In a heart-wrenching turn of events, the northern region of Tigray in Ethiopia has witnessed a devastating loss of human life as approximately 1,400 individuals succumbed to starvation.
This dire situation stems from the suspension of vital food aid due to rampant theft within the area, a senior official has confirmed.
The distressing scenario unfolded around four months ago when both the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) and the primary aid agency of the United States made the difficult decision to halt their provision of crucial sustenance to Tigray.
The decision was met with profound repercussions, as evidenced by the catastrophic loss of life.
An investigative effort undertaken by Tigrayan authorities has unveiled a deeply unsettling truth: nearly 500 individuals have been implicated in the large-scale pilferage that has deprived countless Tigrayans of sustenance. This revelation was substantiated by BBC’s investigative report.
According to Gebrehiwet Gebrezgabher, the commissioner for disaster risk management in the Tigray interim government, the consequences of the aid cessation have been devastatingly tangible.
A staggering 1,411 deaths attributed to starvation have been tragically recorded across three specific zones of Tigray, namely the east, northwest, and southeast. The full extent of the tragedy remains unknown, as data from the remaining zones is yet to be compiled. Sadly, it is anticipated that the death toll will escalate as this harrowing process continues.
Gebrehiwet Gebrezgabher further disclosed that “an ongoing investigation has identified 492 suspects in connection to the food aid theft, with 198 individuals already facing charges for their alleged roles in this distressing fraud.”
Among these suspects are government officials, personnel from non-governmental organizations, coordinators at conflict-displaced camps, and individuals who have acted as distributors of the crucial food assistance.
In a shocking revelation, business individuals, particularly those who own food stores and mills, have also been implicated in the intricate web of this investigation.
The conclusion of this inquiry is rapidly approaching, shedding light on the far-reaching implications of this heinous activity.
The dire circumstances in Tigray can be traced back to the severe conflict that ravaged the region in 2020, leading to conditions reminiscent of famine. While the conflict concluded in November of the same year due to a peace agreement brokered by the African Union (AU) between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the region’s ordeal was far from over. Eritrean troops had been involved in the conflict alongside the Ethiopian Army.
Throughout the majority of this conflict, Tigray remained under a blockade, severely hindering the timely delivery of essential humanitarian aid. Unfortunately, this exacerbated the suffering of the population, leading to a dire humanitarian crisis.
In the midst of these dire circumstances, Olusegun Obasanjo, an AU envoy and former Nigerian president, estimated that a staggering 600,000 individuals lost their lives during the two-year conflict.
This shocking death toll was attributed to a combination of combat, starvation, and inadequate healthcare.
The World Food Programme (WFP) and USAid initially rallied to assist approximately six million Tigrayans, but their noble efforts were cut short in April when evidence emerged of the misappropriation of their contributions to local markets. Both entities took the difficult decision to halt their food aid distribution, a choice not taken lightly.
A spokesperson from the WFP explained, “We simply could not turn a blind eye to the criminal activity and continue to deliver.”
Alarming evidence from the BBC showcased food items bearing the logos of prominent aid agencies, including the WFP and USAid, being sold across Tigray’s markets, including its capital, Mekelle. Yet, a lingering uncertainty remains: whether this vital food aid was dishonestly “diverted” or if desperate aid recipients had been forced to sell it in order to secure funds for their survival.
By June, the WFP and USAid had extended their suspension of food aid to other parts of Ethiopia, amplifying the depth of the crisis. USAid, being a substantial food donor for the country, had been assisting millions affected by various adversities, ranging from conflict to drought and soaring living costs.
Adding another layer to this unfolding tragedy, a leaked memo from an independent donor group, widely covered by numerous media outlets in June, raised the alarming possibility of a “coordinated and criminal scheme.” This potentially orchestrated operation involved both federal and regional government entities, with military units across the nation allegedly benefiting.
While the Ethiopian government has claimed to be diligently investigating these deeply concerning allegations, as of now, no concrete findings have been released. Notably, Ethiopia’s military vehemently denied deriving any gains from the pilfered food aid, further adding to the complex web of this distressing situation.