UN: South Sudan Suffering Human Rights Crisis of Epic Proportions


The U.N. Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan warned that the country is suffering a human rights crisis of epic proportions, enmeshing its population in a cycle of violence, abuse and poverty. The report was submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council on Thursday.

According to the report, nine of the 10 states in South Sudan are engulfed in what the U.N. Commission calls alarming levels of conflict 10 years after independence was declared and despite multiple peace treaties signed to end the civil war that erupted in 2013.

Commission Chair Yasmin Sooka said violence in Warran and Lakes states is of particular concern.

“In March and July, the governors of Warran state and Lakes state ordered the summary execution of more than 56 individuals including minors,” Sooka said. “These extrajudicial killings orchestrated by governors from the ruling party are sufficiently similar, widespread and systematic and may constitute crimes against humanity.”

The report documents the prevalence of enforced disappearances, torture, rape, and conflict-related sexual violence and the forced recruitment of child soldiers throughout the country.

It finds widespread lawlessness and violence have intensified, resulting in many deaths and the forcible displacement of millions of people.

A separate commission report dealing with economic crimes accuses South Sudanese political elites of illicitly diverting millions of dollars from public coffers into private bank accounts.

Commission member Andrew Clapham said these practices are undermining human rights, endangering security, and keeping 80% of the population living in extreme poverty.

“We have sought to clarify that the government of South Sudan has responsibility for violations of the right to health and the right to education, and the failure to provide adequate resources to fulfill these rights is related to the misappropriation of the revenue, which ought to be deposited in bank accounts of the state and then used to provide for education and health,” Clapham said.

The South Sudanese minister of justice and constitutional affairs, R.M.A. Kachuoli, rebutted the report, saying he does not agree with the commission’s view of his country.

Kachuoli said the security situation across South Sudan is relatively calm and peaceful. He said the government is dealing with ethnic conflict through dialogue and the use of traditional courts. He calls a peace agreement reached in 2018 a significant milestone toward achieving peace in his country.

He said his government deems the report on economic crimes and corruption exaggerated, and questions whether the three-member panel even has a mandate to look at this issue.

Source: Voice of America

Nine Chad Villagers Killed in Jihadist Assault

Nine people have died in an attack on a village in the Lake Chad area that is plagued by violence led by jihadist groups, a local governor and an NGO said Tuesday.

The region borders Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon, and fighters from Boko Haram and a rival splinter group, the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), have used it for years as a haven from which to attack troops and civilians.

“Elements from Boko Haram attacked Kadjigoroum and killed nine people and set fire to the village” on Sunday night, regional governor Mahamat Fadoul Mackaye told Agence France-Presse by telephone.

Chadian authorities use the Boko Haram label to refer to both militant groups.

The head of a local NGO confirmed the attack and death toll at the village, asking not to be identified.

In August, 26 soldiers died in a Boko Haram raid on marshy Lake Chad’s Tchoukou Telia island, about 190 kilometers (120 miles) north of the capital, N’Djamena.

In March 2020, 100 Chadian troops died in an attack on the lake’s Bohoma peninsula, prompting an offensive the following month led by Chad’s then-President Idriss Deby Itno.

After pursuing the militants deep into Niger and Nigeria, Deby said there was “not a single jihadist anywhere” on the Chadian side of the lake region.

The attacks, however, have increased against the army and civilians.

Deby was killed in April 2021 during fighting against rebels in the north and was succeeded by his son, Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, as the head of a military junta.

Soiurce: Voice of America

At UN, Climate and COVID Top Leaders’ Concerns


Tackling the threat of climate change and COVID-19 were the dominant themes of leaders’ speeches Wednesday at the U.N. General Assembly annual debate.

“While the world was fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis also struck at full force,” said President Andry Rajoelina of the African island nation of Madagascar.

Successive years of climate change-driven droughts have ravaged parts of his country. This year, swarms of locusts and armyworms have wiped out crops. The U.N. says more than 1 million Malagasy people in the country’s south are “marching toward starvation” with thousands already in famine-like conditions

“If we do not act, the crisis will continue and get worse,” Rajoelina said of the consequences of global warming. “Madagascar calls upon each state to act in an equitable fashion and commensurate with their polluting activities.”

In six weeks, nations will meet in Glasgow, Scotland, for a progress report on the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. All signs point to the planet falling short of keeping global warming to a cap of 1.5 degrees Celsius. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has focused much of his engagement this week on getting the robust commitments needed to reach that target.

Rich nations have benefited from growth that resulted in pollution, and now “have a duty to help developing countries grow their economies in a green and sustainable way,” Johnson said in a Twitter post Monday. He is due to deliver his address late Wednesday.

Combating climate change was among the topics of discussion in separate meetings U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres held Tuesday with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei and Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez ahead of their remarks to the assembly.

Fighting COVID-19

After the coronavirus pandemic kept heads of state from attending last year’s General Assembly meetings, about 100 are attending this year’s session in New York. Others are choosing to stay home and deliver recorded remarks.

U.S. President Joe Biden delivered his remarks in person on Tuesday and then returned to Washington, where he convened a virtual summit Wednesday on ending the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re not going to solve this crisis with half-measures or middle-of-the-road ambitions, we need to go big,” he said. “And we need to do our part: governments, the private sector, civil society leaders, philanthropists. This is an all-hands-on-deck crisis.”

He announced that the United States — which has already donated some 600 million vaccine doses to developing countries — is buying another 500 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine to give to low- and middle-income countries. They will start shipping out in January 2022.

Unresolved issues

Entrenched geopolitical issues also came up.

In video remarks, Jordan’s King Abdullah reiterated the need for a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians, while Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud chastised Iran over its nuclear activities.

“We support international efforts aimed at preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon,” King Salman said. “We are very concerned at Iranian steps that go counter to its commitments, as well as daily declarations from Iran that its nuclear program is peaceful.”

Only three female leaders were scheduled to speak Wednesday in a field of 30, highlighting the obstacles women still face in reaching the highest levels of government.

Meanwhile, it is mostly on the margins of the U.N. General Assembly debate that the real diplomacy takes place.

Wednesday evening the foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — were to meet.

Britain’s newly appointed foreign secretary, Liz Truss, said the group shares an interest in maintaining stability in volatile regions and in preventing terrorism.

Source: Voice of America

Report: Drugmakers Fall Short on Offering COVID Vaccines to Poorer Nations

Amnesty International is accusing the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies of creating an “unprecedented human rights crisis” by failing to provide enough COVID-19 vaccines for the world’s poorest nations.

In a report issued Wednesday, the human rights advocacy group says AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Novavax and the partnership of Pfizer and BioNTech have “failed to meet their human rights responsibilities” by refusing to participate in global vaccine sharing initiatives and share vaccine technology by waiving their intellectual property rights.

Amnesty says only a “paltry” 0.3% of the 5.76 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines distributed around the world have gone to low-income countries, while 79% have gone to upper-middle and high-income countries. It says the disparity is “pushing weakened health systems to the very brink and causing tens of thousands of preventable deaths every week,” especially in parts of Latin America, Africa and Asia.

The organization says Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna alone are set to make $130 billion combined by the end of 2022.

“Profits should never come before lives,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary general.

Amnesty is calling on governments and pharmaceutical companies to immediately deliver 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines to low and lower-middle income countries to meet the World Health Organization’s goal of vaccinating 40% of the population of such countries by the end of the year.

COVID Summit

The report was issued ahead of U.S. President Joe Biden’s virtual COVID Summit, held in conjunction with this week’s United Nations General Assembly. Biden is expected to announce a global vaccination target of 70% along with an additional purchase of 500 million doses of the two-shot Pfizer vaccine, bringing the United States’ overall donations to more than 1.1 billion doses.

“America is committed to beating COVID-19. Today, the United States is doubling our total number of global donated vaccines to more than 1.1 billion. For every shot we’ve put in an American arm to date, we are donating three shots globally,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday on Twitter.

The Asian Development Bank says the pandemic likely pushed as many as 80 million people in Asia’s developing nations into extreme poverty last year. A report issued Tuesday by the Manila-based institution said the region’s developing economies will likely grow at a slower-than-expected pace in 2021 due to lingering COVID-19 outbreaks and the slow pace of vaccination efforts

The ADB is predicting Southeast Asian economies to grow by just 3.1 percent this year, a drop from the 4.4 percent rate forecast in its economic outlook back in April.

Source: Voice of America

US: Ethiopia, Tigray Actors Can Avoid Sanctions by Ending Conflict


The U.S. government is urging the Ethiopian government, rebel group Tigray People’s Liberation Front, and other warring factions to end the conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region and allow humanitarian aid to reach millions in need of assistance. Unless the conflict stops, key officials could be facing U.S. travel and financial sanctions.

Speaking at an online press briefing Monday, Bryan Hunt, the acting deputy assistant secretary for East Africa, said the U.S. government wants to see an end to the 10-month conflict in Tigray.

“If the government of Ethiopia and the TPLF take meaningful steps to enter into talks for a negotiated cease-fire and allow for unhindered humanitarian access, a different path is possible, and the United States is ready to help mobilize assistance for Ethiopia to recover and revitalize its economy. Those meaningful steps include accepting African Union-led mediation efforts, designating negotiation teams, agreeing to negotiations without preconditions, and accepting an invitation to initial talks,” he said.

Hunt also said the parties should allow convoys of trucks carrying humanitarian aid to reach Tigray and restore essential services to the region.

On Friday, U.S. President Joe Biden signed an executive order that paves the way for sanctions on Ethiopian government officials, Eritrea and other groups involved in the Tigray conflict.

Hunt said other tools to press for a peaceful resolution to the conflict have failed.

“This conflict has already sparked one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world today, with more than five million people requiring assistance, of which over 900,000 are already living in famine conditions. For far too long, the parties to this conflict have ignored international calls to initiate discussions to achieve a negotiated cease-fire and the human rights and humanitarian situations have worsened,” he said.

The U.S. government said the sanctions program will not affect personal remittances to non-sanctioned persons, humanitarian assistance, and international and local organizations’ activities.

Ethiopian army troops invaded Tigray last November, following months of rising tension between the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Tigray’s ruling party, the TPLF.

Erik Woodhouse, deputy assistant secretary for the U.S. State Department’s Counter Threat Finance and Sanctions Bureau, said the sanctions aim to warn sides to find a solution to the conflict rather than using the military.

“Sanctions are a tool that seek to change the behavior of the targets. These measures impose tangible costs on human rights abusers and perpetrators of conflict. By imposing such costs, the United States seeks to send a signal that such actions are not without consequence,” he said.

Professor Chacha Nyaigotti Chacha, a specialist in diplomacy and international relations at the University of Nairobi, said sanctions are not always effective.

“Some of the leadership, when such sanctions are threatened to be applied, they don’t care. So, sanctions may not work because the idea of a sanctioning, the idea of stopping opportunities from a flowing country which you are sanctioning is to make them feel the pinch then change their trend. But sometimes they don’t care,” said Chacha.

In a letter to Biden, Prime minister Abiy defended his actions in Tigray, saying his government has stabilized the region and addressed humanitarian needs amid a hostile environment created by the TPLF.

Source: Voice of America

Sudan Blames Failed Coup Attempt on Bashir Loyalists

A coup attempt thwarted in Sudan Tuesday was planned by military and civilian operatives associated with former President Omar al-Bashir, the country’s prime minister said in a televised statement.

“What happened [was] an orchestrated coup by factions inside and outside the armed forces and this is an extension of the attempts by remnants since the fall of the former regime to abort the civilian democratic transition,” Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said.

“This attempt was preceded by extensive preparations represented by lawlessness in the cities and the exploitation of the situation in the east of the country, [to] close national roads and ports and block oil production,” Hamdok added.

The alleged coup attempt highlighted the challenges Sudan faces as it undergoes a democratic transition, more than two years after the military’s overthrow of Bashir during mounting public opposition to his three-decade rule.

A military official said an unspecified number of troops from the armored corps tried to seize military headquarters and state television.

The official also said more than three dozen troops that included high-ranking officers have been arrested in connection with Tuesday’s events.

Speaking on the state-owned television station, Sudan’s information minister and government spokesperson Hamza Balul confirmed security forces arrested a number of top military officers and political leaders. He said all of the detained individuals are Bashir supporters and are being interrogated.

Balul sought to assure Sudanese citizens that conditions are safe in the capital.

“The situation is now under full control after the arrest of the military and civilian leaders of the failed coup attempt, who were captured in Shajarh military base in Khartoum and they are now under investigation,” he said. “The concerned authorities are on search for the remaining individuals from the supporters of the former administration who participated in the failed coup attempt.”

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres condemned the coup attempt and warned it could delay the country’s transition to democracy, according to his spokesman Stéphane Dujarric.

“Any effort to undermine Sudan’s political transition will jeopardize the hard-earned progress made on the political and economic fronts,” Dujarric said in a statement.

“The secretary-general calls on all parties to remain committed to the transition and the realization of the aspirations of the Sudanese people for an inclusive, peaceful, stable, and democratic future,” Dujarric added.

The Sudanese military ousted Bashir in April 2019. Since then, Sudan has been governed by the Sovereign Council under a precarious power-sharing agreement between military and civilian officials.

Balul says the government will continue to defend the 2019 revolution through the support of its citizens and will not allow anyone to, in his words, “spoil this journey.”

He assured the Sudanese people that the transitional government is committed to implementing all reforms enshrined in last year’s peace deal with former rebel groups.

“We in the civil government institutions assure that we will not neglect the gains of the Sudanese people,” he said.

Transitional government authorities have accused factions loyal to Bashir of previous coup attempts.

Since Bashir’s ouster, Sudan’s government has taken steps toward normalizing relations with the West. The U.S. removed Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism in December 2020.

Hamdok’s government has also undertaken a series of tough economic reforms to qualify for debt relief from the International Monetary Fund. The steps, which include a slashing of state subsidies, are seen by many Sudanese as too harsh.

Sudan is expected to hold elections in 2024.

Source: Voice of America

Cameroonians Call for Cease-Fire in Conflict Zones on Peace Day


For this year’s U.N. World Peace Day (September 21), thousands of Cameroonians have called for a cease-fire between the military and separatists. People who marched in several cities and towns said they were tired of burying civilians caught up in the fighting. But the conflict is not likely to end soon.

The song, “We want peace,” by Cameroonian performer Salatiel blasted through speakers in Yaounde, capital of the central African country, on 2021 World Peace Day.

In the music, Salatiel says Cameroon needs immediate peace without which the entire country will sink into ruins.

Esther Njomo Omam, director of the non-governmental organization Reach Out Cameroon, organized the rally. She says Cameroonians should give peace a chance.

“It is our collective responsibility to be peace mediators wherever we find ourselves in our various communities, and we are calling on our government to receive the message, the call for peace with an open heart. Same as we are saying that please, the non-state armed groups receive our call for peace with an open heart. This is the time for appeasement,” Omam said.

Similar peace walks took place in Buea, Bamenda and Kumba, all cities in western regions, where armed separatist groups are active, and the northern towns of Maroua, Garoua and Ngaoundere, all close to Cameroon’s border with Nigeria, the site of many incursions by the militant group Boko Haram.

Omam pleaded with jihadist groups, government troops and separatist groups to declare a cease-fire. She said silencing the guns is the only way the lives of civilians, government troops, jihadist and separatist fighters can be spared from either wounds or dying.

The government said a majority of people who took part at the peace walks were women affected by the crises. Some of them said they lost family members in the crises.

Marie-Therese Abena Ondoa, Cameroon’s minister of women’s empowerment and the family, says the military ordered by the government to protect civilians cannot drop weapons.

“I am begging that our children, our young brothers, our sisters who are in the bush exerting or preparing to come and exert violence should give up violence, leave the bush because we have all become beggars of peace. So I am pleading for all of us to do all that is within our reach so that our beloved country can become a land of peace,” Ondoa said.

Rose Mary Etakah of the Cameroon Civil Society took part in the peace walk in Yaounde. She said the armed conflicts in Cameroon will not end unless there is a cease-fire.

“Within five years, we have had guns, we have had an increase in weapons entering the country and we do not know who are carrying these weapons. We don’t know the number of people that are armed, so I think it is better to stop it now, so that by the time we retrieve the guns, maybe it will be less than if we allow it to go further,” Etakah said.

The United Nations General Assembly declared the annual observance of International Day of Peace in 1981. The day is devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace, through observing 24 hours of cease-fire and non-violence.

Source: Voice of America

Cameroon Repatriates Nigerian Ex-Fighters, Family Members


More than 850 former Boko Haram fighters and their family members who escaped from the jihadist group to Cameroon have left northern Cameroon for Nigeria. Nigerian authorities say they are taking the former militants to Nigerian disarmament centers after complaints that such centers in Cameroon were overwhelmed by the number of former jihadists defecting since the terrorist group’s leader was declared killed in May.

Hundreds of people Saturday gathered along streets, watching and waving as 20 buses transporting former Boko Haram militants and their families left Mora, a town on Cameroon’s northern border with Nigeria, for Banki, a town in Nigeria’s Borno state.

The governor of Cameroon’s Far North region, Midjiyawa Bakari, said the former militants agreed to voluntarily return to Nigeria.

Bakari said the ex-Boko Haram militants who have agreed to return to Nigeria’s Borno state are Nigerian citizens, 854 of them which also include their families. He said they told Cameroonian government officials that they were either fighters or slaves on plantations controlled by the jihadist group. Bakari said the Nigerian ex-fighters promised to be good citizens of Borno state.

Bakari said about 150 more former militants who are of Nigerian nationality will return to their country in the weeks ahead, but he did not explain why they are not returning now.

A majority of the ex-militants are women and children. Cameroon said more about 320 males [including young boys among them] are former fighters of the jihadist group. 80 are females the terrorist group used as spies in localities they attacked, authorities said. 454 others are their family members.

34-year-old Kadir Hassan said he is spokesperson of the former Boko Haram militants who agreed to return to Nigeria. He escaped from the Sambisa Forest, a Boko Haram stronghold on the Cameroon-Nigeria border in August. The former fighter said he is looking forward to meeting his relatives in Kukawa, a town in Nigeria’s Borno state.

Hassan said he left Kukawa to join the jihadist group in March 2020.

Hassan said many Cameroonians and Nigerians he saw in the Sambisa Forest want to leave Boko Haram but are afraid that fighters will kill them. He said he is pleading with the Multinational Joint Task Force of the Lake Chad Basin that is fighting the jihadist group to help people who are still under Boko Haram captivity and want to leave. He said the ex-combatants pledge to contribute to the development of their communities when they return to Nigeria.

The task force made up of troops from Niger, Cameroon, Chad and Nigeria said it took the surrendered Boko Haram militants to demobilization centers called DDRs in Meri and Meme, Cameroonian towns on the border with Nigeria.

In August, Cameroon said it was negotiating to return the ex-militants to Nigeria as the DDR centers were becoming overcrowded.

Lawan Aba Wakilbe, Nigeria’s Borno state Commissioner for Education, represented the government of Nigeria at the ceremony to hand over the former militants. He said the former militants will be kept at rehabilitation centers in Banki, Nigeria.

“We are going to rehabilitate them, and we will reintegrate them into society. You see taking this number away from Boko Haram has given them a shortage in manpower. We are happy and we would like to use this opportunity to thank the Cameroonian government for keeping and handing them over to us,” he said.

Cameroon says former militants still at the demobilization centers on its northern border with Nigeria and Chad include Chadians, Cameroonians and Nigerians.

Bakari said DDR centers in Cameroon’s northern border will continue to receive militants and fighters who surrender and drop their weapons.

Source: Voice of America

‘I Just Cry’: Dying of Hunger in Ethiopia’s Blockaded Tigray


In parts of Ethiopia’s Tigray region, people now eat only green leaves for days. At a health center last week, a mother and her newborn weighing just 1.7 pounds died from hunger. In every district of the more than 20 where one aid group works, residents have starved to death.

For months, the United Nations has warned of famine in this embattled corner of northern Ethiopia, calling it the world’s worst hunger crisis in a decade. Now internal documents and witness accounts reveal the first starvation deaths since Ethiopia’s government in June imposed what the U.N. calls “a de facto humanitarian aid blockade.”

Forced starvation is the latest chapter in a conflict where ethnic Tigrayans have been massacred, gang-raped and expelled. Months after crops were burned and communities stripped bare, a new kind of death has set in.

“You are killing people,” Hayelom Kebede, the former director of Tigray’s flagship Ayder Referral Hospital, recalled telling Ethiopia’s health ministry in a phone call this month. “They said, ‘Yeah, OK, we’ll forward it to the prime minister.’ What can I do? I just cry.”

He shared with The Associated Press photos of some of the 50 children receiving “very intensive care” because of malnutrition, the first such images to emerge from Tigray in months. In one, a small child with startled-looking eyes stares straight into the camera, a feeding tube in his nose, a protective amulet lying in the pronounced hollow of his throat.

Medicines have almost run out, and hospital staffers haven’t been paid since June, Hayelom said. Conditions elsewhere for Tigray’s 6 million people are often worse.

The blockade and the starvation that comes with it mark a new phase in the 10-month war between Tigray forces and the Ethiopian government, along with its allies. Now the United States has issued an ultimatum Take steps to stop the fighting and let aid flow freely, or a new wave of sanctions could come within weeks.

The war began as a political dispute between the prime minister, 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner Abiy Ahmed, and the Tigrayans who had long dominated Ethiopia’s repressive national government. Since November, witnesses have said, Ethiopian forces and those from neighboring Eritrea looted food sources and destroyed health centers.

In June, the Tigray fighters retook the region, and Ethiopia’s government declared a ceasefire, citing humanitarian grounds. Instead, the government has sealed off the region tighter than ever, fearing that aid will reach the Tigray forces.

More than 350,000 metric tons of food aid are positioned in Ethiopia, but very little of it can get into Tigray. The government is so wary that humanitarian workers boarding rare flights to the region have been given an unusual list of items they cannot bring: Dental flossers. Can openers. Multivitamins. Medicines, even personal ones.

The list, obtained by the AP, also banned means of documenting the crisis, including hard drives and flash drives. Photos and video from Tigray have disappeared from social media since June as aid workers and others, facing intense searches by authorities, fear being caught with them on their devices. Tigray has returned to darkness, with no telecommunications, no internet, no banking services and very little aid.

Ethiopia’s prime minister and other senior officials have denied there is hunger in Tigray. The government has blamed the Tigray forces and insecurity for troubles with aid delivery. It also has accused humanitarian groups of supporting, even arming, the Tigray fighters.

The prime minister’s spokeswoman, Billene Seyoum, did not say when the government would allow basic services to the region. The government “has opened access to aid routes by cutting the number of checkpoints from seven to two and creating air bridges for humanitarian flights,” she said in a statement. But medical supplies on the first European Union air bridge flight were removed during government inspection, and such flights cannot carry the large-scale food aid needed.

In the most extensive account yet of the blockade’s toll, a humanitarian worker told the AP that deaths from starvation are being reported in “every single” district of the more than 20 in Tigray where one aid group operates. The group had run out of food aid and fuel. The worker, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

“Currently, there are devastating reports coming from every corner,” the aid group wrote to a donor in August, according to documents shared with the AP. “If no urgent solution is found, we will lose many people due to hunger.”

In April, even before the current blockade was imposed, the same group wrote to the donor that “reports of malnourishment are rampant,” and that 22 people in one sub-district had starved to death.

“People’s skin color was beginning to change due to hunger; they looked emaciated with protruding skeletal bones,” the aid group wrote.

In August, another staffer visited a community in central Tigray and wrote that the number of people at risk of starvation was “exponentially increasing” in both rural and urban areas. In some cases, “people are eating only green leaves for days.”

The staffer described speaking with one mother who said her family had been living on borrowed food since June. For the past month, they had eaten only bread with salt. She worried that without food aid in the coming days they would die.

“Finally, we stopped asking her because we could not tolerate to hear additional grim news,” the staffer wrote. “The administrator of the (sub-district) has also told us that there are many families who are living in similar conditions.”

At least 150 people starved to death in August, including in camps for displaced people, the Tigray External Affairs Office has alleged. The International Organization for Migration, the U.N. agency which supports the camps, said: “We unfortunately are not able to speak on this topic.”

Some toilets in the crowded camps are overflowing because there’s no cash to pay for their cleaning, leaving thousands of people vulnerable to outbreaks of disease, a visiting aid worker said. People who ate three meals a day now eat only one. Camp residents rely on the charity of host communities who often struggle to feed themselves.

“People have been able to get by, but barely,” the aid worker said. “It’s worse than subsistence, let’s put it that way.”

Food security experts months ago estimated that 400,000 people in Tigray face famine conditions, more than the rest of the world combined. But the blockade means experts cannot collect the needed data to make a formal declaration of famine.

Such a declaration would be deeply embarrassing for Ethiopia, which in the 1980s seized the world’s attention with a famine so severe, also driven by conflict and government neglect, that some 1 million people were killed. Since then, Africa’s second most populous country had become a success story by pulling millions from extreme poverty and developing one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.

Now the war is hollowing out the economy, and stomachs. Malnutrition rates are near 30% for children under the age of 5, the U.N. World Food Program said Wednesday, and near 80% for pregnant and breastfeeding women.

As the war spreads, so might hunger. Tigray forces have entered the neighboring regions of Amhara and Afar in recent weeks, and some residents accuse them of carrying out acts of retaliation, including closing off supply routes. The Tigray forces deny it, saying they aim to pressure Ethiopia’s government to lift the blockade.

The U.N. human rights office says abuses have been committed by all sides, although to date witness accounts indicate the most widespread atrocities have been against Tigrayan civilians.

There is little help coming. The U.N. says at least 100 trucks with food and other supplies must reach Tigray every day to meet people’s needs. But as of Sept. 8, fewer than 500 had arrived since July on the only accessible road into the region. No medical supplies or fuel have been delivered to Tigray in more than a month, the U.S. says, blaming “government harassment” and decisions, not the fighting.

In mid-September the U.N. issued the first report of its kind showing in red the number of days remaining before cash or fuel ran out for key humanitarian work like treating Tigray’s most severely malnourished. Often, that number was zero.

Some trucks carrying aid have been attacked, and drivers intimidated. In August, a U.N. team trying to pick up staff from Tigray was turned around by armed police who “ordered the drivers to drive significantly over speed limits while verbally abusing, harassing and threatening them,” a U.N. report said.

Major international aid groups like Doctors Without Borders and the Norwegian Refugee Council have had their operations suspended, accused of spreading “misinformation” about the war. Almost two dozen aid workers have been killed, some while distributing food. Some aid workers are forced to ration their own food.

“It is a day-to-day reality to see human sufferings, starvation,” the Catholic bishop of Adigrat, Abune Tesfaselassie Medhin, wrote in a Sept. 3 letter, shared with the AP, appealing to partners overseas for help and warning of catastrophe ahead.

The need for food will continue well into next year, the U.N. says, because the limited crops planted amid the fighting are likely to produce only between a quarter and at most half of the usual harvest.

Grim as they are, the reports of starvation deaths reflect only areas in Tigray that can be reached. One Tigrayan humanitarian worker pointed out that most people live or shelter in remote places such as rugged mountains. Others are in inaccessible areas bordering hostile Eritrea or in western Tigray, now controlled by authorities from the Amhara region who bar the way to neighboring Sudan, a potential route for delivering aid.

As food and the means to find it run out, the humanitarian worker said, “I am sure the people that are dying out of this man-made hunger are way more than this.”

Source: Voice of America