A year after war broke out in Ethiopia’s Tigre region, conflict in the country is intensifying. In this episode of The Conversation Weekly podcast, we talk to two experts about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Tigre and the international community’s response to the conflict.
And we hear from a researcher who found that reusable food containers aren’t always better for the environment than disposable ones.
“In my 30 years of experience in complex emergency settings, this has been one of the most terrifying struggles I have faced.” Mukesh Kapila, Professor Emeritus of Global Health and Humanitarian Affairs at the University of Manchester in England and a former UN official, condemns the tactics used by the Ethiopian military during the war. “When you wage a total war you are waging a war of destruction. That’s why many people, myself included, call the conflict a genocidal conflict.”
The war in Tigre began in early November 2020 when forces loyal to the Tigre People’s Liberation Army (TPLF) attacked an Ethiopian army post in the regional capital Mekele. The Ethiopian army responded with brute force to suppress the rebellion. Several other armed groups have been involved in the year-long conflict, including soldiers from neighboring Eritrean, fighting on behalf of the Ethiopian government.
This week, a joint investigation by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the United Nations Human Rights Office said all sides committed human rights violations in the war, and that war crimes may have been committed.
Fighting between Tigris and federal forces has intensified in recent weeks. The Ethiopian military has struck Mekele with a series of air strikes since mid-October. Meanwhile, the TPLF claimed to have made regional gains in the neighboring Amhara region. On 2 November, the Ethiopian government declared a state of emergency, with reports suggesting that the Tigrayan army may consider marching on the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
Tigre remains under blockade by the Ethiopian Army, including communications. Kapila says that for the past several months, “every single form of human interruption you can think of, and which I’ve seen only in stages in places around the world, has now been practiced on an orderly basis in Tigre.”
It has become very difficult for the United Nations and other humanitarian organizations to help the needy. In late October, Ethiopian air strikes forced a United Nations humanitarian aid flight to turn back to Tigre. This was followed by the expulsion of seven UN officials earlier this month.
Kapila lamented that UN officials in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, had gotten themselves into a situation where “they are being kicked around and thrown out like a football”. He says it is “a reflection of the poor quality of leadership in both the UN system’s Addis Ababa as well as the eventual UN leadership of Antonio Guterres in New York.”
Read more: Decades of development gone in one year: Tigre’s health system collapses
Within the Tigre, famine is already killing people. Amnet Negash, a PhD candidate at the University of Ghent in Belgium and an assistant professor at Mekele University, spoke to Ghana-based Godfred Boffo, one of the hosts of The Conversation’s Pasha podcast.
Negash has been part of a team that is using satellite images and telephone interviews with colleagues on the ground to monitor the food situation at Tigre. Their research indicates that in late August, just before harvest time, “20–30% of the land was left fallow”, compared to about 5% in previous years. While some farmers were killed, others were denied access to their land, or their farm equipment was looted or oxen were slaughtered.
On top of this, Negash says that most of the land is not projected to have a proper crop yield this year. With swarms of desert locusts already reported in the vicinity, they fear the food crisis could get worse. “Famine not only kills you outright, but it also makes people more likely to die of simple disease,” says Negash.
In our second story, we talk to Alejandro Gallego Schmid, senior lecturer in circular economy and life cycle sustainability assessment at the University of Manchester, who studies the environmental impact of plastic food containers and the difference between reusable or single-use. Their analysis indicates how often you need to reuse a container for it to be more eco-friendly than a one-time-use, Styrofoam container. The results are quite surprising.
And Nicole Hasham, environment and energy editor at The Conversation in Australia, recommends some analysis involving the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.
This episode of The Conversation Weekly was produced by Mend Marivani and Gemma Ware, with sound design by Eloise Stevens. Our theme music is by Neeta Saral. you can find us on twitter @TC_audioon Instagram, at theconversationdotcom or via email. You can also sign up for The Conversation’s free daily email here.
Newsclips from Reuters, DW, News, WION, DW, CBS News, France24 and Al Jazeera English in this episode.
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