Humanitarian situation in Tigray (23 April 2021)

Destroyed farmers house in central Tigray ©KGL

Dear friends,

This newsletter focuses on sexual violence in the Tigray war and the upcoming famine (section 1), as well as never-ending massacres (2). We also point to local initiatives organising humanitarian assistance to Tigray (3). There is additional news from Tigray’s universities (4), with Dr. Fana Hagos as new president for Mekelle University, and the restart of universities in dire conditions. The digest also contains some links to relevant opinion pieces (5) and media articles (6).

  1. Two interviews that summarise the current situation in Tigray

Dr. Abbadi Girmay, the new Head of Tigray’s Bureau of Agriculture and Rural Development in the Tigray interim administration, was interviewed by Fana, a government TV: “Unprecedented migration, death, and famine unseen in this nation are coming to Tigray”. TGHAT has translated the interview to English.

(To be contrasted with this one: Fana BC, 16 April 2021: No one dies from hunger in Tigray: Commission)

More on this topic:

CBS News has interviewed AP journalist Cara Anna on sexual violence in Tigray, the communication black-out and the reactions from the international community.
See also her latest article: ‘Look after my babies’: In Ethiopia, a Tigray family’s quest (23 April)

More on this topic:

1. The Awulo massacre, one of the many

News came through that in the village of Awulo (Tabiya Mika’el Abiy, southeast of Hagere Selam) a massacre took place on 1 February 2021. Awulo is a remote village, but we know it quite well as we have been involved in several projects with the local community, particularly the development of ecosystem services in the Chelaqo exclosure that is located along the escarpment below Awulo. Also in the Selam Seret school, located in this village, the School WatSani project had constructed an ecological toilet building (“Ecosan”) and gave related training and sensibilisation. This was just our small contribution to the wider Tigray and Tembien dynamism that existed before the war. The news of the Awulo massacre trickled out very slowly, because until now, there is telephone blackout in most of Tembien.

On February 1, the Eritrean army came to Awulo, which is located at the end of a rural access road. The soldiers could drive up to the school and started searching for the TPLF leaders and/or TDF fighters, while engaging in the difficult terrain downslope from the village. There are many limestone cliffs and other slopes of over 50% steep, and the bushlands are full of thorny shrubs such as ቆንጠፍጠፎ (qontaftafo  – Pterolobium stellatum) with recurved thorns in which one may get trapped. When the Eritrean soldiers finally came back to the village, without finding the people they were looking for, they started a killing spree in the village. Twenty-four people were shot dead and numerous others were wounded. A witness said: “as they couldn’t find the TDF fighters in the በረኻ [berekha, wildlands], they had to kill civilians as a revenge for their tiredness”. Most of the victims are mentioned with their names on the inventory held by TGHAT (

More on massacres in Tigray:

Yet, after so many “concerns” over Tigray, expressed by international organisations and diplomats, this shocking news comes in right today: Ethiopia signs $907 mln financing pact with World Bank

3. How can I help the people of Tigray?

Earlier on, this newsletter mentioned the initiatives taken by Caritas International. Many other international organisations and local NGOs also are working to the best of their capacity, but here we would like to highlight some citizen initiatives who have demonstrated their capacity to deliver aid to the most needy, including those in remote rural places:

4. News on the Tigray Universities

Mekelle University

Dr Fana Hagos has become the new president of Mekelle University, in replacement of interim president Prof. Fetien Abay and the former president Prof. Kindeya Gebrehiwot. Prof. Haftu Berhe and Dr. Fana were nominated for the position, and Dr. Fana has been appointed. Dr. Fana belongs to MU’s Department of Law. She was the President of the Higher Court of Tigray. Last September, she made headlines, when swearing in Tigray’s elected president Debretsion Gebremichael:
See also:

Mekelle University is now preparing to receive first year’s students. According to official data, there will be a high number of students from other parts of Ethiopia. These students may fill gaps left by Tigrayan students and may simply not be aware of the severity of the war conditions in Tigray.

Aksum and Adigrat Universities

Aksum and Adigrat Universities have registered all but the first year’s students. Both universities had to prioritise on buying mattresses for the students’ dormitories, as those largely had been largely looted by the Eritrean soldiers. In addition to this, there are no computers, books, printers, LCD projectors, or any other facilities. Adigrat University has purchased some basic materials such as stationary. Reportedly, the campuses “look like refugee camps”. A faculty dean of one of the universities mentions that “we are not ready at all, but the Ethiopian government wants us to show that things are going back to normal. Many Tigrayan students are absent while students from other parts of Ethiopia travel here and seem to be convinced or convince themselves that Tigray is peaceful again”. According to this faculty dean, about 90% of the absent students are Tigrayans. They particularly fear for the conditions along the roads in Tigray: young men are randomly killed by Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers, while women are at risk of being raped and abducted.

5. Opinion pieces

6. Other articles in the media

7. Elsewhere in Ethiopia

Follow up communication compiled by Prof. Dr. Jan Nyssen.

Jan Nyssen is full professor of geography at Ghent University (Belgium). Besides numerous scientific publications mostly related to Ethiopia, he published two books: “ካብ ሓረስቶት ደጉዓ ተምቤን እንታይ ንስምዕ”? “What do we hear from the farmers in Dogu’a Tembien”? [in Tigrinya] (2016), and “Geo Trekking in Ethiopia’s Tropical Mountains, the Dogu’a Tembien District”. Springer GeoGuide (2019).

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