29 July 2021, The Tablet

Ethiopia’s forgotten famine

Ethiopia’s forgotten famine

People displaced by fighting in Tigray queue for food at a temporary shelter
Photo: CNS/reuters, Baz Ratner


The most acute famine of the modern era – one that could kill as many as half a million people – is occurring in Ethiopia. And it has barely attracted a flicker of attention

In Tigray, children are dying of hunger. It is almost certainly too late to prevent tens of thousands from starving to death in the coming months. Last month, aid officials estimated that 350,000 were in famine, almost 2 million on the brink, and almost all of Tigray’s 6 million people needed aid. A hundred lorries of food were needed every day for three months. In the three weeks up to 19 July, just one aid convoy of 50 trucks crossed into Tigray. Without television pictures, it seems that human compassion is occluded. We know the numbers, we know how starvation takes its relentless toll on those small bodies, but neither the public nor governments are treating the calamity with the urgency it warrants.

Ethiopia was one of the earliest countries to adopt Christianity, and some of Tigray’s churches date back to the sixth century or even earlier. The vast majority of Tigrayans are Christian, and churches and monasteries have been systematically attacked and desecrated, but mosques have also been targeted.

In May, a video recorded by the Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC), Abune Mathias, was smuggled out of the country and released. The Patriarch said: “They want to destroy the people of Tigray.” He was the first senior Ethiopian to call what was happening genocide. Abune Mathias has a history of being outspoken – he condemned the Marxist military dictatorship in the 1980s. He is also a Tigrayan. The synod of the EOTC took a different line. Shortly after the war started, it publicly backed the Prime Minister’s “I stand with the Ethiopian Army campaign”, and the secretary general of the synod, Abune Yosef, gave a press conference at which he distanced himself from the Patriarch’s claim. The failure of the synod to condemn what has been happening in Tigray has led to calls to establish a separate Tigray Orthodox Church.

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