The risk of a humanitarian catastrophe in northern Ethiopia is escalating, according to Andrew Mitchell, the UK’s Africa minister, who recently returned from a two-day trip to the region. Mitchell emphasized the urgent need for action to prevent a looming humanitarian crisis, driven by factors such as the long-term El Niño-driven drought and the devastating two-year war in the Tigray region that concluded in November 2022.
During his visit, Mitchell met with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in Addis Ababa and traveled to Mekelle, the Tigray regional capital. His primary message was a call to address the potential famine by mobilizing aid promptly. Despite recent reductions in the UK’s aid program, Mitchell highlighted the importance of reversing these cuts to effectively respond to the crisis in Ethiopia.
Northern Ethiopia is grappling with the consequences of conflict and climate change, severely impacting crop production and displacing millions of people. Mitchell revealed that 1 million individuals have been displaced, and 3 million are facing critical food security and hunger. International donors have been working to assist the estimated 6.6 million people in need, with the UN projecting that the number of critically food insecure individuals could rise to 10.8 million during the July-September lean season.
The UN has reported that malnutrition rates in various regions, including Afar, Amhara, and Tigray, have exceeded globally recognized crisis thresholds. Although famine-like conditions are not currently prevalent, the situation remains dire. In response, the UK has initiated a £100 million fund to address preventable deaths, particularly focusing on children under five, pregnant women, and postnatal women. The program aims to support over 3 million Ethiopians by enhancing access to healthcare, family planning, medicines, and vaccinations.
Mitchell stressed that the crisis in Ethiopia should serve as a wake-up call for the international community. He highlighted the critical food shortages, war-induced displacement, and the impact of climate change, emphasizing the need for collaborative efforts to avert a major crisis in the near future. The vulnerable, particularly women and children, are the most affected, making it imperative for the global community to work with the Ethiopian government and international partners to address and reverse the unfolding crisis.
Mitchell further underscored the interconnected challenges facing Ethiopia, including the displacement of 400,000 people in the Somali region last November due to local exoduses fueled by climate change and El Niño. The destructive spiral of displacement, hunger, and need is exacerbating the crisis, with the most vulnerable populations being the first to bear the brunt of these challenges.
The £100 million program launched by the UK aims to address not only immediate food shortages but also the broader health issues contributing to preventable deaths. Ethiopia currently faces the fourth-highest level of maternal mortality globally, with 10,000 mothers succumbing to pregnancy and childbirth-related causes each year. Mitchell emphasized the importance of providing essential support before, during, and after pregnancy, including access to medicines, nutrition supplements, clean water, and sanitation in health centers.
As the crisis intensifies, Mitchell called on the international community to rally behind Ethiopia and collaborate with the government and other partners to halt and reverse the unfolding disaster. Drawing attention to the historical specter of famine in the region, he urged an escalation of international efforts to avert a major crisis in the near future.
Getachew Reda, the president of the interim authority in Tigray, has sounded the alarm, stating that 91% of the population in the semi-arid region is at risk of starvation and death. Reda has called on the federal government in Addis Ababa to provide assistance, emphasizing the urgency of a coordinated response to prevent further escalation of the humanitarian catastrophe.
In summary, the situation in northern Ethiopia demands immediate and concerted action from the global community to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe. The complex interplay of conflict, climate change, and displacement requires a multifaceted approach, including increased aid, healthcare support, and collaborative efforts to address the root causes of the crisis. Time is of the essence, and the international community must respond with urgency to avert a major tragedy in the region.