Ethiopia: News - As Risk of Famine Looms in Tigray, Biden Weighs in - Calls for Ceasefire, Reconciliation

An MSF translator asks people to line up to wait for medical consultations at a mobile clinic in Adiftaw.

Addis Abeba — U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday joined growing international calls for a ceasefire and immediate and unimpeded humanitarian access to Tigray region in order to "prevent widespread famine."

The President's statement came amidst growing concerns of a looming famine in Tigray, where seven-months civil war has left thousands dead, millions displaced and more than 5.2 million of Tigray's near seven million population in need of emergency food aid.

Ethiopia's humanitarian partners are expressing grave concerns that aid delivery was intentionally impeded by Ethiopian as well as neighboring Eritrean forces, who are currently occupying much of Tigray despite Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's public statement nearly two months ago that agreements were reached between the two leaders for the withdrawal of Eritrean forces.

The alarm bell for a looming famine is ringing from many directions. Freshly returned from Tigray, Nick Dyer, UK's Special Envoy for Famine Prevention and Humanitarian Affairs, tweeted "the humanitarian crises is worsening and the risk of famine conditions growing. The conduct of hostilities and constrained access need to change, and there must be full accountability for atrocities."

On May 25, U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock sent the U.N. Security Council a note in which he revealed "there is a serious risk of famine" in Tigray unless humanitarian assistance "is not scaled up in the next two months."

In the same day, UNICEF published date from the 3rd week of May, and said that of the "total of 10,957 children screened and 4.5% were severely malnourished (SAM) and 17.9% moderately malnourished, the 4th highest weekly number of SAM cases."

President Biden's statement made reference to Mr. Lowcock's note and said "earlier this week, the UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs warned that Ethiopia could experience its first famine since the 1980s because of this protracted conflict. All parties, in particular the Ethiopian and Eritrean forces, must allow immediate, unimpeded humanitarian access to the region in order to prevent widespread famine."

Similarly, in an earlier statement, USAID's newly appointed Administrator, Ambassador Samantha Power, cautioned that "the risk of famine in Ethiopia looms for the first time in over 30 years." USAID is one of largest humanitarian partners on the ground.

In the last week of April, in an interview with state affiliated FanaBC, Abadi Girmay (PhD), Head of the Tigray Interim Administration's Bureau of Agriculture and Development, expressed his concerns that there would be "unprecedented danger" in the next three to four years if the agricultural sector did not recover. Abadi also spoke about the damage caused by the war in the region to the agricultural sector, the challenges faced by farmers and the current agricultural activities in the region. "If we can not get a harvest this year, by the next three to five years we could face a very serious problem. And it may induce famine, it could be the worst history in the country."

Earlier in May, Abebe Gebrehiwot, Deputy head of the Tigray interim Administration, said the federally appointed interim administration was worried by deliberate efforts to prevent farmers from farming, and seeds from being delivered due to denial of passage; the result is going to be hunger, he warned. "These two incidents that looked to supplement each other have no other message than to let Tigray people die of hunger," he said. He also pointed that large farmlands in Humera and Raya should have been cultivated but the situation in these areas, coupled with blockage of seed transport are aggravating the problems.

In addition to ringing the alarm on looming famine, President Biden also echoed calls made several time by the State Department calling for Eritrean and Amhara forces to withdraw from Tigray.

The President urged "Ethiopia's leaders and institutions to promote reconciliation, human rights, and respect for pluralism. Doing so will preserve the unity and territorial integrity of the state, and ensure the protection of the Ethiopian people... "

Statement by President Joe Biden on the Crisis in Ethiopia

May 26, 2021

I am deeply concerned by the escalating violence and the hardening of regional and ethnic divisions in multiple parts of Ethiopia. The large-scale human rights abuses taking place in Tigray, including widespread sexual violence, are unacceptable and must end. Families of every background and ethnic heritage deserve to live in peace and security in their country. Political wounds cannot be healed through force of arms. Belligerents in the Tigray region should declare and adhere to a ceasefire, and Eritrean and Amhara forces should withdraw. Earlier this week, the UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs warned that Ethiopia could experience its first famine since the 1980s because of this protracted conflict. All parties, in particular the Ethiopian and Eritrean forces, must allow immediate, unimpeded humanitarian access to the region in order to prevent widespread famine.

The United States urges Ethiopia's leaders and institutions to promote reconciliation, human rights, and respect for pluralism. Doing so will preserve the unity and territorial integrity of the state, and ensure the protection of the Ethiopian people and the delivery of urgently needed assistance. The Government of Ethiopia and other stakeholders across the political spectrum should commit to an inclusive dialogue. Working together, the people of Ethiopia can build a shared vision for the country's political future and lay the foundation for sustainable and equitable economic growth and prosperity.

The United States is committed to helping Ethiopia address these challenges, building on the longstanding ties between our two nations and working with the African Union, United Nations, and other international partners. U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeff Feltman is leading a renewed U.S. diplomatic effort to help peacefully resolve the interlinked conflicts across the region, including a resolution of the dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam that meets the needs of all parties. Special Envoy Feltman will return to the region next week and keep me apprised of his progress. America's diplomacy will reflect our values: defending freedom, upholding universal rights, respecting the rule of law, and treating every person with dignity.

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