Your Excellency Mr. Dyer,
We would like to extend our heartfelt thanks for your visits to the Tigray region of Ethiopia to assess the ongoing humanitarain crisis there. Your reporting on the situation at a time when a total communications blackout has made it near impossible to get adequate insight is invaluable. We are writing to you at this time in response to your most recent report following your third visit. As you so rightly noted the situation in Tigray has deteriorated to an alarming extent.
For some time now the World Food Programme [WFO] has informed the world that Tigray needs 100 trucks a day to avoid the full cost of the famine. Sadly, however, the Ethiopian regime has allowed only a mere 10% of the aid required to enter Tigray since late June. As a result, deaths due to starvation have been regularly announced by the government of Tigray since last month.
What you were able to witness in Mekelle is the tip of the iceberg. Those in rural areas and far from major towns are experiencing a much worse reality. Given the communication blackout and shortage of fuel, it is difficult (if not impossible) to assess conditions and keep track of what is happening in the rural areas. Note that humanitarian workers are also prohibited from taking devices to the region so that they can’t capture the degree of severity.
Even as you read this letter, countless parents are forced to witness their children slowly wither away in excruciating pain from starvation. It is terrible but not impossible to imagine the suffering of people who are unable to nourish and protect their loved ones as they vanish in front of their eyes. The terrible parallels with the 1984 famine when a previous Ethiopian government similarly weaponized famine are almost inescapable. The footage from that time of severely malnourished children in agony from starvation surfaced; some too weak to even cry serves as a window into what is happening in Tigray today.
As I am sure you noticed your recent video message on Twitter elicited many positive responses. The Tigrayan community is encouraged and deeply grateful for your continued effort to help those who need it and for being there to see the severity of the crisis. However, we all remain gravely concerned by the ever-worsening hunger crisis and the undeniable reality that methods employed thus far to alleviate the food crisis have failed. The international community must ask: is there something more or different that must be done?
With this in mind, we would like to ask you and the UK government to consider the following steps:
- Identify the entities directly responsible for the humanitarian blockade: Unless a problem and its cause are clearly identified, one’s ability to provide a solution is limited. Several humanitarian agencies, including United Nations aid chief Martin Griffiths, have frankly cited the entities exacerbating the humanitarian crisis. In an interview given this week, the UN Aid Chief said, “this is man-made; this can be remedied by the act of the government.” Reports from United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) has repeatedly noted that the road blockade, harassment of aid truck drivers, blockage of electricity, communication, delayed approval, tight cash flow, and suspension of banking services as conditions contributing to the crisis. The federal government controls these things. Instead of the international community acknowledging this and taking the necessary steps, it has engaged in narratives that whitewash culbabilty with phrases like “both sides” even though the acts one references are committed by the federal government. This obstruction has been recently palpably demonstrated by the unprecedented decision taken by the Ethiopian government to expel seven senior U.N. officials from Ethiopia for allegedly meddling in the country’s internal affairs”. Consistent with everything else that the government has been doing in the last 11 months this further reveals that the Ethiopian government is not interested in actually facilitating humanitarian operations. Put simply, there is a lack of political will to keep the blockade in place. Allowing aid to reach those in need isn’t a negotiable matter but a responsibility by everyone governed according to international law.
- Changed tone to match the severity of the situation: Sir Mark Lowcock, in early June (over two months ago), stated, “There is famine now in Tigray.” At that time he was able to sound the warning that the world would see hundreds of thousands at the brink of death by now. Yet, the entities that have the responsiblity and the ability to prevent it were reluctant to match the urgency that he conveyed. Sadly, today, more and more images of severely malnourished children are managing to make it out to the world despite the different mechanisms (communication blackout, restrictions on aid workers, and blocking adequate fuel that would allow aid workers and the Tigray government to travel throughout Tigray to document need). However, the statements have stayed the same under cover of neutrality and political sensitivity, showing a disconnect between the tone used and the severity of the crisis. In some instances over enthusiastic praise of the goodwill and reliability of the government exceeding the demands of even the most stringent neutrality and political sensitivity seem to validate the terrible actions taken by the government. This seems to indicate that the international community has not adequately gauged the situation and accurately identified the core problems and solutions.
- Deploy Alternative Mechanisms for Delivering Humanitarian Aid: Considering the continued failure of all current efforts to deliver aid it is now time for the international community to deploy alternative mechanisms for delivering humanitarain aid. Most signifacntly routes of aid delivery that are not dependent on the good will of the Ethiopian reigme in Addis Ababa seem urgent. These could include but should not necessarily be limited to a consistent humanitarian air bridge to reach the most affected areas or utilizing food drops. It is also important to investigate other alternative routes of delivering aid by ground through either Sudan and/or Djibouti.
- Concerted international effort to pressure the Ethiopian regime to resume essential services: Concerted international effort to pressure the Ethiopian regime to resume essential services within Tigray is still missing. The resumption of services is essential to facilitate the distribution of humanitarian aid as well as to allow people independence by accessing their own savings and allowing a return to a modicum of normal and dignified existence. Moreover, without essential services, it is nearly impossible to assess the true scale of needs and get to the people in all parts of Tigray.
- Coordinated effort to force the Ethiopian regime to adhere to International Humanitarian Laws: Coordinated effort to force the Ethiopian regime to adhere to International Humanitarian Laws and to allow humanitarian access is essential. The world needs to act collectively to ensure that the government is made aware that it can no longer continue to violate international laws, rights, and norms with impuntiy.
- Mechanisms of Documentation: It is essential to find a way to document the severity of the situation and let the world know. Maybe that will lead to action beyond just words.
The Tigrayan community