20 million is the number of people who need immediate humanitarian assistance in Ethiopia. This is a staggering number that requires urgent mobilization of the international community. What caused such a dire humanitarian crisis? The Ethiopian complex situation of deep human suffering and the need for relentless humanitarian support has a multilayered nature.
The 2020-2022 Tigray war and prolonged drought might constitute the ‘bottom’ layers leading to an “immense humanitarian crisis,” in the words of the UN Secretary-General Guterres, with enormous internal displacement, malnutrition, and the disruption of services for basic needs like health facilities. In combination with the consequences of this catastrophic scenario, the layers of infectious diseases and Desert Locust infestation are worsening millions of livelihoods in the country and adding a further burden on the recovery process.
The ‘Forgotten War’ and the trail of conflict
Ethiopia has witnessed what some international newspapers called the ‘Forgotten War’ in the region of Tigray in the 2020-2022 period. With the escalation of ethno-regional tensions, the civil war, fought between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Ethiopian government, backed by the Eritrean military, officially began on November 4th, 2020. According to Ghent University, approximately 518,000 civilians lost their lives in what is the deadliest conflict of the 21st century.
One year has passed since the peace deal, the ‘Pretoria agreement,’ that the armed groups signed on November 2nd, 2022, and yet the trail of a bloody conflict looms over the population. Clashes and violence raged in the Amhara region in August 2023 between the Federal Army and the Fano armed forces (Amhara militia), leading to a six-month state of emergency that limited access to some areas and disrupted transport services and internet connection.
The renewal of tension and violence is of the utmost concern considering the already catastrophic humanitarian situation. As political scientist Yohannes Gedamu remarked, we cannot overlook the “fears of another war that could match or even eclipse what happened in Tigray” (“Fano attacks”). Gedamu’s reference to an ‘eclipse’ of the Tigray is frightening and thought-provoking: not only the Tigray war has passed as a ‘Forgotten War’ given the poor international attention to its unfolding and deadliest consequences and negotiation strategies, but it risks being further overshadowed by another fighting. To add fuel to the fire, in the current international conflict escalations, a possible conflict renewal in Ethiopia might be barely addressed, at the expense of about 20 million people living in Amhara and beyond.
Climate shocks – prolonged drought and floods
At the intersection of man-made disasters, Ethiopia suffers from severe climate change-related negative effects. Five consecutive years of failed rainfall until late 2020 caused an intense drought, which severely damaged the livelihoods of farming and pastoralist communities who lost their livestock, crops, and income (OCHA 2023).
Since 2015, some years before the start of the Tigray war, the El Niño phenomenon has harshly affected Ethiopian agricultural production, causing high levels of food insecurity and insufficient water supply. Thus, the distress millions of individuals have faced in Ethiopia seemed ceaseless. As imaginable, when it started raining heavily, after years of intense heat and drought, floods occurred, displacing more than 200,000 people (Davies Richard 2023).
Added layers: disease outbreaks and the Desert Locust
Along with these pre-existing and insufficiently tackled shocks, other aggravating factors are affecting the livelihoods of millions of Ethiopians: disease outbreaks and Desert Locust infestation. Among the diseases, thousands of cases of malaria, cholera, and measles have been recorded, increasing the demand for scaled-up medical interventions and supplies. Additionally, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA, Situation Report) reported that Desert Locust infestation is worsening food insecurity across many regions, with tons of lost hectares of crops.
Now, more than ever, there is a need for international institutions, NGOs, civil society, and Ethiopian politicians to address the dense intersection of the abovementioned shocks through the Humanitarian-Development-Peace Nexus. A comprehensive plan that targets interconnected causes of livelihood vulnerability in Ethiopia, as much as other world regions affected by profound humanitarian crises, is essential to ensure short-term assistance and long-term sustainable solutions for the (re-)building of resilient communities.
More funding, more voices
International and local NGOs are working to reach out to as a high number of people in need as possible every day since the explosion of the crisis. As honorable and essential as the aid that humanitarian workers give is, even in the most dangerous contexts, the Ethiopian crisis requires the mobilization of more financial resources.
Unfortunately, there exists a dramatic gap between the available funding and the need to guarantee all individuals’ lives improvement and faster recovery in the long term. As of October 9th, 2023, OCHA reported that the received funding in 2023 amounts to $1.2 billion compared to the necessary funding of $4 billion for the implementation of this year’s Humanitarian Response Plan.
With only two months left until the end of 2023, a $2.8 billion gap should be alarming. This means that 20 million people cannot be reached. Not all livelihoods will be improved. Children, women, and all vulnerable individuals will endure the frustration of hearing that they still need to wait to receive proper health, food, and shelter assistance. This situation should raise concerns regarding the effectiveness of the current international humanitarian funding system, followed by swift and concrete action to create a more comprehensive sustainable financial plan. More donors and innovative thinking are needed to speed up the process.
In a trembling historical period, with the intensification of the attacks in Gaza and the continuation of the Russia-Ukraine war, the international community ought not to forget other crises millions of people are facing, such as the disastrous humanitarian situation in Ethiopia. These words should serve as a small representation of Ethiopians whose voices faded away from the attention of international media and citizens of the world. This article is an invitation to the global community and institutions to come together to continue the debate on effective humanitarian funding mechanisms, merging existing and fresh solutions to save millions of lives in Ethiopia.
Davies, Richard. “Ethiopia- Flooding Continues in Several Regions, Displacing Thousands and Threatening Food Security.” FloodList, 16 May 2023, https://floodlist.com/africa/ethiopia- floods-may-2023
OCHA. “Humanitarian Response Plan: Ethiopia.” 28 February 2023, https://reliefweb.int/attachments/400519fa-260f-4402-b43b-9f5caec93ce1/Ethiopia%202023%20Humanitarian%20Response%20Plan.pdf
OCHA. Ethiopia, Situation Report, 9 October 2023, https://reliefweb.int/report/ethiopia/ethiopia- situation-report-9-oct-2023
“Call for Input to inform the High Commissioner’s report to the Human Rights Council on the impact of casualty recording.” Ghent University, 20 February 2023, accessed on the OHCHR’s website.
“Fano Attacks Threaten Return to War in Ethiopia.” Africa Defense Forum, 10 October 2023, https://adf-magazine.com/2023/10/fano-attacks-threaten-return-to-war-in-ethiopia/
“UN Security Council: End Inaction on Ethiopia.” Human Rights Watch, 2 July 2021, https://www.hrw.org /news/2021/07/02/un-security-council-end-inaction-ethiopia
Image source: “UN Security Council: End Inaction on Ethiopia.” Human Rights Watch, 2 July 2021.