In camps across war-ravaged Tigray, the suffering of Ethiopia’s displaced is written plainly on gaunt faces etched with despair. The emaciated bodies and hollow eyes of children betray a catastrophe of incomprehensible proportion, while the ragged breaths of the starving tell of lives slowly slipping away.
In Samir Woreda camp, located just 40 kilometers north of Mekelle, at least 25 people have perished from hunger in the past four months alone. Another 670 malnourished children – their shrunken frames swaying vulnerably in the dust – hover on the brink of death, denied life-saving care.
The agony is no different in Tembien camp housing over 50,000 others, where 29 people have died of starvation at a school now crowded with the displaced. Dozens more cling to life as international donors withhold aid over allegations that relief funds were diverted, though international organizations maintain aid suspension will only be lifted once a full investigation is conducted and accountability measures are put in place.
“I am so hungry,” cries Tekle Tadele, a 47-year-old woman immobilized in bed for weeks without food. Cut off from assistance, she is among the many Ethiopians now struggling simply to survive.
While residents of Samir Woreda initially received help from local hosts in the first few months when the war broke out in November 2021, rationed supplies have left both the displaced and their hosts in equal need. The anguished pleas of the camp now fall upon ears that know starvation’s desolation firsthand.
In Tigray, the word ‘misery’ fails to capture this humanitarian crisis where thousands are being slowly drawn into a vortex of preventable death. Here, amid the harrowing scenes of despair and desperation, starvation wears a human face – the living proof of a nation’s plight revealed upon those suffering most.
The barren camps of Tembien and Samir mark the visible face of Ethiopia’s growing hunger crisis, but the situation across much of Tigray is just as dire.
Outside of Mekelle, where a lack of jobs due to the conflict has left many dependent on aid, the region’s five million residents rely on agencies who are forced to suspend operations after uncovering massive diversion of supplies – not just within Tigray but all over Ethiopia where over 20 million need assistance after years of strife.
The zone of Wag Hemra in Amhara saw widespread destruction in the two-year conflict, with 67,000 of 75,000 displaced people now back home but still aid-reliant as livelihoods were lost.
“No land left to till”, laments Zinash Worku of Disaster Prevention. “Food aid has stopped, starvation follows”, yet regional and federal authorities offer no help.
In early June, USAID and WFP halted Ethiopian aid deliveries after investigating “orchestrated” theft at all levels of government and military. The report alleged involvement of the Ethiopian National Defense Force, though the army denied the claim but said they are ready to take action against any involved member.
Per the report, confiscated grain meant for Tigray was instead milled into flour exported to Kenya and Somalia for profit.
For WFP Executive Director Cindy McCain, one thing matters above all: getting aid to the millions who desperately need it. The diversion of food from hungry stomachs is “absolutely unacceptable,” she says, but welcomes Ethiopia’s pledge to investigate.
She says her teams will not rest until aid resumes, ensuring supplies “reach the people who need it the most.”
However, for those on the brink of starvation, every delay steals hope.
Tadesse Yilma’s plea from Abuy-Adi camp cuts to the soul. Living witnesses to Ethiopia’s suffering, the 50,000 displaced there beg for relief.
“Each day slips by as we waste away, our cries falling on deaf ears.” Tadesse says. “We need not statistics or reports – someone must act now before our light is gone.”
In that desperate plea, one hears the desperation of thousands – lives hanging in the balance, their survival measured in days, not weeks or months.
The plight in Afar mirrors that of Tigray, with hunger quickly tightening its grip. According to officials, starvation looms as aid remains blocked.
One civil servant encountered suffering victims left stranded after the suspension. “They inch towards the abyss,” he says. “Each day promises only worsening hunger until something breaks this cruel trap they’re in.”
WFP’s singular focus lies with feeding Ethiopia’s millions on the brink, said a spokesperson in an email response to The Reporter. Distributions remain paused as systems strengthen to prevent future theft, but WFP stands ready “to resume as soon as confident aid will go where intended.” They welcome investigation and accountability, stressing “WFP’s first concern is the hungry people who depend on us.”
But for now, the hungry wait. Distributions to communities stay suspended though brief delays risk pushing more over the edge. The spokesperson calls for restoring aid flows swiftly while ensuring “proper oversight to avoid future diversion.” Programs for nursing mothers, children and students continue “uninterrupted” yet millions still teeter on the abyss.
While in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, life seems going well, the country is in the middle of all range of crises, though ending the war, which killed at least 600,000, in North Ethiopia is a big step forward.
Drought has killed over seven million cattle in the country’s south, while dozens have died because of drought caused illness like Cholera in Oromia, Somali and South regions.
The hungry of Ethiopia number over 20 million, according to aid agencies – They include victims of conflict, drought, and floods – among them 2.7 million displaced people and 1.9 million returnees. In the south and east, years of drought have left 11 million reliant on foreign aid for survival. But donor funds fall woefully short. The food cluster stands at a mere 23 percent of its USD 2.1 billion target for 2023 – a gap of USD 1.6 billion. With distributions already suspended, this shortfall risks pushing millions over the edge who have held on this long by a thread.
The world’s largest humanitarian crisis is unfolding, and yet the response remains lackluster. Grand appeals ring hollow when donations fail to match need – pledges made only for donors to turn away again, letting their fellow human starve unseen.
In Ethiopia today, one statistic towers over all others: 20 million mouths that must be fed, 20 million lives hanging in the balance. The question remains – will the international community rise to feed them before it’s too late?
By Abraham Tekle & Ashenafi Endale