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UN figures showing catastrophic conditions and famine spreading amid Tigray conflict reinforce calls for concerted international action

Cyril Ramaphosa to attend discussions at G-7 summit on deepening regional crisis in the Horn despite an ominous silence from the African Union

The conclusions of internal UN documents that over 350,000 people in the Tigray region are starving amid 'catastrophic conditions' after seven months of fighting between federal forces and Tigrayan People's Liberation Front rebels, has prompted the sternest rebuke of Abiy Ahmed's government yet by international leaders (AC Vol 62 No 11, Not so splendid isolation).

A further two million Ethiopians face the most acute level of food deprivation prior to famine, the report said.

The deepening crisis in Ethiopia is on the agenda at the Group of 7 (G-7) summit in Cornwall, Britain, on 11-13 June with the United States calling for concerted, tougher action on access to humanitarian aid and an end to the fighting. South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa, a guest at the G-7 summit, will attend the discussion on Ethiopia and regional security, as well as vaccine distribution.

In a joint statement on Thursday (10 June), the European Commission and the US Agency for International Development said that the conflict had pushed '400,000 innocent people to the brink of famine and loss of life' and added that 'this must be addressed immediately…We do well to remember the 1980s famine in Ethiopia, which led to an estimated one million deaths, many as a result of food assistance being blocked,' the statement added.

The EU and US have also issued demands for an immediate ceasefire, immediate and unimpeded access of humanitarian aid agencies to all parts of Tigray. They are also urging the immediate withdrawal of Eritrean troops from Ethiopia; it is now several months since Abiy promised Eritrean forces would leave. But the latest reports suggest that Eritrean forces are stepping up their security role for the Addis government (AC Vol 62 No 7, Abiy gives first ground). 

Beyond the tough language and the threat of ending budgetary support, G-7 countries are doing little else to help the civilians caught in this horrendous conflict. There is no sign of any compromise from Addis. Its ally, Eritrea, has been accusing Western states of worsening the conflict in Tigray.

Ethiopian officials insist that aid is getting through to those most in need, and dispute the figures cited by the UN, EU and United States.

Mituku Kassa, head of Ethiopia's National Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Committee, said on Thursday that the international community would be wrong to declare a famine in the region and accused the TPLF of attacking aid convoys.

'We don't have any food shortage,' he told a news conference. That is typical of Ethiopian diplomats' line: denial and blame. For now, neither the G-7 nor the African Union, which is headquartered in Addis Ababa, have mustered a practical response as conditions deteriorate.

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