FOR MONTHS, humanitarian agencies have been warning that famine could spread in the Ethiopian region of Tigray if government forces and allied troops from neighboring Eritrea did not end a brutal campaign to subjugate the area. Now that emergency has arrived. U.N. agencies reported last week that more than 350,000 of Tigray’s 6 million people are living in famine conditions, and 2 million more are at risk. Some 140,000 of those facing starvation are children, according to UNICEF, which says 33,000 are at imminent risk of death.
This humanitarian catastrophe, which U.N. officials say could rival the epic Ethiopian famine of 1984 if not arrested, is a deliberate result of the military campaign waged in Tigray since late last year by the government of Abiy Ahmed and the allied Eritrean regime of Isaias Afwerki. According to U.S. and U.N. officials and press reporting, the forces of the two governments have burned farmers’ fields and stores and slaughtered or stolen livestock. They have also systematically blocked aid deliveries to the parts of Tigray not under government control. Eritrean forces, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator Mark Lowcock said last week, are “trying to deal with the Tigrayan population by starving them.” Food, he told the Reuters news agency, “is definitely being used as a weapon of war.”
Forced starvation of children is only the latest atrocity Ethiopian and Eritrean forces have resorted to in what, so far, has been a failed effort to crush the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which has controlled the region for decades and dominated Ethiopia’s government until Mr. Abiy came to power in 2018. The United Nations has also reported mass rapes of women, massacres of civilians and ethnic cleansing. More than 2 million people have fled their homes, leaving their fields behind. Tigrayan men are being rounded up and summarily executed.
The United States and other Western governments have attempted in vain to stop this scorched-earth assault. Secretary of State Antony Blinken began publicly demanding the withdrawal of Eritrean and Ethiopian militia forces from Tigray soon after taking office; Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.), a confidant of President Biden, was sent to lobby the Ethiopian ruler. Last month, Mr. Blinken announced visa sanctions against Ethiopian and Eritrean officials involved in abuses or the blocking of food aid. The European Union and United States have suspended hundreds of millions of dollars in aid.
None of it has worked. Mr. Abiy promised in March that Eritrean troops would leave Tigray, but they are still there. So are Amhara militias from a neighboring Ethiopian region that have engaged in ethnic cleansing as well as blocking food. Journalists reporting on the atrocities have been arrested or expelled from the country. Meanwhile, China and Russia have blocked action by the U.N. Security Council, which — to its shame — has yet to publicly meet on the Tigrayan crisis.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, is among those warning of another massive Ethiopian famine. “We cannot make the same mistake twice,” she said last week. “We cannot let Ethiopia starve.” Mr. Blinken pledged “further actions from the United States” if “those responsible” for the crisis did not “reverse course.” Though Ethiopia has been a valuable U.S. ally, the Biden administration now has no choice but to take that action.