By Dereje T Asefa (PhD) ESIA expert, Norway
The humanitarian crisis in Tigray is getting worse and worse as the days go by. The people of Tigray are in a de-facto siege imposed by the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea. For the last 18 months the region has been without essential services such as telephone, power supply, internet, and banking services. Independent medias are not allowed to access Tigray and report the consequences of the war.
What is so saddening is the fact that the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments are deliberately hindering the flow of humanitarian aid to Tigray; thereby using starvation as weapon of war.
Although there are around 15 different roads that convoys can transport aid into Tigray, only one from Afar has been used to transport just less than 5 % of the emergency food and lifesaving medicines needed in the region. No aid is entering from the neighbouring Amhara regional state and the neighbouring countries, Eritrea, and Sudan. The goal of the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments is to starve the people of Tigray and force them to surrender without firing a single bullet.
Convoys carrying medicines have also been blocked exacerbating the sufferings of Tigrayans by treatable diseases. Lack of fuel in the region is hampering further distribution of food aid that arrived in Tigray too. The sporadic Air bridge permits given to the EU and UN agencies for the delivery of medicines are nothing compared to the tremendous need. The effects of starvation and lack lifesaving medicines are especially visible on tens of thousands of women and children. Many of them are victims of the gross sexual and gender-based violence in the hands of Ethiopian, Eritrean soldiers, and Amhara militia. Starvation and treatable diseases are now taking lives of innocent Tigrayans every day.
The government of Tigray (GoT) have repeatedly condemned the use of humanitarian aid as weapon against the international humanitarian law. It has been calling for the international community to take action and force the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments to refrain from breaching international humanitarian laws and allow the unfettered flow of humanitarian aid. However, the responses for the calls have been limited just to repeated concerns. The UNSC has discussed the humanitarian issue for a record 14 times but could not reach on consensus to take concrete actions that secures unfettered flow of humanitarian aid into the Tigray. The economic sanction, arm embargo or some more unusual tangible measures taken on Russia for its invasion on Ukraine have never been considered at all against the preparators of war crimes and genocides that we have seen in the last 18 months.
The strategy of GoT so far has also been limited to seeking solutions from others by issuing repeated official statements that match the repeated concerns from the international community. GoT has been asking either international community to do something concrete to end the siege and/or demanding compliance to humanitarian laws from the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments. A complete mismatch. Many are curious about why GoT is more focused on externalizing the problem while it has an internal formidable and capable Tigray defence force (TDF) under its command and can break the siege. There is no doubt as to the capability of TDF for such a mission as it has demonstrated to the world last June when it recaptured most of the territories of Tigray and even marched to the gate of Addis Ababa.
It is foolish to seek respect for humanitarian law from Abiy Ahmed and Issyas Afewerki who are determined to cleanse Tigrayans from the horn. The lack of the implementation of the so-called humanitarian truce declared 3 weeks ago by the Ethiopian government is evidence by itself as to the determination Abiy Ahmed to stave Tigrayans to death. While the whole world is focused on Ukraine, expecting external solution from the international community seems not feasible either. Rather the international community seems to suffer from Abiy Ahmeds confuse and convince strategy and is falling for the deceptive announcement of humanitarian truce. The World banks approval of $300 million support to the Ethiopian government demonstrates that Abiy Ahmed is succeeding with his deceptive strategy and gets support to continue as an enemy of humanity.
The number of people dying is increasing due to the siege day after day. Researchers from the University of Ghent have estimated that up to 300000 Tigrayans could have died from starvation and lack of essential medications, which are direct results of the siege. This is for sure more than the numbers of the capable TDF, which can break the siege with a minimum causality as experiences have showed us.
GoT must realises now that seeking external solutions either from the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments, or the international community, will not help anymore. It is time for GoT and Tigrayans to internalize the problem and end the siege by themselves before the rainy season commences! Timing is important!