaydbah, in order to keep refugees safe and offer them better quality living conditions.

Humanitarian Funding

In 2020, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, launched an appeal for $147 million to support as many as 100,000 people fleeing Ethiopia’s Tigray region into neighboring Sudan. In its appeal document, UNHCR said that it took an anticipated increase of refugees into account during its planning. At the minimum, it planned to be able to help a total of 100,000 by April 2021, whereas at the maximum, it intended to be able to provide aid to an influx of 200,000 refugees.

In November 2020, UNHCR began airlifting aid to refugees, sending the first of four planeloads of supplies to Khartoum. One of the flights to Khartoum brought 100 tonnes from Dubai comprising mosquito net, blankets, plastic sheets, solar lamps, tents and prefabricated warehouses. The intention behind the appeal for $147 million was to fund UNHCR so that it could help Sudan manage the humanitarian crisis over the following six months.

Looking Ahead

CSW’s founder and president, Mervyn Thomas, urged Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, to prioritize the protection of refugees within Ethiopia’s borders. These refugees’ forcible return to a country that many deem to have committed crimes against humanity is an appalling violation of international law and humanitarian norms.

Abiy Ahmed needs to take immediate steps to de-escalate the conflict and enter into meaningful dialogue with regional representatives who the people of Tigray recognize. People can also call on the government of Eritrea to withdraw its forces from Tigray immediately and end its egregious violations of the rights of Eritreans, both at home and abroad. More nations also need to step up their humanitarian support for the region, including Sudan, which is suffering the brunt of the refugee wave from Tigray.

Aining Liang
Photo: Flickr

Ethiopian Civil War in Tigray Causes Famine
Ethiopia has been in political turmoil for decades. The citizens have been facing the brunt of the sacrifice as the Ethiopian Civil War has caused a famine crisis. In response to political suppression by a militia group known as the Derg, rebel military officials created a guerrilla warfare army dubbed the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Starting in 1991, the TPLF began to overpower the federal military government. Moreover, it began dominating its ruling alliance with the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). This caused Ethiopia to transform into a one-party country. On April 2, 2018, the newly elected Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced the creation of The Prosperity Party. The party proposed to end ethnic separatism by including other Ethiopian regions in politics.

On November 4, 2020, TPLF attached the Ethiopian National Defense Force Base. Two weeks after the bombing, the fighting between government forces and fugitive factions of TPLF quickly escalated. Tensions between TPLF and Abiy Ahmed have been going on since 2019 because of Ahmed’s actions toward disbanding the country’s ethnically ruled federal system and postponing the 2020 election because of COVID-19 lockdowns. As the fighting continues, ethnic tensions are rising as Ethiopians flee to neighboring countries to live in refugee camps with little to no access to food.

Ethnic Tensions

Ethiopians housed in refugee camps have acquired a distaste for Abiy’s political reign. They have reported that the federal army is just as brutal as TPLF. The Prime Minister proclaimed that Federal officers have not killed a single Ethiopian, but Bahti Adal has a different report. The current Tigrayan refugee revealed to Vice that military forces are persecuting all Tigrayians as a possible threat.

In March 2021, Ethiopian general Yohannes Gebremeskel Tesfamariam confirmed major civilian casualties during warfare, and how the situation in Tigray is resulting in a “dirty war,” where most victims are defenseless civilians. Refugees are wary of leaving their home regions in Tigray, fearing that ethnic cleansing will result from the ongoing massacres.

The Ethiopian Civil War Has Caused a Famine Crisis

More than 63,000 Ethiopian refugees have fled Tigray to Sudan, which has opened its borders to escapees. Since May 13, 2021, the Medical Corps have reached 670 people in the Tunaydbah camps, assisted rapid medical and counseling assessments in major towns around Tigray borders and mainly focused on helping 4.5 million people in Tigray who are facing food insecurity. Militants are fighting people by cutting down the food supply.

Organizations Provide Assistance

On May 6, 2021, the U.N. issued $65 million in aid to Ethiopia. U.N. ambassadors stress using the money to help women and girls who armed militias have brutalized and abused. In addition, USAID has provided Ethiopia with $152 million for military purposes, trying to address humanitarian needs and investigate cases of ethnic cleansing within the country. While government forces are scrambling to find funding, help from Ethiopians in the diaspora is strong.

The Eri Yakl Foundation is a nonprofit organization working on the ground in Sudan to help refugees and distribute emergency grants and support. Dr. Habteab Fesesha began the organization in April 2020. Fesesha is an Eritrean-American physician who created this organization to help Eritrean refugees in Libya, Ethiopia and Sudan with COVID-19. The organization provides education, PPE, sanitation products and clinical health training. When the fighting broke out in November 2020, the foundation quickly concentrated its efforts on the Sudan border.

Fesesha now has two goals. The first is to minimize COVID-19 outbreaks. The second is to provide primary care with a team of medics working at the Tenedba camp in Mafaza, Sudan. Since February 2021, the Eri Yaikl Foundation has received $300,000 from Direct Relief. It has also paired up with the United Peace Organization.

Even though people like Fesesha have commitments to their own tribe, people from each cultural faction of Ethiopia are fighting for survival. The Ethiopian Civil War has caused a famine crisis and it is more important than ever that organizations like the U.N., USAID and the Eri Yakl Foundation continue to provide aid to curb this crisis.

– Matthew Martinez
Photo: Flickr

famine in TigrayThe term genocide describes the systematic mass murder of a racial, political or cultural group. Genocides have been witnessed in countries such as Germany, Russia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But, the concept of genocide is more than an abstract term for something long passed. Acts of genocide occurred more recently in Rwanda and the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar are also recent victims of such violations. Acts of genocide were also recently reported in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region, which borders Eritrea and Sudan, as the Tigray People’s Liberation Front looks to wrest control of the region from the Ethiopian government. Furthermore, the war in Tigray, which has also involved Eritrean military units, is not only taking lives through violence, it is causing a potential famine in Tigray.

Conflict Causes Famine

Tigray, home of the Tigrayan ethnic group, comprises only around seven million people, equating to 6% of the Ethiopian population. However, in the past months, its people and infrastructure have felt the force of the entire Ethiopian military. Furthermore, when a nation of 118 million people is wracked by conflict, there is bound to be difficulty transporting resources to all the rural and urban areas in need. Compounded by violence and displacement, famine puts Tigrayans at risk of malnutrition, exposure to the elements, illness and death. As the threat of both man-made and natural famine looms, the international community must intervene to address it.

Rising Poverty in Ethiopia

The famine in Tigray is occurring during a civil war further complicated by an externally intervening nation. While Ethiopia experienced famine in the 1980s, the current famine differs in that it results not only from natural causes but from human violence, creating desperate circumstances for Tigrayans living in poverty. Over the past few decades, Ethiopia had been making great strides in reducing poverty, with the national poverty rate dropping from 45% in 1995 to roughly 24% in 2015. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and recent military conflict, extreme poverty is back on the rise, not only in rural areas but also in the country’s largest city, Addis Ababa.

An Opportunity to Intervene

Despite the vast damage inflicted on the Tigray countryside by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces, the powerful and committed Tigrayan Liberation Army “regained control of the regional capital” in late June 2021. This significant moment in the civil war marks a potential transition period and a crucial time for humanitarian organizations to step in and provide vital resources to the region.

Getting water and food to Tigrayans will be crucial during any lull in the violent outbreaks that have displaced nearly two million and killed more than 50,000 people across the region. The starvation-induced by both Ethiopian government actions and natural circumstances has forced hundreds of thousands of civilians into near-death situations.

In June 2021, 12 NGOs, including Amnesty International, signed a letter to the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) calling for a robust international response to the crisis in Tigray. In particular, the letter calls on the HRC to address reports of human rights violations and acts of genocide in Tigray. Until peace is restored, NGOs and government agencies will do their best to sustain life in this historically and culturally rich region of Africa.

Trent R. Nelson
Photo: Flickr