The war-torn Tigray region of Ethiopia is on the brink of famine. It is set to echo the events of 1983- 1985, where more than 300,000 people died and 7.75 million were affected by famine across Ethiopia.
This comes after news that the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) awarded the Agricola Medal to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. The medal is bestowed to international figures who have made exceptional advancements in the cause for global food security and alleviating poverty and malnutrition.
Abiy Ahmed’s government has released a promotional video of their plan to progress this drive for food security, focusing on innovating wheat self-sufficiency. The video titled Ethiopia: A Nation of Agricultural Promise reveals the government's desire to pursue the values extended through the Agricola Medal. In his address at the FAO ceremony, Ahmed relayed his government’s commitment to zero hunger goals.
Yet, are these aspirational targets just that and nothing more? Ethiopia is still suffering from food insecurity and malnutrition with an estimated 20.1 million people in need of food aid. The country’s severe periods of drought and internal conflict have intensified this situation to a dire degree. Food aid has only just been brought back to the country after it was suspended last year due to theft from government officials and soldiers.
Many human rights organisations including Human Rights Watch (HRW) have criticised the FOA’s decision to award Abiy Ahmed this medal. HRW views this award as a form of undermining what they see as a drastic humanitarian crisis. They also point to allegations that emerged after the Tigray conflict of 2020- 2022 that Ethiopian government forces were willingly increasing food insecurity and using starvation as a weapon of war.
The government in Addis Ababa have also refuted claims that a famine is imminent despite twelve districts in Tigray being in the midst of an intense drought. In the season when food should be at its most abundant, Tigrayan authorities are saying that 3.5 million people need aid for the entire year. Yet not enough aid is being received and it is too slow-moving to truly prevent high levels of food insecurity.
Talk of zero hunger goals along with the FAO’s recognition of Abiy Ahmed’s pursuit of food security paint a picture of hope for Ethiopia. Yet with officials caught stealing food aid and $10bn worth of investment being spent on the creation of the country’s new national palace, this hope has been shrouded in controversy.
The government’s overall reluctance to acknowledge this crisis in its development into famine suggests perhaps such hope is misguided. It is clear that rapid change is needed to prevent the events of the past from resurfacing.
Edited by Mariyam
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