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Ethiopia’s Twin Disasters

A deadly mix of conflict and drought has inflicted untold suffering.

By , a reporter at Foreign Policy.
An IDP camp in Ethiopia's Afar region
An IDP camp in Ethiopia's Afar region
A woman walks past a tent at the internally displaced persons camp of Guyah, in Ethiopia's Afar region, on May 17. MICHELE SPATARI/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re following Ethiopia’s humanitarian emergency, Israel’s raid of Palestinian rights groups, and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s COVID-19 disinformation.

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WHO Chief Spotlights Ethiopia’s Emergency

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re following Ethiopia’s humanitarian emergency, Israel’s raid of Palestinian rights groups, and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s COVID-19 disinformation.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


WHO Chief Spotlights Ethiopia’s Emergency

The director of the World Health Organization has characterized Ethiopia’s Tigray crisis as the world’s “worst disaster,” a sharp remark that has angered Addis Ababa—and spotlighted what aid agencies warn is a worsening humanitarian catastrophe. 

As drought envelops East Africa, Ethiopia is facing a deadly mix of conflict and climate extremes that has pushed millions of people into food insecurity. After nearly two years of fighting between the central government—partnered with Eritrea—and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, aid groups say the ongoing drought has only added to the country’s urgent humanitarian pressures.

“This is the worst disaster on Earth as we speak,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who is himself Tigrayan, while citing severely curtailed access to basic services. “That’s the bare truth.”

Throughout the war, reports of government restrictions on aid flows into Ethiopia’s Tigray region, ethnic cleansing, and sexual violence have painted a dire picture. Thousands of people have died as a result of the conflict, while more than 13 million need food aid. In early August, the World Food Program warned that 750,000 refugees could have “nothing to eat” without sufficient donor contributions.

These challenges have been compounded by the region’s most severe drought in four decades, which has created a devastating “double emergency,” according to UNICEF. Across the region, this extreme climate has already killed millions of livestock and increased malnutrition

In his remarks, Tedros suggested that racism could explain a lack of global attention to the crisis. “I haven’t heard in the last few months any head of state talking about the Tigray situation anywhere in the developed world,” he said. “Maybe the reason is the color of the skin of the people in Tigray.”

His statements drew criticism from the Ethiopian government, which has been accused of blocking aid and has previously denied that people have starved to death. The comments are “unethical” and “unbecoming of such a high-profile position,” said the spokeswoman for Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

In late July, the United Nations dispatched a delegation of human rights experts to Ethiopia to investigate potential rights violations since the war began in late 2020. They are expected to submit a full report to the Human Rights Council next month. 

Betty Murungi, the chair of the U.N. commission, said in a statement that existing patterns could have worrying implications. “The ongoing spread of violence, fueled by hate speech and incitement to ethnic-based and gender-based violence, are early-warning indicators of further atrocity crimes against innocent civilians, especially women and children who are more vulnerable,” she said. 


What We’re Following Today

Israel raids Palestinian rights groups. Israeli soldiers raided and then forcibly closed the offices of several major Palestinian rights groups on Thursday, in a move that the U.N. condemned as “totally arbitrary.” Israel accuses the organizations of terrorist links, which they have denied. Last October, the country’s decision to classify six of the groups as “terrorist organizations” drew widespread criticism.

“Despite offers to do so, Israeli authorities have not presented to the United Nations any credible evidence to justify these declarations,” the U.N. said. 

Investigating Bolsonaro? Brazilian police have urged the country’s supreme court to charge President Jair Bolsonaro for circulating COVID-19 disinformation, citing a video from October 2021 in which he touted false claims about face masks and the Spanish flu. 

“[The president] in a direct, spontaneous and conscious manner disseminated the disinformation that victims of the Spanish flu had in fact died as a result of bacterial pneumonia caused by the use of masks, instilling in viewers’ minds a veritable disincentive to their use in the fight against Covid at a time when the use of masks was compulsory,” the authorities said in a report. 


Keep an Eye On 

China-Russia military ties. Chinese military forces will participate in joint military drills with their Russian counterparts later this month, according to the Chinese defense ministry. India, Belarus, Tajikistan, and Mongolia are also expected to attend the exercises, which take place every four years

Afghanistan’s extreme floods. Sweeping flash floods in Afghanistan have killed dozens of people, injured over 100 more, and impacted almost 4,000 families. It’s the latest calamity to strike the country: In June, a deadly earthquake claimed the lives of more than 1,000 people.



Odds and Ends 

Tourists hoping to scale Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro will soon be able to completely document their journeys on Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram, thanks to new high-speed internet access up to 12,200 feet at the tourist hotspot. Authorities plan to extend these services to the mountain’s summit by the end of the year. 

“Previously, it was a bit dangerous for visitors and porters who had to operate without internet,” said Nape Nnauye, the Tanzanian information minister. “All visitors will get connected … [up to] this point of the mountain.”

Christina Lu is a reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @christinafei

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