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Eritrea/Ethiopia Disaster Diplomacy

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Eritrea/Ethiopia Disaster Diplomacy

  • Keller, E.J. 1992. "Drought, War, and the Politics of Famine in Ethiopia and Eritrea". The Journal of Modern African Studies, vol. 30, no. 4, pp. 609-624.

  • From BBC News (7 April 2000 10:15 GMT):
             "Tough job ahead in Ethiopia"
    Now that more than one million tonnes of food has been earmarked for Ethiopia, the problem is how to get it to the starving.
    The border war with Eritrea, banditry in the south and appalling roads are just some of the challenges ahead for aid workers.
    Ethiopia is landlocked and in the past has relied on two ports in Eritrea, Assab and Massawa. But it stopped using these after the war began in 1998.
    Aid agencies would like to persuade the warring sides to open a humanitarian corridor from Assab, which has good road connections to the affected areas.
    But Ethiopia has already dismissed an offer by Eritrea to use the port as a public relations "gimmick", and has accused its neighbour of stealing past food aid.

  • By Ilan Kelman (4 May 2002):
             On 13 April 2002 an international United Nations arbitration panel handed down their judgement on defining the Ethiopia-Eritrean border. Both countries said that they would accept the ruling. Initially, they appeared to do so by claiming victory. In subsequent days, enmity bubbled to the surface, clarifications were demanded, and tensions rose. Throughout this process, no overt mention of the drought, or of helping one's neighbour in times of trouble, was apparent. Perhaps the drought diplomacy has been forgotten or perhaps its influence was negligible.
             This case study yields other problems. One suggestion was that importing food to Ethiopia through Djibouti is a more efficient and standard practice. Therefore, aiming for disaster diplomacy with a humanitarian corridor through Eritrea is an unhelpful sidetrack which would not have helped as much as transporting food through Djibouti even if the initiative had succeeded.
             On the other hand, if the Eritrean humanitarian corridor had been implemented, could it have provided a basis for a long-term solution by illustrating the advantages of cooperation, rather than keeping people alive temporarily on humanitarian aid while letting the conflict drag on? The international panel was a demonstration of the potential advantages to be gained through an international peace process involving Ethiopian-Eritrean cooperation, yet it is not clear how long-lasting the peace will be. Would the humanitarian imperative on their own territory have brought the countries together more than legal arguments in The Hague?

  • November 2002. Eritrea offers its ports for food shipments to Ethiopia. BBC Coverage. Ethiopia rejects the offer. BBC Coverage

  • From Kelman (2006) (without the footnotes and hence without the references)

             Disaster diplomacy between Ethiopia and Eritrea was a possibility in 2000. The two states had started fighting a border war in 1998 that was ongoing when a severe drought manifested in the area of the Horn of Africa in late 1999. A famine soon affected Ethiopia, its worst food security crisis in 15 years. By April 2000, eight million people in Ethiopia faced severe food shortages and Eritrea required assistance for 211,000 people affected by the lack of rain.
             Humanitarian agencies called for Eritrea to permit food aid to be offloaded at Eritrean ports and shipped overland to landlocked Ethiopia. In April 2000, Eritrea agreed but Ethiopia rejected the offer. Some of the fiercest fighting of the war then commenced on 11 May 2000. The possibility for Ethiopia-Eritrea disaster diplomacy recurred in November 2002 when the war had officially ended, but the arbitrated border had not yet been fully defined. Fourteen million people in Ethiopia and 1.4 million people in Eritrea needed food assistance. Ethiopia again rejected Eritrea's offer to ship food to Ethiopia through Eritrean ports.
             The reasons given by Ethiopia for not using Eritrean ports include:
    -Eritrea's offer was for public relations;
    -Eritrean ports needed the business of offloading aid supplies;
    -Eritrea steals some of the food aid;
    -Non-Eritrean ports were better shipment points than Eritrean ports;
    -Ethiopia does not need access to more ports, but needs more food to be delivered through ports already in use.
             In this case, disaster diplomacy did not start despite a clear opportunity. New, disaster-related diplomacy was suggested, but rejected by Ethiopia...The decisions and statements of the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments could have been influenced by what was seen as the specter of political advantage of disaster diplomacy. For example, Eritrea could have been seeking to prove Ethiopia's dependence on Eritrea. Meanwhile, Ethiopia could have been trying to prove that reliance on Eritrea was unnecessary. By helping its enemy, Eritrea could have been looking for kudos from the international community rather than wishing to assist Ethiopia. Ethiopia might also have had Machiavellian reasons, perhaps trying to prevent any food aid, legitimate or stolen, from reaching Eritrea. Another possibility is that Ethiopia decided that accusing Eritrea of misconduct, such as stealing food aid or trying to divert food aid from the most efficient routes, was more useful to Ethiopia's cause than either reconciliation or expeditious aid delivery.
             Most likely, the situation was driven by a combination of the above factors; however, disaster diplomacy was ultimately used as one tool for perpetuating the conflict. Rather than considering the suffering of people or the advantages of diplomatic solutions to border disputes, both states were perpetuating the conflict by using aid and its possible diplomatic outcomes as a weapon in the war.
             Furthermore, disaster diplomacy appears to have been a distraction from more pertinent issues. Logistical concerns other than the appropriateness of Eritrea's ports existed regarding the transport of food aid to Ethiopia. Bandits commonly attacked vehicles in Ethiopia. Drivers of aid convoys were killed because they were from different ethnic groups or different warlord factions than those who lived in the territory they drove through. Road conditions significantly hampered deliveries. For example, excessive potholes slowed trucks and necessitated frequent repairs. At times, rains made some stretches impassable--ironic, considering the drought. Many trucks were used for military purposes leading to a vehicle shortage. Moreover, many Ethiopians needing aid could not be reached by road. Either aircraft deliveries or communications to people indicating that they would need to walk to roads would have been essential. These two strategies were not extensively implemented, although they too suffered logistical constraints such as a lack of communication equipment and aircraft.
             It was perhaps more important to resolve security and access constraints in this situation than to attempt disaster diplomacy. Even if disaster diplomacy had worked, these constraints would have remained. Yet if the Eritrean humanitarian corridor had been implemented, perhaps it would have provided a basis for long-term conflict resolution. This approach could have illustrated the advantages of cooperation, rather than supporting people with temporary aid while permitting the conflict to continue. Even if non-Eritrean routes were more efficient for delivering aid, the long-term diplomatic gains of using Eritrean routes could have been weighed against the short-term humanitarian losses. Such speculation, of course, can be neither proved nor disproved.
             Since 2002, despite international arbitration and diplomatic pressure on both states, the conflict continued although not as intensely or violently as before. An international ruling in April 2003, which awarded a border town to Eritrea, was not accepted by Ethiopia. In 2004, Ethiopia's harvest improved 24 percent over 2003, but more than two million Ethiopians still required food aid at the beginning of 2005. In April 2005, Eritrea again faced drought with over 800,000 people needing assistance. Eritrea then expelled UN peacekeeping staff in December 2005 amidst troop build-up by Ethiopia and Eritrea along their border. During the diplomacy to avert war into 2006, drought diplomacy was apparently not considered. Instead, the conflict was an issue to be solved separately from the ongoing famine.
             This case study supports the statement that evidence does not exist that disaster can create diplomacy but it does not provide further evidence that disaster can catalyze diplomacy.

  • Delbiso, T.D., J.M. Rodriguez-Llanes, A.-F. Donneau, N. Speybroeck, and D. Guha-Sapira. 2017. "Drought, conflict and children’s undernutrition in Ethiopia 2000–2013: a meta-analysis". Bulletin of the World Health Organization, vol. 95, no. 2, pp. 94-10.

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