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GRC’s Felicity Mulford contributes to ‘The Tigray War & Regional Implications’ report highlighting the impact of conflict on food security in war-torn Tigray

9 July 2021

Since November, Tigray has been gripped in a brutal conflict which has decimated food systems. 5.5 million people are currently food insecure, and 350,000 people are already facing famine. The Tigray region, home to the Tigrayan ethnic group, is situated in the highlands of Northern Ethiopia.


The region has seen considerable developments in food security over recent decades. In early 2020, Tigray showed little resemblance to the region pictured in media reports from 1984-85, when a famine of biblical proportions caused the death of over one million people. A famine which left a scar on the conscience of the international community.


Since then, a rise in employment opportunities, the creation of new infrastructure, and effective banking systems had improved the standard of living for many Tigrayans. In fact, Tigray was deemed food secure before the conflict began by the UN’s Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) – an internationally recognised measure for the level of food security.


However, since November the escalation of hostilities in the region has undermined food security and by June 2021, the international community’s fears had been realised; famine had struck Tigray again.


The situation is dire. As information has leaked out from behind a communications blackout imposed by the Federal Government, a solemn picture is emerging. Widespread human rights violations, including starvation crimes, have been reported.


Through the destruction of harvests, scorched earth tactics and slaughtering of livestock, the ability for Tigrayans to produce their own food has been removed. Through the looting and pillaging of possessions and businesses, as well as the attacks on the banking system and work opportunities, the ability for Tigrayans to buy food has been removed. Through the obstruction, diversion and withholding of aid, the ability of Tigrayans to access lifesaving food has been removed. As outlined by the World Peace Foundation’s report, ‘Starving Tigray’, food security across the region has been dismantled.


The IPC predictions for food security are alarming. By September, unless there has been a considerable change in the conditions on the ground, an additional 400,000 people could be facing famine conditions. Unfettered access is needed for humanitarian workers, aid must not be impeded and the capacities of Tigrayans must be enhanced. The recently announced ceasefire could provide the necessary respite for those on the ground.


The conflict is the first major test for the UN Security Council Resolution 2417 on Conflict and Hunger. Although attention was given to the crisis at the UN Conflict and Hunger debate in March and within several closed-door meetings at the UN Security Council, little action has been taken through the Security Council. The Council issued a single non-binding Presidential Statement in April, after much compromise following previously aborted attempts to agree on a statement. Decisive action has been forestalled due to the political dynamics of the Security Council, with certain members calling for stronger action while others (primarily India, Russia, and China) view UNSC interference as impinging on the sovereignty of the Ethiopian government.  In response to the recent cease-fire announcement, an emergency session at the Security Council occurred on 2nd July. While it outlined the critical need to maintain calm, so that the parties to the conflict could resolve tensions through diplomatic negotiations, member states danced around commitments to action. The session concluded without outcome.


International responses outside of the Security Council have made more progress. Fact-finding missions have begun; on the 25th March, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), announced a joint investigation, shortly followed by an announcement of a Commission of Inquiry by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). Additionally, frustrations over the paralysis at the Security Council prompted an EU-US Roundtable ahead of the G7 Summit in June, to shed light on the crisis.


Global Rights Compliance (GRC) are working to inform and advise on how international law may be used to advance the prevention, prohibition, and accountability for mass starvation across several conflict settings, including Tigray and have called for action here and here. GRC are currently working on a submission to the ACHPR COI on the crime of starvation.


To learn more about the impact of the conflict on food security, Felicity Mulford (Hillary Rodham Clinton Global Challenges Scholar and Research Assistant at Global Rights Compliance) has contributed a chapter titled ‘The Humanitarian Situation: Aid, Food Security and Famine’ in the newly released report ‘The Tigray War & Regional Implications’.

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