Eritrea: State-Imposed Starvation Stalks a Land Impoverished by Military Aggression

Eritrea: State-Imposed Starvation Stalks a Land Impoverished by Military Aggression

Source: HRC Eritrea

29 December 2020

Locked-Down Eritrean Population Facing Appalling Food Shortages

Food Production and Starvation:  Nearly 80 percent of the Eritrean population lives in the rural areas and depends on subsistence agriculture and nomadic pastoralism. All farmers above the age of 18 have been conscripted into the national service, thus paralyzing the food production of the entire rural society. All people of military recruitment age are forbidden from working on the land to produce food which can be sold. A Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report indicated that 66% of all Eritrean households lack food security, and 70%-80% of the Eritrean population is not able to meet essential food requirements. Moreover, 54% of all deaths of children under five are related to malnutrition. Thus, even before the onset of the Covid-19 Pandemic, the majority of the population was facing slow starvation. Since the entire lockdown of the country in March 2020, most of the population has been facing acute food shortages and the immediate prospect of starvation.

Recent Travel and Transport Restrictions in Eritrea: From 22nd December the Government of Eritrea intensified the already severe restrictions on movement of every citizen on the grounds of controlling the spread of Covid-19 virus. All domestic travel is banned, even from one village to another. Every individual or private means of transport, including bicycles, and horse carriages are banned. No public transport, buses or even taxis, are operating. All trading businesses have been closed, except for a few authorised by the government. This Draconian ban on any kind of travel has ended all opportunities for informal trading and paid services and has hugely exacerbated the widespread starvation. “Lock down” guidelines are strictly enforced, and people who attempt to leave their homes in search of food are assaulted by the armed forces. Civilians have no support mechanisms, and no provision has been made by government to address these issues. No financial help from government or local authorities is forthcoming. Eritrea has no welfare system. Over 2 million people have no food, and the people also face acute water shortages.   

Military Expenditure November to December 2020:  It is now becoming clear that Eritrean government expenditure in the last two months has been concentrated on marshalling huge numbers of conscripts and organizing a large military force to participate in the Ethiopian war in Tigray. Evidence is accumulating of the presence of large numbers of Eritrean military fighting alongside Ethiopian federal troops in Tigray, and it is now clear that thousands of Ethiopian troops came through Massawa and Asmara Airports to join the fighting in Tigray.

Furthermore, Human Rights Concern-Eritrea has received eyewitness accounts of both Ethiopian and Eritrean troops who were seriously wounded in Tigray, being hospitalized in Eritrea, whose hospitals and clinics have not had enough stocks of medications and supplies for its own civilians to receive proper medical care.  

It is now clear that, at the peak of Covid-19 crisis, and just as widespread starvation becomes an immediate reality for the Eritrean population, all of the nation’s financial resources have been expended on a massive military operation. The government has chosen to invest heavily in weapons and on sending thousands of its armed forces and logistics to Tigray to take part in the Ethiopian civil war.  

Ethiopia-Sudan border dispute: It also appears that Eritrean troops are present with Ethiopian troops on the Sudanese border. Eastern Sudan and Ethiopia share a common border that stretches over 1,600 kilometres but lacks clear demarcation. Sudan’s al-Fashqa region covers approximately 600 km of rich fertile land conducive for agriculture, on which Ethiopian farmers have planted crops. Tensions in this border area have flared since the arrival in November of more than 50,000, mainly Tigrayan, refugees.   On 26th December 2020, Sudan accused the Ethiopian army of being behind the attacks targeting the Al-Fashqa territory, indicating that the weapons used in the attacks belonged to the Ethiopian army. It would appear from latest reports that Eritrean military forces are stationed with the Ethiopian Army on this border with Sudan. No adequate explanation has been forthcoming as to why Eritrea feels the need to get involved in this dispute between two neighbouring states, when it has such huge problems at home.

Elizabeth Chyrum, Director of Human Rights Concern-Eritrea (HRCE), commented:                                           

“The international community must wake up to the alarming situation in Eritrea. Starvation is widespread and an impending disaster will unfold if it is not addressed immediately. How can the international community remain silent whilst a regime ruthlessly condemns its own population to death by starvation?

How long will nations continue to accept any and every authoritarian decree by undemocratic and illegitimate regimes as fully justified by medical exigencies of the Covid-19 pandemic, without questioning their appalling consequences in terms of deaths from starvation?

Is it not time for the FAO and the Human Rights Council (HRC) to urgently highlight these matters to the UN Secretary General, and if appropriate, to refer it to the Security Council?

Why is the international media not recognising and questioning the presence of Eritrean military in Tigray and on the Sudanese border? Why does no one seem alarmed by this?

And why is no one raising the vitally urgent question of the callous squandering of Eritrea’s scarce financial resources on utterly unnecessary military expenditure – not to mention the injury and death of its soldiers – while its own population struggles to survive state-imposed starvation?”