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New Crisis in Ethiopia

Ambassador Tony Hall

Dayton Daily News August 11, 2021

Ethiopia changed my life.

I visited there for the first time in 1984, as a member of Congress investigating concerns about a growing famine. What I encountered was worse than I imagined. In my first hour at the refugee camp, I saw 25 children die of hunger. At that moment I dedicated myself to ending hunger, both in America and around the world. Since then, feeding people has been my life’s calling, serving as chairman of the Select Committee on Hunger, working with Mother Theresa in India, and as UN Ambassador for Food and Hunger. I visited more than 120 nations, and in 2015, started the Hall Hunger Initiative to address hunger issues here in Dayton.

Through the years, I have always remembered Ethiopia. Since that powerful first trip, I have been back more than 20 times and it has earned a special place in my heart. Americans often overlook the history and beauty of this amazing country. It’s one of the oldest nations in the world, dating back to 980 BC and it’s the second largest population in Africa. It’s a religiously diverse country with majority Christian population and about a third of the country Muslim.

Since my first visit in 1984, I have seen significant efforts to build a strong and more unified nation. Ethiopia’s economy is largely dependent on farming (mostly small farmers) and the nation has made bold efforts to stabilize and grow their agriculture business. Ethiopia has been hit hard by climate change and they have responded to this threat with ambitious action. They have been one of the world’s leaders in planting trees to provide shade and reduce erosion. Solar panels are becoming more common and the nation is making strides towards its goal to become carbon neutral by 2025.

In 2018, new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed brokered an end to the 20 year war with Eritrea and earned a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. He followed with long awaited democratic reforms, including releasing thousands of political prisoners and unblocking censored websites. For a moment, it appeared Ethiopia had the opportunity to really prosper.

Sadly, all these encouraging signs of progress have been swept away by the familiar combination of factors that leads to so much tragedy in this beautiful nation - ethnic conflict, state-sponsored violence and drought. A civil war between rebels in the Tigray region and the federal government combined with drought has led to the worst famine the world has seen in decades and has the potential to get much worse. Almost a million people are on the verge of starvation. Millions more have been displaced and are extremely vulnerable to hunger and disease. When the UN tried to deliver food and medicine, their convoys were threatened with violence and turned away. Without this humanitarian aid, innocent people will starve to death, victims trapped in a conflict they can’t escape.

A few weeks ago, I led a group of American faith leaders in sending an urgent plea to Prime Minister Ahmed asking for his assistance in ending the crisis. We requested that his government immediately facilitate unimpeded humanitarian operations into Tigray, including logistics, staffing, and essential technical equipment, in the most effective way possible to address the famine, as determined by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid. These efforts would be greatly assisted by the restoring all telecommunications, internet, and financial services in Tigray and the granting of extended visas for international humanitarian personnel. We also called for a commitment to dialogue and finding a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

Ethiopia has been part of my life for almost 40 years and I have come to love the nation and its people. They deserve to live in peace and to have the opportunity to thrive and prosper. I am proud to raise my voice in their support and I ask everyone in America to lend your voice and your prayers for an end to the crisis in this ancient nation.

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