Humanitarian situation in Tigray (18 October 2022)

“Calls” from every corner for an immediate cessation of hostilities, withdrawal of Eritrean troops, unfettered access, talks, etc. etc. But who can really believe that Abiy and even more Isayas would listen to simple calls without any concrete action to impose them practically?

René Lefort on Twitter
(journalist at Le Monde, retired)

Dear reader,

In this Tigray digest we must again address the worsening humanitarian situation, and indeed insist that the international community must act (section 1). In addition to ongoing famine and bloodbaths, the outlooks for the 2022 harvest are bad again (section 2). Further, the academic community is increasingly alarmed by the Ethiopian universities’ support for warfare against Tigray and Tigrayans – the case of the murder of Prof. Meareg Abraha of Bahir Dar University is emblematic (section 3). The massacres and bombardments call for independent international investigations – we reached out to our network to try and understand what happened in Kobo (section 4). One of the bottlenecks that the international community faces with regard to civil war in Ethiopia, is the functioning of the UN offices in Addis Ababa (section 5). Among the many Tigray events organised worldwide, we highlight a webinar on 20 October with Lord Alton, Alex De Waal and Sarah Vaughan: ‘Starvation – a weapon of war’ (section 6), as well as a fundraising event in Slovenia (section 7).

  1. Worsening humanitarian situation – the international community must act

The UN World Food Programme has not been able to send its convoys into Tigray since August 22, when war flared up again. Journalists are not allowed in, no telecommunications, no trade, no salaries, no banks, no medical supplies (babies in Tigray die at four times the pre-war level !) and an awful war ongoing on all of Tigray’s borders, especially in the districts along the Eritrean border. The Tigrayans experienced the massacres, rape and other war crimes of the 2021 occupation and try to fence off the new invasion of ENDF and EDF.

According to the Ethiopia Food Security Cluster, between 29 September and 5 October, 414 000 people were assisted with 6535 tonnes of food (cereals, pulses and oil) in Tigray. Due to shortage of pulses and vegetable oil, 316 000 people received only partial food baskets. More food is being dispatched to Asgede to respond to the ongoing influx of new internally displaced people, coming from the embattled Adiyabo district. Due to warfare, most woredas along the Eritrean border are either partially or fully inaccessible for food deliveries. As of 10 October, there remained only 11,600 liters of fuel and 34,900 tonnes of food in the humanitarian stores in Tigray. To complete the ongoing round of distribution, additional 192,000 liter of fuel is urgently needed to ensure continuous dispatch and distribution of 12,500 tonnes of food or 740,000 people will be left without food assistance. Shortage of cash continues to slow down food response, preventing partners from paying staff salaries and relevant costs for loading, offloading, dispatch and monitoring.

The question of using international leverage to lessen the suffering of the Tigrayan people is on the table in light of the recent resolution by the European Parliament and the unambiguous report of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts. A gentle but unsuccessful approach towards the Ethiopian government has so far been favoured by the international community. Without waiting for the UN, individual nations can impose sanctions such as halting arms sales, revoking Ethiopian Airlines’ landing rights, or cancelling other flagship projects. Individual nations should act while influencing others to take equally strong stands.

Further reading:

  1. The upcoming harvest in Tigray (October- December 2022)

A team of Mekelle University and Ghent University geographers has carried out a survey of the crop status on 262 farm plots in Tigray, late August 2022. The farmers will harvest their farmlands in the coming months, and it may be anticipated that yields will be nearly as bad as in 2021.

Some highlights:

  • Spring rains were not good and there was little opportunity for growing maize, sorghum or millet
  • Though the main rainy season was generally good, shortage of fertilizer led to poor crop stands
  • For the 2022 rainfed cropping season, less than 20% of the required fertilizer reached Tigray
  1. Commemoration of Prof. Meareg Abraha (Bahir Dar University), one year after his murder

On 3 November 2022, it will be one year since we have tragically lost Professor Meareg Amare Abrha. There is now enough inside knowledge to have a strong suspicion that the Amhara Special Forces, Bahir Dar University, Fano militants, and secret agents were all involved in Prof. Meareg’s murder. In remembrance of their father, his family have created an online memorial page that keeps his cherished memories alive containing a biography, photos, and videos. We hope that even though the family was denied having a proper funeral ceremony, this page will allow us all a platform to come together and share our condolences and keep his memory alive: Professor Meareg Abrha’s Online Memorial & Obituary

Further reading:

  1. What happened in Kobo?

An article was published in The Guardian (10 October 2022) detailing the killing of dozens of people, allegedly by Tigray troops during their recent occupation of the town. The article raised much eyebrows, not the least because it lacked context. It so happens that we know Kobo and its surroundings quite well from previous projects in the Raya area – one of the aims of such projects (a bit naively maybe) was “science for peace”, with a study area covering parts of the Tigray and Amhara regions.

The information that we could collect from two sources in Kobo is as follows: “The town is quite big and the large majority of the people are newcomers; in absence of social cohesion, we mostly hear rumours. I personally know one person who was killed, that is teacher Kassa of the catholic school; I don’t know who killed him. Several other people were killed but I doubt whether it was done by Tigray soldiers – there have been many shootings though between the Tigrayan [soldiers] and fano or other Amhara militia that got killed. So many bad things have happened in Kobo. When TDF entered the town, they went to the hospitals and took the medicines, that is because there are no medicines at all available in Tigray. After that, inhabitants of Kobo went in group to the catholic mission and destroyed the school, the hospital, the chapel even with its religious objects. Earlier on, they had already stolen all the cows and the iron sheet roofs from the mission’s farm and they shared it among themselves. This was not done by any of the warring factions, this was done by people from Kobo. Similarly, if individuals were killed, it could as well be by shifta [bandits], or by fano. Of course, afterwards they will blame it on Tigray. There are people in Kobo who are known for making up stories, they like to blame everything on Tigray.”

The contacts reminded me of the continuous vandalism that was done to our own project installations around Kobo in the years before the war, simply because the project was run by Mekelle University.

“There are all kinds of rumours; some inhabitants of Kobo will blame air bombardments and drone strikes to the Tigray army, though the latter does not have airplanes or drones. I suggest not to buy directly the claims that those civilians were killed by Tigray forces.”

Also here, like in all other cases, there is high need for independent investigations. The ICHREE should receive sufficient funds and be allowed to travel all over the country to do its own investigations.

In the meantime, there are large-scale air bombardments and drone strikes all over Tigray, with numerous civilian casualties.

Further reading on massacres in the Tigray War

  1. The UN offices in Addis Ababa

Since the beginning of the war, observers have been surprised by covert support for the Ethiopian regime by staff of UN agencies in Addis Ababa. This was directly visible in the form of maps with “Amhara” written over large parts of Tigray on maps, or burner tweets posted by official UN accounts.

The report of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia also mentioned: “Requests to various UN entities operating in Ethiopia to share documents and materials of interest were largely deflected, or responded to after an inordinate delay.” (The ICHREE report may be downloaded here).

And now ALNAP (Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance, a UK based non-profit organization) published this article: What’s happened to principled humanitarian action in conflicts? The case of Tigray, aspart of a series that tells the humanitarian stories behind key findings and lessons emerging in ALNAP’s State of the Humanitarian System 2022 report.

Citation: “The conflict was heavily politicised at every level, and the humanitarian system was widely felt to be naive in its response to this: too closely aligned to the government, and lacking experience and unity. National staff often held partisan views on the crisis, while many international staff had deep relationships with government officials built over many years of living in Addis. After multiple incidents of partisan social media posts and leaking of online meeting recordings, agencies had to give regular reminders to staff about neutrality and impartiality.”

  1. Webinar on 20 October: ‘Starvation – a weapon of war’

On Thursday 20 October at 7 PM London time (20:00 GMT), the Union Chapel is hosting a webinar titled ‘Starvation – a weapon of war’ which is intended to develop the discussion from their earlier webinar ‘Tigray – the prevention of genocide’ (watch online). Speakers include Lord Alton of Liverpool (co-chair of the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Eritrea), alongside academics Alex de Waal and Sarah Vaughan. Register to attend.

  1. Fundraising for the people of Tigray in Ljubljana (Slovenia)

Earlier on, we reported about solidarity for Tigray in Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, UK, the USA, also in Italy, France, South Africa and Japan. No way to have the full inventory of all these activities. For now, we wish to highlight an upcoming event in Slovenia.

On Saturday, November 12, 2022, at 7:00 p.m., a holy mass and a concert for Tigray will be held in the Church of St. Mary in Ljubljana – the Franciscan church on Tromostovje. There will be fundraising for the people of Tigray.

Some recent articles in Slovenian

  • Družina, 7 September 2022: Salezijanci zbirajo za Tigraj (Salesians collect for Tigray)
  • Novi Glas (Italian newspaper in Slovene language): Etiopski uradniki priznavajo uporabo Biafri podobnega obleganja, da bi izstradali Tigraj (Ethiopian Officials Admit Using Biafra-Like Siege to Starve Tigray) – PART 1 – PART 2
  1. Opinion pieces
  1. Other media articles
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