Over 1,400 People Starved To Death In Tigray Since Food Aid Suspension

In August 2023, media reported that at least 1,400 people have starved to death in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray since food aid was suspended earlier this year. In April 2023, the United Nations’ World Food Program (WFP) announced that it would temporarily suspend food aid in Tigray. The decision came amid reports of food misappropriation. In May 2023, WFP confirmed that it launched an investigation into the issue. In May 2023, USAID, the U.S. leading aid agency, announced that it would also pause all USAID-supported food assistance in the Tigray region until further notice. USAID indicated that it “uncovered that food aid, intended for the people of Tigray suffering under famine-like conditions, was being diverted and sold on the local market.” USAID clarified that “while food aid to the Tigray Region is paused, other vital assistance not implicated in the diversion scheme will continue, including life-saving nutritional supplements, safe drinking water, and support for agricultural activities and development.”

According to BBC, the Tigray interim government‘s commissioner for disaster risk management, Gebrehiwet Gebrezgabher, reported that since the food aid suspension, 1,411 people had starved to death in three zones alone (the east, north-west and south-east). According to Gebrehiwet Gebrezgabhe, 492 suspects were under investigation, and 198 had so far been charged for their involvement in the food misappropriation. However, the people in the region continue to be affected by food shortages and the pause in food aid deliveries.

In August 2023, Professor Jan Nyssen, a Belgian physical geographer and professor of geography at Ghent University, commented on the dire situation stating that “the WFP aid stoppage may have a more detrimental effect in Tigray than the siege a year earlier. Specifically in the Central and Southeastern zones, more Tigrayan households are in the worst stage of food insecurity in June 2023 than they were a year earlier, according to the first significant evaluation completed since the cessation of food aid.” Professor Jan Nyssen confirmed that in early August 2023, the WFP had cautiously begun distributing food aid in Tigray. However, this is within the safety net program (PSNP), and not humanitarian aid. As he emphasized, “The distinction is that humanitarian aid imposes no requirements on recipients, whereas safety net programs require people to engage in particular public labor activities, for which many of the people who need food aid are simply too weak.” Humanitarian distributions have not started yet.

Tigray has experienced horrific atrocities during the conflict between November 2020 and November 2022. In March 2023, the U.S. State Department recognized These atrocities war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. Some of the atrocities, including the use of rape and sexual violence, continue despite the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement signed in November 2022. Indeed, as reported by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), a non-governmental organization, in their new report from August 2023, “the medical records reviewed showed many instances of conflict-related sexual violence occurring after the November 2022 Cessation of Hostilities Agreement: 169 incidents of conflict-related sexual violence occurred before the signing of the [agreement] in November 2022 and 128 incidents occurred after November 2022. The scale and nature of these violations have not materially changed since the peace agreement was signed, except for the notable fact that 95% of conflict-related sexual violence experienced by children and adolescents under 18 years old occurred following the signing of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement.

Food shortages and the pause in humanitarian aid to the region put extra pressure on people in the region. The reports of over 1,400 people who starved to death in Tigray since food aid suspension must be taken seriously. The people in the region cannot be punished for the few who abuse the system. With greater oversight, the food aid must be restored to prevent further starvation-related deaths.

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