Humanitarian situation in Tigray (26 January 2023)

Dear reader,

A team of eleven researchers, coordinated by the Geography and Environmental Studies department at Mekelle University, have conducted a thorough investigation of the effects of the Tigray War in ten villages in Dogu’a Tembien. The inquiry comprised in-depth group interviews, repeated photography, and field observations. The amount of data gathered is enormous, and we are working together with our colleagues and PhD graduates to analyse it, and publish the results in an international journal as soon as possible. The great priority of this research means that this Digest’s publishing will happen at more irregular intervals.

Group discussion about the community’s sufferings as a result of the war on Tigray (January 2023)

In this Digest No. 51, we highlight a unique broadcast on “Cropping during the Tigray war”, that reached Tigray’s farming communities (section 1) and examine the narrative of normalcy after the Cessation of Hostilities agreement (section 2). We try also to interpret different estimations of the number of deaths in the Tigray war (section 3). Accountability for the civilian victims of the Tigray war is of utmost importance, but it fades away for the sake of realpolitik (section 4). There is also the book announcement for “A Survivor’s Story” authored by Goitom Mekonen a.k.a. Getu Mak – he was present during the Aksum massacre in late 2020 (section 5). More practically, we report on some project activities in Tigray (section 6), as well as upcoming events in Zürich and Amsterdam (section 7). The digest ends with a short overview of recent opinion pieces (section 8) as well as some media articles (section 9).

  1. Cropping during the Tigray War

As a consequence of our research output related to cropping during the Tigray war, the Voice of America (VoA Tigrinya radio programme) broadcast a full hour of interviews (17 and 18 December 2022) with colleagues Emnet Negash (UGent, Belgium), Meley Mekonnen (NMBU, Norway) and Teklehaymanot G. Weldemichel (NTNU, Norway), where they discuss farming activities in Tigray, including the progress made pre-war, the drastic damage sustained, and the way forward. Since it was broadcast on a widely listened Tigrinya radio programme, our research findings directly reached Tigray’s farming communities. See the full video of the VoA interview with our colleagues Meley, Teklehaymanot and Emnet. The two 30’ audio fragments that were broadcast by VoA-Tigrinya have been extracted from this full interview.

ዘተ ኣብ ጉዳይ ሕርሻን ሓረስታይን ክልል ትግራይ [in Tigrinya] (Cropping and farmers in Tigray region)

  1. Narrative of normalcy

Following the restoration of normalcy in Tigray (or at least the narrative of normalcy) with the resumption of Ethiopian Airlines flights between Mekelle and Addis Abeba on January 7, limitations were placed. Only children, the elderly, and those with medical issues are permitted to travel. Such normalisation followed by restrictions runs throughout the Abiy reign, beginning with the opening of borders with Eritrea and then shutting them, permitting humanitarian relief and then blocking it, etc. It is all about framing the narrative for the world community by Abiy.

Further reading:

  1. Guide to the number of deaths in the Tigray war

On 19 January, “Every Casualty Counts” and the Royal Holloway University of London organised a webinar on casualty recording in Tigray. We presented our average estimate of a total number of civilian deaths in Tigray of 518k (with a lower estimate of 311k and an upper estimate of 808k) between 4 November 2020 and 31 December 2022. Since the beginning of 2023, there has been further fighting and the civilian deaths need revising upwards. Of these, approximately 10% would be due to massacres, bomb impacts and other killings; 30% due to the total collapse of the healthcare system; and 60% due to famine.

This is certainly not the final overall figure for the entire war. This estimate, indeed, does not include civilian victims in the Afar or Amhara regions, nor battlefield deaths (Ethiopian, Eritrean, Amhara, Tigray and Somali soldiers). For these reasons, several estimates of the death toll are considerably higher than ours. The 800k death toll mentioned by High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, appears plausible.

Further reading:

  1. Accountability for the civilian victims of the Tigray war – should be top priority for the international community
  1. Book announcement: PRIMED FOR DEATH – just out!

PRIMED FOR DEATH – Tigray Genocide: A Survivor’s Story authored by Goitom Mekonen Gebrewahid. Goitom (a.k.a. Getu Mak) survived the Aksum massacre, among others.

Professor Alex de Waal, Executive Director of World Peace Foundation, wrote the foreword. Blurb notes by Mukesh Kapila and Kjetil Tronvoll.

  1. Project activities in Tigray

Throughout the period of the Tigray blockade, development projects have continued to function, though there were poor communication chains. It was often according to the System D, but the partners on the ground have the will to do things and everyone—both in Tigray and among the outside partners—was committed and enterprising.

I am getting very positive news from the EthioTrees project operating in Dogu’a Tembien and surrounding districts, which they will communicate soon.

And here is also the latest news from Father Angel who stayed with the Wukro community throughout the period of the blockade: “There are many families in need of microcredit to rebuild their lives

  1. Upcoming events

Amsterdam (NL): Friday, 10 February, 19:30. Alarm bell for Tigray

Zürich (CH):  Saturday, 11 February, 19:30. Tigray: the invisible genocide?

  1. Opinion pieces
  1. Other media articles

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

Jan Nyssen is a 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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