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Weaponised famine and selective purging in Tigray, Ethiopia

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Published : Monday, 2 August, 2021 at 12:00 AM  Count : 495

Weaponised famine and selective purging in Tigray, Ethiopia

Weaponised famine and selective purging in Tigray, Ethiopia

Following the end of the Ethiopian Civil War in 1991, Ethiopia became a dominant-party state under the rule of the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a coalition of ethnically-based parties dominated by the Tigray People's Liberation Front. The founding and most influential member was the TPLF and the chairperson was Meles Zenawi, who was the Prime Minister of Ethiopia until his death in 2012.

On 29 June 2021, Tigrayan forces vowed to continue their offensive and drive into Eritrea or Amhara if necessary and said that Mekelle was 100% under the control of Tigrayan forces. By 30 June the TDF had entered the town of Shire, some 140 kilometres northwest of Mekelle, after it had been abandoned by Eritrean troops. The International Crisis Group claimed that the TDF now controlled most of the Tigray region. The Ethiopian government claimed, on 30 June, that it could re-enter Mekelle in less than three weeks if it wanted to.

In the same announcement, the Ethiopian government stated that all Eritrean forces had withdrawn from the region, though this was not confirmed by the Eritrean government. On 6 July 2021, the Tigrayan government began mobilization to retake western Tigray from Amhara militias. A TDF offensive started on 12 July 2021 resulted in Tigrayan forces capturing southern Tigray, including the towns of Alamata and Korem. The TDF subsequently crossed the Tekezes River and advanced westward, capturing the town of Mai Tsebri and prompting Amhara officials to call on its militias to arm themselves and mobilize.

Thousands of people were believed to have been killed in the conflict and around 44,000 fled to Sudan. On 29 November, claims that South Sudan was giving safe haven to Debretsion, led to the Ethiopian ambassador to South Sudan abruptly returning to Ethiopia, and South Sudanese diplomats in Ethiopia allegedly being given 72 hours to leave the country.

According to the UN, some 2.3 million children have been cut off from desperately needed aid and humanitarian assistance. Since the start of the conflict, the Ethiopian federal government has strictly controlled access to the Tigray region, and the UN has said it is frustrated that talks with the Ethiopian government had not yet secured adequate humanitarian access for "food, including ready-to-use therapeutic food for the treatment of child malnutrition, medicines, water, fuel, and other essentials that are running low" said UNICEF.

By 13 March 2021, the UN and its partners reached about 0.9 million people with complete food baskets, and 0.7 million people with clean water. Despite the progress made, many are still hard to reach due to ongoing fighting. About 4.5 million people of are still in need of aid and about 1 million of that are not in accessible areas due to ongoing fighting.

Since the start of the conflict, there has been limited access to clean water due to hygiene and sanitation services largely being disrupted across Tigray. The Tigray Regional Water Bureau reported that out of 36 villages it assessed, only 4 had partially functioning water sources. Along with that, an estimated 250 motorized water pumping systems have been out of order, and the status of 11,000 hand pumps in rural areas was unknown. Because of this, there has been a heightened risk of outbreaks of water-borne diseases and COVID-19.

In February 2021, it was reported by GOAL Ethiopia, International Relations Council, Mothers and Children Multisectoral Development Organization (MCMDO), and World Vision, that nearly one in seven children in 16 woredas and town administrations across Tigray were found to be acutely malnourished. While in Enderta, Abi Adi and Shire, GOAL and IRC reported that 16.6% of children screened had acute malnutrition with 3.5% suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

Out of more than 260 health centres in Tigray before the war, only 31 are fully functional, while 7 are partially functional, according to the Emergency Coordination Center. According to WHO, all of the functioning hospitals and health centres in Tigray had a lack of medical supplies, drugs, and equipment. UN partners reported continued looting of health facilities. Only 16% of the health facilities had vaccination services and only 17% had maternal services.

Ethnic profiling against Tigrayans occurred during the Tigray War, with Ethiopians of Tigrayan ethnicity being put on indefinite leave from Ethiopian Airlines or refused permission to board, prevented from overseas travel, and an "order of identifying ethnic Tigrayans from all government agencies and NGOs" being used by federal police to request a list of ethnic Tigrayans from an office of the World Food Programme.

Tigrayans' houses were arbitrarily searched and Tigrayan bank accounts were suspended. Ethnic Tigrayan members of Ethiopian components of United Nations peacekeeping missions were disarmed and some forcibly flown back to Ethiopia, at the risk of torture or execution, according to United Nations officials. The State of Emergency Taskforce stated that the Tigrayan peacekeepers were returned to Ethiopia because of "infiltration of TPLF elements in various entities"

Tigrinya or Tigray, is a member of the Semitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family. It is closely related to Amharic,Tigré and Ge'ez, an extinct language that is still used in religious practice. It is distantly related to Arabic and Hebrew.According to the 2007 census, Tigrigna is spoken by 4.3 million people in Ethiopia, 2.8 million of whom are monolingual speakers of the language.

It is the third most commonly spoken language in Ethiopia where it serves as a lingua franca among the country's different ethnic groups. It is used in the mass media, education, and in government and non-governmental agencies. Population total of all countries is estimated at 6.9 million.Tigrigna is spoken by 2.5 million people in Eritrea where it is the de facto national language. It is the most spoken language in the country, and is used in mass media, education, and government.

There are 10,000 speakers of Tigrigna in Israel. There is no significant dialectal variation in Tigrigna, but scholars usually divide the language into two mutually intelligible dialects: Asmara spoken in Eritrea. Tigray spoken in Ethiopia. Amidst existential crisis, language and culture are on the back seat.
Avik Gangopadhyay, an author, critic and columnist, writes from Kolkata, India

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