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Analytical report Follow-up

Humanitarian situation in Tigray (12 September 2021)

Dear friend,

This newsletter comes with a little bit of positive news: primary and secondary schools will reopen soon in Tigray (section 1). From our side, we published a new edition of the Tigray Atlas (section 2) and analysed the status of cropping in Tigray. The next harvest is anticipated to be “normal” on only 20%-50% of the farm parcels (on the condition that the rains do not stop early) (section 3) – the hunger situation is catastrophic and we may count a person dying from hunger every two minutes (section 4)! There is no humanitarian corridor yet (section 5). On the diplomatic front we note that there will be an update on Tigray to the UN Human Rights Council by Michelle Bachelet on Monday, as well as a call for peace by 24 Ethiopian Civil Society Organisations (section 6). We conclude this digest with some news from the academic world (section 7), from different media sources (section 8) and some opinion pieces (section 9).

  1. Schools to reopen in Tigray!

After a year-long closure due to covid and war, the Tigray primary and secondary schools are due to start classes on 20 September. This is encouraging for helping the mental health of the children and all families, as it indicates the return of a more normal functioning society. And obviously, this is also important for the educational progress of the children.

  1. New edition of the Tigray Atlas

We have published a new edition of the “Tigray: Atlas of the Humanitarian Situation), with more maps on the food situation, on the 2021 rains and unfortunately, on the massacres. It can be downloaded here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/349824181_Tigray_Atlas_of_the_humanitarian_situation

  1. Farming in Tigray

In view of the grossly insufficient delivery of food aid to the starving people of Tigray, we are hoping that the 2021 harvest will not be too bad. We carried out a field survey on 20-30 August, jointly with Mekelle University and can only conclude that the top crop for the hunger season, maize, has often not been grown, because conditions were too risky during the planting season (April-May). Many farmers also have roasted and eaten the wheat and barley that was intended for sowing, especially while they were hiding for warfare in the mountains. There is an increase in tef sowing, because that crop could be sown two-three weeks later (mid- to end-July) and it will continue to grow on residual moisture after the rains stop. But especially, many farmlands have been left fallow, or were only sown with linseed; and in many cases the crop stands look below expectation. See below our findings regarding the share of the land with different crop types and with fallow in the Kilte Awula’ilo district (around Wukro) in the peace year 2019 and the war year 2021 (with similar rainfall conditions).

The draft paper (joint research by MU and UGent’s geography departments) can be accessed here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/354385966_August_2021_status_of_cropping_in_the_wider_surroundings_of_Mekelle_Tigray_Ethiopia

  1. Every two minutes somebody dies from hunger in Tigray!

The number of daily deceases in Tigray due to famine is difficult to tally because there are starving people all over the region; not all do make it to the (barely functioning) health centers, and in hospitals people are lying on the floor in the corridors. The starvation and blockade make that people may easily catch normally minor diseases and die from it. So far the blockade that the Ethiopian government imposes on Tigray could not be lifted, not by diplomacy and not by warfare.

Besides our atlas, there is also very detailed information on OCHA’s webpage  ETHIOPIA – TIGRAY REGION  which is regularly updated – where it is reported that 350,000 up to 900,000 people are famine-affected victims according to IPC, WFP and USAID.

Professor Tony Magaña, who continued to work in the Ayder hospital while Ethiopian and Eritrean troops occupied Mekelle, wrote: Estimate of total civilian deaths of the Tigray in the conflict with Ethiopia

From our side, Tim Vanden Bempt extrapolated the number of hunger deaths in Tigray, following the information from IPC, in an Excel Table, which leads to the following best estimates:

  • Minimum 425 hunger deaths PER DAY in Tigray
  • Maximum 1201 hunger deaths PER DAY in Tigray
  • The minimum value corresponds to one hunger death in Tigray every three minutes and the catastrophic upper end is one hunger death every minute!

On the same topic:

  1. No humanitarian corridor yet to Tigray

The Tigray Government confirmed last week that the Tigray Defence Forces (TDF) had withdrawn from Afar Region. Hence, the argument put forward by the Ethiopian Government that humanitarian access through Afar is not possible because of TDF war activity is no longer valid – yet we have not seen an increase in the number of trucks allowed to pass from Semera to Mekelle.

As a small sign of hope, there is the start of an EU airbridge to Mekelle, though the Ethiopian authorities did not allow any medicines to be transported on the flight of a first plane on 11/9. And in any case, such flights cannot substitute the huge noria of aid lorries that is necessary to curb the famine!

  1. Human rights and peace

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet will deliver an update to the UN Human Rights Council on Monday, 13 September 2021 on the situation of human rights in the Tigray region and on progress made in the context of the joint UN and Ethiopian Human Rights Commission investigation. See the full announcement and weblink. We noted already that the investigators did not visit Aksum, Idaga Hamus, Adigrat, Mahbere Dego, Debre Abbay and so many other places where the worst things happened.

A call for peace has been launched by 24 Ethiopian Civil Society Organisations (CSOs):

We have double feelings: for 8 months, as long as the war was inside Tigray, these CSOs were silent while all the massacres, and gender-based violence were ongoing.

Now, some organisations seem to have shifted positions: this is possibly an indication that the mood among the general public in Ethiopia towards the war is also changing.

  1. In the academic world

A Tigrayan PhD student in one of Ethiopia’s universities, reacted on our earlier information about ethnic profiling happening at universities in the Amhara region: “There are no such things here at XXX University. This ethnic profiling is only in the Amhara region. The atmosphere of XXX University where I am working is so nice!!! You know, as Tigray is blocked, my employer in Tigray could not pay my salary for the last 6 months. But my Oromo friends and professors are helping me to survive.”

  1. In the media
  1. Opinion pieces

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).

3 replies on “Humanitarian situation in Tigray (12 September 2021)”

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