Lack of ‘humanitarian effort’ making Ethiopia’s war worse, say aid groups

Drought and diversion of international attention to Ukraine crisis also cited as factors

Drought and a lack of international attention are exacerbating the suffering of Ethiopians affected by war in the country’s north, which has now lasted more than 16 months, according to humanitarian workers.

“A lot more humanitarian effort is needed to respond to the humanitarian needs of the people,” said Alyona Synenko, regional spokesperson with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), adding that people are going without “the most essential basic services like health care, water and food”.

Hospitals are very short on supplies and even water. The entire region is also affected by a fuel shortage. “Healthcare was one of the big victims of this armed conflict unfortunately. Since the beginning of the conflict . . . we saw many primary healthcare facilities that were looted and destroyed,” Ms Synenko said during a phone interview.

In January, the UN’s World Food Programme said that almost 40 per cent of Tigrayans are suffering “an extreme lack of food”, while 13 per cent of Tigrayan children under 5, and half of all pregnant and breastfeeding women, are malnourished.


Parts of Tigray remain hard to reach because of the insecurity and ongoing fighting “so it is very difficult to make a substantial assessment to quantify the needs”, Ms Synenko said. “We were talking to farmers who were saying they can only afford one meal a day . . . the quality of what people eat is also very poor.”

Media fatigue

Last month, the UN said the Horn of Africa is experiencing one of the worst droughts in recent history, with 12-14 million people severely struggling to get food in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.

“I think that you have seen the global media attention has very much been on Ukraine in the past several weeks. There’s always a risk with a protracted armed conflict that lasts for months and even many years that at some point there is a certain level of media fatigue . . . We should not forget that the needs are very, very high. Even though the media attention is not always there.”

This comes as the Ethiopian government has said it will investigate and prosecute the people involved in a video which appeared to show a Tigrayan man being burnt to death, and has caused an outcry on social media. It is believed to have been filmed on March 3rd, in Benishangul Gumuz, a northwest region bordering Sudan and South Sudan.

Eight others were killed and their bodies burned after they were suspected of being involved in an earlier attack, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said in a statement. “Those who were in the area were Ethiopian army soldiers, Amhara region special police forces and Southern region police forces.”

The war in northern Ethiopia began in November 2020, when Nobel Peace Prize-winning prime minister Abiy Ahmed announced a military operation there, saying that Tigrayan rebels had attacked military bases. AAfter Tigrayan forces regained control of the region last year, the Ethiopian government cut off most access to fuel, food aid and medicine.

Both sides have been accused of carrying out war crimes.

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden, a contributor to The Irish Times, reports on Africa