Alex de Waal

Alex de Waal is the executive director of the World Peace Foundation.

In Tigray​ in northern Ethiopia a famine is unfolding in the dark. Reporters and aid workers have been unable to access large parts of the region since war broke out in November. Satellite imagery and aerial photographs have shown that only a fraction of the land was ploughed in preparation for the summer rains. Children are dying of hunger. When villagers are spotted by Eritrean or Ethiopian soldiers they are told: ‘You won’t plough, you won’t harvest, you won’t get any aid. We’ll punish you if you try.’ Some news reaches me by phone. I recently spoke to a Tigrayan colleague who had experienced a previous famine. The elders in his village were saying that the situation now was as bad as it had been in the worst months of the 1980s. Even if a massive aid effort gets underway and the Ethiopian prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, allows international agencies to reach people in need, it’s already too late for tens of thousands of Tigrayans, most of them children. Two months ago, aid agencies completed spot surveys of villages they could access and reported malnutrition of between 27 and 33 per cent among children under five.

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