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Abstract and Figures

At the beginning of November 2020, an armed conflict emerged in Tigray, Ethiopia’s northernmost region. The objective of this ‘Atlas of the Humanitarian Situation’ is to document and map the situation in which approximately 6 million Tigrayans currently find themselves. For this, we contacted key informants in different districts of Tigray to collect qualitative and quantitative evidence of the actual situation on the ground. We also confronted these data and testimonies with information disclosed by the Government of Ethiopia and by humanitarian organizations. The 27 maps in this atlas provide detailed information at the scale of districts (woredas) or sub-districts (tabiyas). Besides background information related to administrative divisions, social and natural resources - locations of internally displaced people, massacres and civilian casualties receive due attention. Humanitarian access and needs are particularly addressed; official data on humanitarian aid distribution are mapped, and contrasted to ground evidence related to such distributions. The final outlook, links up the emergency and famine conditions in Tigray to the current crop status and to the blockade and siege of the region. >>> Data layers pertaining to this and earlier versions of the work may be consulted in the Web Map Application (https://arcg.is/vmbWH0).
Content may be subject to copyright.
Version 2.2
Tigray:
Atlas of the Humanitarian Situation
Cover: This Tigrayan farmer decided to plough his field in May 2021 to survive at all costs. Most surrounding lands were still unploughed. © Sébastien
Nemeth / RFI (published with permission)
1
TIGRAY: ATLAS OF THE HUMANITARIAN SITUATION
Version 2.2
Date: 27 December 2021
Authors: Sofie Annys1, Tim Vanden Bempt1, Emnet Negash1,2, Lars De Sloover1, Robin Ghekiere1, Kiara Haegeman1, Daan Temmerman1, Jan Nyssen1
1 Department of Geography, Ghent University, Belgium
2 Institute of Climate and Society, Mekelle University, Tigray, Ethiopia
Contact: tigraymaps@gmail.com
Link to configurable Web Application: https://arcg.is/vmbWH0
ABSTRACT
At the beginning of November 2020, an armed conflict emerged in Tigray, Ethiopia’s northernmost region. The objective of this ‘Atlas of the Humanitarian
Situation’ is to document and map the situation in which approximately 6 million Tigrayans currently find themselves. For this, we contacted key informants
in different districts of Tigray to collect qualitative and quantitative evidence of the actual situation on the ground. We also confronted these data and
testimonies with information disclosed by the Government of Ethiopia and by humanitarian organisations. The 27 maps in this atlas provide detailed
information at the scale of districts (woredas) or sub-districts (tabiyas). Besides background information related to administrative divisions, social and natural
resources - locations of internally displaced people, massacres and civilian casualties receive due attention. Humanitarian access and needs are particularly
addressed; official data on humanitarian aid distribution are mapped, and contrasted to ground evidence related to such distributions. The final outlook, links
up the emergency and famine conditions in Tigray to the current crop status and to the blockade and siege of the region.
Keywords: Civilian casualties; Internally Displaced People; Humanitarian needs; Humanitarian access; Humanitarian assistance; Ethiopia; Famine
To be cited as: Annys, S., Vanden Bempt, T., Negash, E., De Sloover, L., Ghekiere, R., Haegeman, K., Temmerman, D., Nyssen, J., 2021. Tigray: atlas of the
humanitarian situation. Version 2.2. Ghent (Belgium): Ghent University, Department of Geography. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.5804284
2
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
The authors in the first place thank the numerous eyewitnesses who agreed sharing information, often taking immense risks. Irob Advocay, Tghat, and office
holders (who prefer to be anonymous at this stage) shared their data with us. Publicly available data from MapEthiopia and OCHA have also been used.
Secondary sources of information are acknowledged in the endnotes. Ghent University and the Department of Geography are acknowledged for material and
human support. All initiators and signatories of various appeals for ceasefire and human rights are thanked, especially those who have returned numerous
solidarity messages. We acknowledge Wolbert Smidt and other colleagues who contributed to the formulation of paragraphs of earlier text that we
incorporated in this atlas. The people of Tigray, in their thousands, who supported our earlier research endeavours gave us the strength to carry out this
emotionally difficult work. Thank you to all farmers, university staff, development workers, support staff, translators, research assistants, etc. who have
directly supported our (cumulated) 60 years of research for development in Tigray.
FUNDING & COPYRIGHT
From September to December 2021, there has been partial funding of this research by “Every Casualty Counts”. This atlas (text, illustrations and maps) is free
from copyright and can be reused without restriction, subject only to the obligation to acknowledge the source.
DISCLAIMER
All maps have been compiled according to the best of our knowledge and do by no means reflect a political opinion. For questions or suggestions related to
this atlas, please contact tigraymaps@gmail.com.
3
MAIN UPDATES IN THIS VERSION OF THE ATLAS (27 DECEMBER 2021) WITH RESPECT TO THE PREVIOUS VERSION
Several sections of this Atlas have been updated since the previous version, published on 11 October 2021. Here we provide a brief overview of the updates
made. Previous versions of the maps can be consulted in the Web Application (https://arcg.is/vmbWH0).
No new updates of this atlas will be published in the foreseeable future. Our focus will be on upgrading the online database of massacres and civilian victims:
www.ethiopiatigraywar.com. If the reader comes across factual errors in this Atlas, or typos etc., please contact tigraymaps@gmail.com.
Updated maps*
Map 11 Reported conflict incidents (section 4.1)
Map 13 Heatmap of fully documented casualties (section 4.2)
Map 14 Heatmap of reported civilian casualties (section 4.3)
*Where maps have been updated, the corresponding text and references also have been updated.
New maps
Map 10 Gold and base metal potential; exploration concessions of foreign companies in Tigray (new Section 3.7)
Map 15 Occurrence of massacres in the Tigray War up to 16 November 2021, with sites visited by the joint EHRC-UNHRC investigation (Section 4.4)
Map 16 Occurrence of massacres & conflict incidents in the Tigray and Amhara Regions in Ethiopia (Section 4.5)
Map 18 Distribution of Internally Displaced People (IDPs) due to the Tigray War at the end of August 2021 (Section 5.3)
Other
Update of Annex A (monthly casualties)
4
LIST OF ACRONYMS
ADF
“Amhara Defence Force” – it does not formally exist but we refer to it as a combination of combatants belong to the Amhara Region Special Forces, Amhara
militias and armed Fanno militants
BoFED
Bureau of Finance and Economic Development
CSA
Central Statistics Agency of Ethiopia
EDF
Eritrean Defence Force
ENDF
Ethiopian National Defence Force
EPRDF
Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front
GCP
GIS
Ground Control Point
Geographic Information System
GoE
Government of Ethiopia
IDP
Internally Displaced People
JEOP
USAID Food for Peace supported Joint Emergency Operation
LUC
MoP
Ministry of Peace
OCHA
UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid
PP
Prosperity Party, the political party of Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed
REST
Relief Society of Tigray
TAMSAT
TDA
Tigray Development Association
TDF
Tigray Defence Force
TPLF
Tigray People’s Liberation Front
5
LIST OF MAPS
Map 1
National and international context at the start of the Tigray War
Map 2
Administrative boundaries at woreda (district) level, as implemented in January 2020
Map 3
Topographic Roughness Index, indicating contrasts in elevation
Map 4
Topography (absolute elevation above sea level)
Map 5
Average annual precipitation derived from TAMSAT satellite rainfall estimates
Map 6
Average start of the moisture-limited growing period
Map 7
Average length of the moisture-limited growing period
Map 8
Population density at woreda level, as calculated from population projections
Map 9
Land use/cover classification, as generalised from the ESA land cover classification
Map 10
Gold and base metal potential; exploration concessions of foreign companies in Tigray
Map 11
Reported conflict incidents in the Tigray War, including battles, ambushes, air strikes, drone attacks and shelling
Map 12
Approximate territorial control by different parties involved in the conflict
Map 13
Heatmap of the fully documented civilian casualties in the Tigray War
Map 14
Heatmap of reported civilian casualties in the Tigray War, as well as occurrence of massacres
Map 15
Occurrence of massacres in the Tigray War up to 16 November 2021, with sites visited by the joint EHRC-UNHRC investigation
Map 16
Occurrence of massacres & conflict incidents in the Tigray and Amhara Regions in Ethiopia
Map 17
Restricted humanitarian access due to the ongoing conflict
Map 18
Distribution of Internally Displaced People (IDPs) due to the Tigray War at the end of August 2021
Map 19
Allocated, dispatched and distributed food aid at woreda level in May 2021
Map 20
Number of people in need reached with food aid
Map 21
Dispatched versus distributed food aid in May 2021
Map 22
Operability of banking and telecommunication services in July - September 2021
Map 23
Current and projected food security outcomes (June 2021 January 2022)
Map 24
Spring rainfall in February-April 2021 as compared to previous years
Map 25
Spring rainfall conditions in February-April 2021 as compared to long-term averages and previous years
Map 26
Summer rainfall in May-August 2021 as compared to previous years
Map 27
Summer rainfall conditions in May-August 2021 as compared to long-term averages and previous years
6
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. INTRODUCTION .......................................................................................................................................................................................................................... 8
2. Methodology ............................................................................................................................................................................................................................ 11
2.1. Interviews ........................................................................................................................................................................................................................ 11
2.2. Secondary data ................................................................................................................................................................................................................ 13
2.3. Mapping........................................................................................................................................................................................................................... 13
3. Background information .......................................................................................................................................................................................................... 14
3.1. Administrative division .................................................................................................................................................................................................... 14
3.2. Topography and constraints of topographic roughness ................................................................................................................................................. 17
3.3. Precipitation .................................................................................................................................................................................................................... 20
3.4. Average start and length of growing period ................................................................................................................................................................... 22
3.5. Population density ........................................................................................................................................................................................................... 25
3.6. Land cover and natural vegetation density ..................................................................................................................................................................... 27
3.7. Mineral resources: gold and base metals ....................................................................................................................................................................... 29
4. Information on the war and civilian victims ............................................................................................................................................................................ 32
4.1. Conflict incidents and territorial control by different parties involved in the conflict ................................................................................................... 32
4.2. Fully documented casualties ........................................................................................................................................................................................... 35
4.3. Reported casualties and massacres ................................................................................................................................................................................ 39
4.5 Contrasting place and time of massacres and conflict incidents .............................................................................................................................................. 43
5. Humanitarian situation, access and needs .............................................................................................................................................................................. 45
5.1. Restricted humanitarian access ...................................................................................................................................................................................... 45
5.2. Humanitarian needs ........................................................................................................................................................................................................ 47
5.3. Internally Displaced People and refugees ....................................................................................................................................................................... 48
5.3.1. Situation up until August 2021 ............................................................................................................................................................................ 48
5.3.2. Situation between September and the end of November .................................................................................................................................. 52
5.4. Humanitarian response ................................................................................................................................................................................................... 55
5.4.1 Second round of aid assistance (as of May 2021) ............................................................................................................................................... 55
7
5.4.2 Detailed analysis of aid assistance in the first round (up to May 2021) ............................................................................................................. 56
5.5 Humanitarian aid distribution when Tigray was under control of Ethiopian and allied armies (November 2020-June 2021) ...................................... 61
5.5.1 Context ................................................................................................................................................................................................................ 61
5.5.2 Functioning of aid distribution ............................................................................................................................................................................ 61
5.5.3 Witness from REST .............................................................................................................................................................................................. 62
5.5.4 Testimonies from people on the side of receiving aid ........................................................................................................................................ 62
5.6 Essential public and private services after June 2021 ..................................................................................................................................................... 66
5.7 Service availability (November 2020-June 2021) ............................................................................................................................................................ 68
5.7.1 Banking services .................................................................................................................................................................................................. 68
5.7.2 Telephone services .............................................................................................................................................................................................. 71
5.7.3 Internet services .................................................................................................................................................................................................. 71
6 Agriculture and food security ................................................................................................................................................................................................... 73
6.1 Current and projected food security outcomes (June 2021 January 2022) ................................................................................................................. 73
6.2 Spring and summer rainfall in 2021 as compared to previous years and long-term averages ....................................................................................... 76
6.3 Outlook: the Tigray war may lead to another failed harvest in the next season ............................................................................................................ 82
6.3.1 Ploughing and irrigation in spring 2021 .............................................................................................................................................................. 82
6.3.2 Cropping status in summer 2021 ......................................................................................................................................................................... 83
7 References ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................ 85
7.1 Maps ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................ 85
7.2 Other references ............................................................................................................................................................................................................. 86
ANNEX A Overview of the reported casualties at monthly time step (November 2020 Oktober 2021) .................................................................................. 96
8
1. INTRODUCTION
At the beginning of November 2020, an armed conflict emerged in Tigray,
Ethiopia’s northernmost region, which borders Eritrea in the north and
Sudan in the west. In the conflict, the Ethiopian National Defence Force
(ENDF) and its allies formal and informal military factions of the adjacent
Amhara region (further referred to as ADF for “Amhara Defence Force”),
the Eritrean Defence Force (EDF) and a minority of Somali soldiers oppose
the troops of the ousted Tigray Regional Government (further referred to
as TDF for “Tigray Defence Force”), led by the Tigray People’s Liberation
Front (TPLF)12 (Map 1). The TPLF is the political party formerly leading the
Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).
In an official communiqué on 29 November, the Government of Ethiopia
stated that the military operation in Tigray was completed, and Prime
Minister Abiy Ahmed appointed an “Interim Government of Tigray”.
However, as from that moment, the armed conflict has continued at large
scale for another thirteen months (Map 11), hundreds of thousands of
people have been internally displaced and the number of reports on severe
atrocities against unarmed civilians has grown unabated. These reports
systematically document massacres, widespread sexual violence, the
destruction of civilian infrastructure, mass looting etc. As communication
lines have not been fully operational since November, the existing reports
in all likelihood only cover the tip of an iceberg and the full scale of
destruction has yet to become clear.
In the conflict, the Government of Ethiopia (GoE), led by PM Abiy Ahmed,
has for months denied the presence of Eritrean soldiers in the Tigray
Region. On 3 March 2021, it issued an ambiguous statement to the effect
that Ethiopia ‘did not invite’ Eritrean troops and on 26 March, the
withdrawal of Eritrean troops was formally announced3. At the end of June
2021, however, Eritrean soldiers were more firmly entrenched than ever4.
On 28 June 2021, the Government of Ethiopia unilaterally declared
ceasefire and withdrew most of its troops from Tigray5. The ceasefire is
stated to last until the end of the farming season (i.e. end of September)
and is intended to facilitate agricultural production and aid distribution,
while allowing “rebel fighters to return to a peaceful road”. The withdrawal
of the ENDF came after the TDF had launched a major offensive Operation
Alula starting from 18 June and coinciding with Ethiopia’s national
elections on 21 June, and had recaptured several major towns in the region.
On 28 June, the TDF recaptured the regional capital Mekelle and the TPLF
leaders reappeared in public again after months of guerrilla warfare. A
cheering crowd welcomed the TDF troops into the city6. The ceasefire is
unilateral as the Tigray government poses strict conditions7; conditions to
which the Amhara Region does not agree as they do not want to withdraw
their forces from Western Tigray and parts of Southern Tigray. As
communication lines are blocked again, information on events and
evolutions occurring after June 28 only surfaces slowly. An important
confirmed event is that one bridge (near Embamadre) and probably two
other bridges over the Tekeze River were damaged8. As the Tekeze River is
a major natural boundary dissecting the landscape and hence the region,
this will further hinder the upscaling of the humanitarian response. In
addition, as the Ethiopian Government is denying access to humanitarian
actors, worsening the man-made famine conditions, the current situation
is considered a siege rather than a ceasefire by many9. The Embamadre
bridge has been repaired at the end of August 2021. Meanwhile, the
9
conflict has moved beyond the borders of Tigray resulting in more reported
incidents that have affected Tigrayan as well as non-Tigrayan civilians. The
focus in the atlas, however, remains on the Tigray region itself.
As a result of the conflict, which emerged in the aftermath of a destructive
locust plague and in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many
Tigrayans have become in dire need of humanitarian aid, food as well as
medical supplies and health care services. In spite of the official line of the
GoE, ‘formal’ humanitarian aid does not reach many of the people who
need it most, due to restricted accessibility10. This is recognised by several
government officials at the grassroots level, and was reiterated by senior
humanitarian aid workers.
Considering this information, the objective of this ‘Atlas on the
Humanitarian Situation’ is to document and map as much information as
possible on the situation in which more than 6 million Tigrayans find
themselves. For this, we contacted key informants in different woredas
(districts) of Tigray and collected qualitative as well as quantitative
evidence of the actual situation on the ground. With communication lines
blocked, we document pieces of a bigger puzzle, yet to be fully
reconstructed. By providing spatially explicit information, we hope to
transfer useful information to humanitarian and development actors.
10
Map 1
National and
international
context at the start
of the Tigray War.
Data source:
GeopoliMaps
(2020)
11
2. Methodology
2.1. Interviews
To collect qualitative and quantitative evidence on the actual situation on
the ground, we conducted numerous interviews with people from different
woredas in Ethiopia. This was possible given our long-term involvement in
Tigray as researchers, through family links, as previous staff of the Bureau
of Agriculture, as lecturers… Over time, a large network of friends and
colleagues has been established.
In the context of these interviews, it should be noted that communication
lines in Tigray were blocked on 4 November 2020, at the start of the
conflict. In the month of November, there has been a continuous black-out
for telephone lines as well as for internet connections. At that time, we
started sending out email messages broadly to all our friends in Tigray,
hoping that such “messages in a bottle” would be picked up by some (e.g.
through satellite telephones) and could be distributed somehow. This also
was the time at which PM Abiy Ahmed promised to conquer the town of
Mekelle and the Tigray Region “at any cost” - which was later reworded in
terms of conducting a “final offensive”11.
From the end of November onwards, we managed to have some rare
contacts through people finding telephone signals on mountain tops near
the borders of Tigray. Since December, telephone communication has
slowly become possible with Mekelle and a few other major towns in Tigray
(with intermittences). Still on 30 April 2021, many of our interviews could
only take place when people came to Mekelle or other major towns to take
news from their relatives, or for cash withdrawals from the bank, which
was then possible at a limited number of locations.
During May-June, when telephone connections were restored in many
parts of Tigray, we managed to get in contact with our network again and
started to conduct interviews. This atlas is largely founded on those
telephone calls, for which we estimate to have included over 2000
telephone interviews.
These telephone interviews12,13 can be grouped in the following categories:
- Data collection
- > 300 semi-structured interviews14
- > 100 in-depth interviews15
- > 100 generalist interviews16 with office holders at regional,
national and international levels.
For the semi-structured and in-depth interviews, we only have
corresponded with people who we knew before the war started and whom
we trusted both in professional and personal life. All interviewees accepted
only to give information on the condition of strict anonymity.
At the start of our interviews in early January, people were afraid to speak,
and used very indirect terminology. Starting May, most people talked
openly on the situation and the numerous killings and other war crimes.
One of the main reasons for this evolution was that there were hundreds
of thousands of telephone calls narrating the plight to relatives. This makes
that our correspondents assumed that when they transmitted information,
it would not be singled out by security services. Another important reason
was that the accumulation of negative war impacts had made people to
12
abandon their traditional precautions when communicating plight which
traditionally cannot be done over the phone.
Yet, still, much has not been narrated and is interiorised. Co-author Emnet,
who is native from Adigrat had not been informed about a number of
destructions in the town, until he discovered the most recent Google Earth
image (Fig. 2.1). This satellite-based evidence subsequently helped to get
new information from friends and family members.
Fig. 2.1. Google Earth view of Adigrat before (left) and after occupation by
Eritrean troops (right). Shadows indicate that both satellite images were
realised approximately at the same time of the day, around 11 AM.
On the December 19 image we observe many compounds with damaged
structures, evidence of fire, bright “spickle” around buildings indicating
looting, absence of vehicles along the streets. Though we telephoned with
many people in Adigrat, none of them mentioned the damage that can be
observed on this imagery.
The point here is that our interviews have allowed a sampling of the
humanitarian crisis, but that large parts of the full picture still have to
emerge. Important to note also is that the magnitude of the humanitarian
crisis that we contribute to unearthing through our interviews and situation
reports17 has been confirmed (for the worse) once media have had access
to some parts of Tigray. And yet, in March-June these accessible parts were
still small, with most media operating from Mekelle18 and reporting on
Eastern and Central Tigray. After July, journalists are not allowed to travel,
and have to establish their private communication with contact persons.
13
2.2. Secondary data
In addition to the numerous interviews, different secondary data sources
have been consulted for this atlas. These data sources mainly include the
nearly weekly updated situation reports from UN OCHA (Office for the
Coordination of Humanitarian Aid)19, official communications by the GoE,
Interim Government (also often referred to as the ‘Transitional
Government’) or governmental institutions such as the Ethiopian Ministry
of Peace (MoP).
2.3. Mapping
Thematic maps were prepared based on various data sources, ranging from
interviews with key informants to reports by humanitarian organisations,
official communications from governmental institutions, news articles, and
online data sources such as MapEthiopia20 or the Humanitarian Data
Exchange21.
The thematic maps are organised by categories:
- Background information
- Information on the humanitarian situation
- Information on the war and civilian victims
- Food and agriculture
All maps initially were prepared in ArcMap 10.4 as ‘static maps’, presented
in this document. The GIS data layers used to prepare these maps have also
been imported into a simple but configurable ArcGIS Online Web
Application. This allows users to interact with the data layers, to zoom, to
share and export maps according to user preferences. In order to avoid
misinterpretation and miscommunication, the online maps always have to
be consulted together with the explanatory notes and metadata provided
in this document.
Link to the Web Application: https://arcg.is/vmbWH0.
14
3. Background information
3.1. Administrative division
Tigray has been first mapped in chart, a rough map dated from the 15th C.
CE22-24 (not represented here). In that chart, district names as Shire,
Tembien, Enderta, Seraye, or Agame are placed in a circle around the
capital Aksum. That town was the capital of a kingdom that lasted for about
the first millennium CE in what are now the highlands of Tigray and Eritrea,
and remained up to now a major centre of the Orthodox Church.
Fig. 3.1. Tigray and its neighbours as mapped by French cartographer
Rigobert Bonne25 in 1771.
While Tigray was well established by the end of the 18th C. (Fig. 3.1), a
treaty between Abyssinian emperor Menelik and the Italian colonisers
divided it in two parts, that subsist until today: Eritrea to the north and
Tigray as part of the Ethiopian Empire in the south.
The Abyssinian emperors Menelik and Haileselassie later divided the
country into provinces, replacing territories that were formerly semi-
autonomously governed26. As colonial powers did elsewhere, Haileselassie
cut into these existing territories and used this territorial reorganisation as
a way to reward his allies. The new provinces were constructed along the
strength of local powers (zones of influence of major towns), regardless of
ethnic composition, as documented also on maps dating back to imperial
times. For instance, the Shoa province comprised Amhara, Oromo and Afar
population. The then Tigray comprised the major part of the Danakil
depression, inhabited by Afar people.
This administrative division lasted for less than a century, until 1991 when
the EPRDF came to power. At that time, a federalist structure was
introduced, with the stated intention of avoiding the collapse of the
Ethiopian state by recognising the right to self-determination of the
‘nations, nationalities and peoples’ of Ethiopia. National Regional States
(hereafter called Regions) were established to reflect this, although even
the most ethnically homogeneous Regions had at least ethnic minorities.
Tigray became the home of the largely dominant Tigray people as well as
Irob, Kunama and Raya Oromo on the margins. Hence, the Tigrinya-
speaking parts of the Gondar and Wollo provinces, results of the emperors’
partitioning, were regrouped with Tigray, just like the Afar-speaking areas
of Tigray and Wollo formed the Afar region.
15
The administrative division of Tigray comprises, at the higher level), zones,
each holding about a dozen districts or woredas. Each woreda includes then
around 10-15 tabiyas or municipalities, the lowest administrative level. The
tabiyas, in turn, hold 5-10 villages or qushets, which is the level at which
daily life, say agriculture or church are organised. Kebele is an Amharic
term, equivalent to tabiya, but also used for urban subcities.
In the early 1990s an administrative division of Tigray was established,
comprising about 60 woredas or districts. Soon it became clear that there
were insufficient resources to fully equip 60 woreda towns with all services
deemed to be hosted by such administrative centres: branches of main
ministries, bank, urban services, etc.
In the late 1990s, Tigray’s woredas were regrouped into 35 larger woredas.
These have been operational for about 20 years. The detail of these pre-
2020 woredas is quite well rendered on Wikipedia27.
Between 2018 and 2020, as part of a reform aimed to deepen and
strengthen decentralisation, woredas were reorganised. As smaller towns
had been growing, they were now providing a range of services (markets,
even banks), so that people were travelling to the closest such towns for
these services, but continued to have to travel to the formal woreda centre,
often in a different direction, for most government administrative services.
A huge consultation, involving numerous village meetings, was organised
in this period, and we witnessed heated debates, particularly in the more
remote areas. Based on these consultations, Tigray was re-organised into
88 woredas in January 2020, basically along the lines of the 1991 woredas
to which 21 independent urban administrations were added (Map 2).
16
Map 2
Administrative boundaries at woreda
(district) level, as implemented in
January 2020.
Data source:
CSA & BoFED (2020)
17
3.2. Topography and constraints of topographic roughness
The Tigray highlands have been uplifted by some 2500 metres in ca. 25
million years, since the Miocene28. This has led to the creation of a steep
escarpment on the eastern side of the region, towards the Rift Valley. As
the edge of the Rift Valley is not one single fault, but a bundle of faults, so
that locally level terrain is found along the escarpment, the so-called
grabens29.
The plateau itself, generally drops towards the west. Yet, as uplift has been
rapid (in geological terms), deep valleys and gorges have incised (Fig. 3.2),
the most notable of which are occupied by Tekeze, Weri’i and Giba rivers28,
with spectacular roads winding across them30.
The geological formations of Tigray31 consist of alternating hard and soft
subhorizontal layers, which contribute to the formation of a stepped
morphology structure32,33.
The Mesozoic sedimentary layers34 are subhorizontal and present
alternating hard (Fig. 3.3) and soft layers. The basalt flows35,36 that are on
top of it, are also subhorizontal and interbedded with soft silicified lake
deposits. Furthermore, intervening sills of Mekelle dolerite also form hard,
subhorizontal layers37. The relief thus consists of an alternation of flats and
escarpments, reflecting the unequal resistance of the rocks subjected to
weathering38. Occurrence of ancient planation surfaces further contributed
to the creation of a stepped landscape39. The edges of the scarps are nearly
horizontal, underlining the tabular structure.
This results in generally rugged landscapes, that are overall difficult to
access. In historical times, most displacements were on foot, leading to the
establishment of a dense network of long-distance trails24,40. During the
Italian control of the region, the first modern roads were established41; this
network remained the basic road infrastructure until the mid-1990s, when
a start was made to establish a modern network of mostly asphalted roads,
that clearly avoids the areas with high relief. In addition, since around 2005,
huge community efforts were done to establish rural roads, aiming at
reaching all tabiyas42. These rural access roads however easily suffer from
gully erosion43, and need maintenance for securing access. In the rural
tabiyas, the main means of communication is still on foot, with help of
donkeys for carrying loads44.
Fig. 3.2 Tselemti topography (woreda No.
23), with incision of a “young” gorge
Fig. 3.3 Footpath to
overcome the steep cliffs
between Abiy Addi (No.
27) and Dogu’a Tembien
(No. 68)
18
Map 3
Topographic Roughness Index,
indicating contrasts in elevation.
Data source:
ASTER DEM (2000)
19
Map 4
Topography (absolute elevation
above sea level).
Data source:
Aster DEM (2000)
20
3.3. Precipitation
Overall, annual rainfall in Tigray shows a clear south-north gradient, with
decreased annual rainfall as one moves away from the equator.45
Topographical factors, especially elevation and general orientation of the
valley and slope gradient over longer distances, determine the spatial
distribution of annual rain, which varies between 400 and 1800 mm per
year. Precipitation is highest nearby cliffs and other eminent slopes,
perpendicular to the main valleys which are preferred flow paths for the air
masses (Fig. 3.4). Due to the occurrence of large drop sizes rains can be
very intense (Fig. 3.5).46
Fig. 3.4 Heavy rains over the Giba valley, west of Mekelle, as seen from far…
Locally, there can be strong contrasts in annual rainfall, in relation to
intervening mountain ranges that create rain shadows.47
The great rain depths in the southern part of Western Tigray are
remarkable and would be in the first place attributed to orographic rains
related to the Simien mountains. We are not aware of any study detailing
this particularly humid area with rains up to 1800 mm per year.
Fig. 3.5 …and from nearby.
21
Map 5
Average annual precipitation derived
from TAMSAT satellite rainfall
estimates.
Data source:
TAMSAT (2010-2020)
22
3.4. Average start and length of growing period
The start and length of the growing period the period of the year in which
crops and herbaceous plants grow successfully48,49 typically depend on
local environmental conditions, crop type, temperature limitations and
inter-annual rainfall variability, which determines the moisture availability
(from rain and moisture reserve in the soil).
Overall, in most places in the Tigray region, the growing period starts in the
month of June (Map 6) and lasts 90 to 120 days (Map 7)50. In the two to
three months prior to the start of this growing period, the farmlands need
to be well prepared51. In Tigray, fine seedbeds are typically prepared by
ploughing the land two up to five times (depending on the crop type) with
a non-reverting animal-drawn plough. Once the seedbed is ready and soil
moisture has been replenished, the seeds are mainly sown by broadcasting.
When spring rains induce sufficiently-wet soil moisture conditions lasting
up to the main rainy season (kremti), a good long growing season is possible
(azmera), and farmers will select their crop types accordingly. Particularly
at lower hence warmer locations, crops with longer growing requirements
will be sown, such as maize, sorghum and finger millet52.
In northwestern and western Tigray, the growing period is longer, and
maize and sorghum are frequently cultivated. Some areas in the northeast
of Tigray and along the eastern Rift Valley escarpment have a growing
period of less than 90 days, which is less than the minimum required
number of days for most crops to grow. The overall short length of the
growing period leads to a great chance of crop failure with the smallest
variation in moisture availability, which is among the reasons Tigray is often
at risk of crop failure51.
23
Map 6
Average start of the moisture-
limited growing period.
Data source:
De Pauw & Ramasamy (2017)
24
Map 7
Average length of the moisture-
limited growing period.
Data source:
De Pauw & Ramasamy (2017)
25
3.5. Population density
Tigray’s population density strongly follows the “classic” distribution in the
country, as presented already by Mesfin Woldemariam in 197253. High
population densities are found in the highlands, in relation to several
factors including more suitable climate (moister and less evaporation),
lower incidence of diseases, and often fertile soils on volcanic materials.
Rains can be intense everywhere, but in the highlands people typically have
settled in places where intense rains are better seasonally distributed54,55.
Typically, where rains are more seasonal (i.e. where rainfall intensity is
more concentrated) the population density is lower. This is the case, for
instance, for Abergelle (woreda No. 26 on the map); the rainfall distribution
here is highly seasonal, and rains fall annually in two dozen of very intense
events46.
High population densities in urban areas are expected, as well as the
relatively high densities in the Raya graben (around 1400 m a.s.l.; woredas
No. 77, 85 and 86), where irrigation agriculture has been strongly
developed over the last decades56,57. The expansion of irrigation along the
lower Tekeze river58 did not lead to higher population densities that would
be visible at the scale of woredas.
The low population density of Inderta (a large woreda surrounding Mekelle
on all four directions, No. 69 on the map) is counter-intuitive. However, this
is partly an artefact due to the fact that eastern Inderta is located on the
Rift Valley escarpment, with low population density. Another reason is the
dry limestone environment, a characteristic of Inderta; the 2020 woreda
borders have remarkably been adjusted to the limestone area.
Fig. 3.6 Areas with contrasting population densities: from very low population densities in the lowlands, to medium densities in the highlands and very high
population densities in urban centres.
26
Map 8
Population density at woreda level, as
calculated from population
projections.
Data source:
OCHA (2020)
27
3.6. Land cover and natural vegetation density
The larger part of Tigray is constituted of rugged highland terrain occupied
by a dominant land cover of cropland, followed by vegetated areas (bush-,
shrub-, grassland and forests)59.
Most inhabitants depend on agriculture for their subsistence, despite the
difficult conditions for cultivating. Crop growth varies mainly according to
altitude and soil type. The main crops grown in the dogu’a highlands are
Hordeum vulgare L. (barley), Triticum sativum L. (wheat), Eragrostis tef L.
(tef) and pulses, while Zea mays L. (maize), and Sorghum bicolor L.
(sorghum) are widely grown in the kolla lowlands. In the transition zones,
it is also common to see the lowland and highland crops growing next to
each other60. Tigray has dominantly an age-old61 grain-based oxen plough
cropping system, which is practiced by a large number of farmers
throughout the region.62 Livestock plays a key role for land preparation,
agricultural input and output transportation, and providing farmyard
manure for maintaining the soil fertility mainly in the homesteads. And
obviously they can be sold when there is need for cash63. Shortage of
grazing land has led to a livestock feed crisis. Many areas are extensively
cultivated, even on steep slopes and valley sides, going beyond agronomic
limits. However, the situation has improved nowadays when compared to
1970s, when crop farming extension had resulted in high land degradation
as few soil and water conservation measures were taken64.
Open woodland of small shrub and tree species has regenerated during the
past decades in exclosures65, and semi-natural forest vegetation remains
largely restricted to small, isolated patches holding different afromontane
forest types66. Afroalpine vegetation occurs on the highest peaks in the
Tsibet and Mugulat massifs67 (Nos. 56 and 78 on the map).
Unlike the openfields of the Tigray plateau, woody vegetation still is a
dominant feature along the eastern escarpment towards the Rift Valley,
probably due to the marginal character and less favourable crop farming
conditions68. Along the escarpment, a clear environmental gradient with
respect to humidity and temperature exists. Due to humans using the land,
however, the vegetation shifted from true moist coniferous montane
(climax) forests to semi-natural dry montane forests dominated by
Juniperus procera and Olea europea spp. africana above 2200 metres such
as in the Hugumburda (No. 50) and Des’a forests69-71 (No. 80).
Western Tigray is less populated and still comprises large woodland
savannah and forested areas. On the level but dissected Quaternary alluvial
fan of the Tekeze River28, large-scale commercial farming of sesame has
been developed over the last decades72, crossing over into the Amhara
Region and Sudan as well, and prompting large-scale seasonal labour
migration as well as some spontaneous resettlement.
Especially since the 1990s, hard work has been undertaken to conserve soil
and water throughout the Tigray region. This is testimony of the resilience
of the Tigray people and land, and it visibly boosted soil water availability,
hence also vegetation, and agriculture73.
Irrigation agriculture is practised at local scale in many places, such as in
the Raya graben74, along the Tekeze river58, downstream from numerous
small reservoirs75, and at any place where natural springs are present76
the discharge of which has often improved over the years as a result of the
soil and water conservation activities77.
28
Map 9
Land use/cover classification, as
generalised from the ESA land cover
classification.
Data source:
ESA (2015)
29
3.7. Mineral resources: gold and base metals
In Tigray, artisanal mining of gold in the low-lying areas with outcropping
Precambrian rocks is one of the major off-farm income sources78. The 17th C.
Portuguese traveller Barradas had already mentioned gold production in
Tembien79. Rural youth seasonally migrate to inhospitable lowlands and gorges
such as the largely uninhabited Wer’i river valley, to search for placer gold, washed
out from weathered gold-containing quartz veins within the meta-sediments and
meta-volcanics79. In recent decades, large scale gold exploration and mining of gold
deposits has been carried out in various parts of Tigray by local (such as the Ezana
Mining Development P.L.C.)80 and several foreign exploration companies
particularly from Canada81. It has also been suggested that one of the reasons for
the Canadian government being very late in officially addressing the atrocities in
the ongoing Tigray war, might be related to the country’s mining interests in
Tigray82,83.
3.7.1 Gold and other metallic mineral occurrences
Notwithstanding the legendary story of Queen Sheba’s gold in the ancient times,
the first recorded mention of gold production in Tigray came from the 17th C.
Portuguese traveller Barradas79. The first compilation of the mineral resources
(including gold) of Ethiopia has been done by Danilo Jelenc in the 1960s84.
Solomon Tadesse, et al. 85 did a more comprehensive compilation of the mineral
occurrences of Ethiopia, i.e., indications of mineralisation containing gold and
other metallic minerals such as base metals - copper, zinc, lead, etc., producing a
quantitative and spatially relevant gold and other metallic mineral occurrences
map of Ethiopia. This compilation on mineral occurrences holds a very
comprehensive record of the known metallic mineral occurrences (including gold)
in Ethiopia, and the Tigray region is very well covered in it. Their maps show the
locations of these occurrences and the detailed information is given in extensive
tables.
These occurrences closely correspond to the spatial extent of the Precambrian
basement rocks in Tigray. Most metallic occurrences are in Northwestern and
Central Tigray, with some minor occurrences in eastern and southwestern Tigray,
where most of the basement rocks are exposed. For lay people: think about the
low-lying, rolling hills exposed along the lower Giba, Weri’i and Mereb Rivers, in
lower Tembien, Abergele, Hawzen Nebelet Mai Kinetal Edaga Arbi, and the
localities north and west of Shire (such as Adiyabo), as well as in the deep gorges
of Irob in eastern Tigray. In Western Tigray, there is little exposure of the basement
except close to the Tekeze River banks.
3.7.2 Gold exploration and mining concessions
In Tigray, artisanal mining of placer gold occurs particularly in the lowlands of
Western, Northwestern and Central Tigray where the metallic mineral rich
Precambrian basement rocks are widely exposed78,86. A joint trade chain of gold
and incense (Boswellia papyrifera), even myrrh (Commiphora myrrha) from Tigray
towards the Mediterranean around the turn of the common era has been reported,
allowing to give credit to the biblical story of the three Kings who supposedly
travelled from Tigray to the Holy Land, bringing gold, incense and myrrh in honour
of the birth of Jesus87,88. Over the more recent centuries, Tigray’s rural youth have
migrated in the off-season to lowlands and gorges such as the largely uninhabited
Wer’i river valley, to search for placer gold, washed out from the weathered gold-
containing quartz veins within the meta-sediments and meta-volcanics79. Apart
from artisanal mining of the these placer gold deposits which have been exploited
for generations, there has only been one active primary gold mine in Tigray: the
Meli gold mine run by the Ezana Mining Development P.L.C. based in Tigray89,90, in
joint venture with a Canadian company (Sun Peak Metals Corp.), which has also
other active exploration licenses in Northwestern Tigray80.
30
The Ethiopian Mining Cadastre Map currently developed by the
Ministry of Mines and Petroleum of Ethiopia 91 allows locating the currently active
mineral exploration licenses, as well as applications for mineral exploration in
Ethiopia including in Tigray. This cadastre map project at the Ministry of Mines is a
work in progress and it was anticipated to be updated regularly. Most mineral
exploration companies apply to explore gold and base metals at the same time as
the mineral deposits containing these metals occur in close association in many
cases within the Precambrian basement rocks. Map 10 shows the areas for which
there are exploration licenses for gold; gold and base metals; copper, gold and base
metals; base metals; and precious metals. All these licenses look for gold or other
precious metals.
Among the numerous exploration concessions, the mining cadastre91 indicates a
large concession spanning the Tekeze river in the Northwestern Zone of Tigray, for
which an exploration license would be held by the Chinese Donia Mining P.L.C.;
however, according to most recent information92, the exploration concession was
given to the U.S. company Newmont Exploration Pty Ltd. at a later date area
indicated in yellow on Map 10. The largest exploration license areas are
concessions of Canadian companies, followed by the U.S. and the United Kingdom
(Map 10).
3.7.3 Gold and the Tigray war
We assume that in the ongoing Tigray war, the mineral resources (particularly gold)
potential of Tigray has been an afterthought for the Ethiopian government and its
allies rather than a cause of conflict by November 2020 such insight which
requires a serious geological and economic analysis has not been part of the
mainstream discussion in the Ethiopian political corridors. Rather, the dominant
narrative in these circles has been that Tigray is barren and economically worthless.
On the other hand, it has been suggested that one of the reasons for the Canadian
government being very late in officially addressing the atrocities in the ongoing
Tigray war, might be related to the country’s mining interests in Tigray82,83. Yet, the
perspective from the mining companies (such as the Canadian companies) is that
there is a huge unexplored mineral frontier in Tigray and they do not want to lose
the mineral exploration rights they have already secured in this part of the world.
It is safe to assume that the Canadian companies want this conflict to be resolved
in such a way that their exploration (and eventually mining) rights are secured.
31
Map 10
Gold and base metal potential;
exploration concessions of foreign
companies in Tigray.
Data sources:
Mineral potential: Solomon Tadesse et
al. (2003); mineral exploration: Altau
Resources (2019); Ministry of Mines
and Petroleum of Ethiopia (2019)
32
4. Information on the war and civilian victims
4.1. Conflict incidents and territorial control by different parties involved in the conflict
After eleven months of warfare and the unilateral declaration of ceasefire,
the Tigray Region is mostly under ‘territorial control’ by the TDF, and
Amhara/ENDF/Eritrean forces in the Western Zone. The situation is
dynamic as fighting continues (see Map 11 for conflict incidents); the map
represents the approximate situation on the ground as of the end of August
2021.
For this overview, we have extracted geographical information from the
dynamic maps on territorial control by MapEthiopia93 (status on 26
December 2021) and have combined this with information obtained from
key informants and media reports.
The main difference between our map and the situation presented by
MapEthiopia is that next to the presence of ENDF, ‘ADF’ and TDF, we also
include the presence of the Eritrean army. Whereas MapEthiopia
frequently mentions the involvement of Eritreans in Tigray, they do not
map the area controlled by them.
As compared to the earlier territorial control maps (still to be consulted in
the Web Application), we observe the following evolutions:
The TDF has recaptured and reclaimed a lot of territory (in blue), after
launching a major offensive in the second half of June (‘Operation
Alula’). It is again in control of major towns such as the regional capital
Mekelle, Shire, Axum, Adigrat, Adwa… and of the rural areas in
between. It also controls major access roads and the Tekeze
Hydropower Dam.
The ENDF has largely retreated its troops and remains present only in
Western Tigray, alongside the Amhara militia, who have informally
annexed that part of the Tigray region (in light yellow).
The area under control by the EDF (in dark brown) has strongly declined
and is now restricted to areas along the Ethiopian-Eritrean border. In
addition to this, there is a heavy presence of Eritrean soldiers along the
Ethio-Sudanese border and the Tekeze river in Tigray, which would
prevent a humanitarian corridor from establishing.
After a push south by TDF in August-November 2021 (see Map 11) and
subsequent retreat (December 2021), frontlines tend to stabilise94 on
the same positon as on 31 July 2021 (Map 12).
Over recent months, the conflict incidents are strongly linked to this
southbound push by the TDF, as a lot of incidents are reported in the
Amhara region close to and within the territory that was controlled by the
TDF.
Most recent conflict incidents include drone bombings on Alamata,
Chercher, Korem, Mones and Mekelle by the end of December 2021, with
dozens of civilian victims.
33
Map 11
Reported conflict incidents in the first
fourteen months of the Tigray War,
including battles, ambushes, air strikes,
drone attacks and shelling (reported up
to 21 December 2021).
Data source:
Field information from confidential
sources and MapEthiopia (2021) (the
map may not be fully comprehensive)
Reported conflict incidents from November 2020 to December 2021
34
Map 12
Approximate territorial control
by 31 July and 27 December
2021; inset map shows the
situation on 31 August 2021.
Data source:
MapEthiopia (2021) in
combination with information
from key informants
35
4.2. Fully documented casualties
Whereas Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in his victory speech for
the federal parliament on 30 November 2020 claimed that not a single
civilian had been killed95, many names of civilians who lost their lives as a
result of warfare have surfaced. The communication blackout and
lockdown of the region make it very hard to get verified information, so the
actual number of deaths is likely much higher than the sample that we have
collected so far (also see section 4.3).
Through Tim Vanden Bempt (@tvbempt on Twitter), we have collected a
list of verified identities of civilian victims in the Tigray war. This list96 is
populated from a mix of sources, ranging from social media posts, media
reports, advocacy groups listings (for instance Irob Advocacy97) and direct
reports (as posted for instance on www.tghat.com98). The social media
posts are mostly from family members and friends who mourn the death
of their loved ones, which they learnt about by telephone. For each victim,
through our network, we have tried to contact one relative or friend to
learn more about the circumstances in which the victim died. For this
verification, some families also have provided a photo of the deceased
person.
It is noted, however, that there are many families who, for various reasons,
do not report the loss of relatives, which limits our sample of fully
documented casualties. Additionally, there may be casualties in very
remote areas and/or victims may not be locals of the area, which makes it
difficult to fully document these deaths. Several reported casualties and
massacres hence may not be well represented in our fully documented
casualties list. Examples are the Hitsats (west of Shire), Debre Abbay (SSW
of Shire), and Axum massacres.
Given this limitation, we represent the spatial distribution of fully
documented civilian casualties in the form of a heatmap (instead of in
absolute numbers), in which the varying colors visualize the intensity or
magnitude and geographical distribution of casualties (Map 13). While no
numbers exist for the total amount of civilian casualties, well-documented
cases of 3240 deaths (by 16 November) indicate that 8% of the dead are
women, and 92% are men (Fig. 4.1). This is in line with an often stated
intention to “eradicate Tigray fighters, as well as the future generation of
fighters”. Among the men, there are priests and deacons, traditionally
people with authority in the community.
Casualties are dominantly victims of massacres, killing sprees, point-blank
executions, in house searches, rounding up of civilians, or after arrest
(including journalist Dawit Kebede) (classified under ‘Execution’ in Fig. 4.1).
Though impressive in video footage, only 1% of the known victims was
killed during shelling and airstrikes, such as the one targeting the Togoga
market (Southeastern Zone) on 22 June99. People who died of hunger or
due to the total collapse of the healthcare system are generally not
reported, and make up less than 1% of the fully documented victims.
However, the number of people who died of hunger was expected to be in
the thousands already by early July, as 353,000 people were reported to
experience famine conditions in early June100, a number that was updated
to 400,000 in early July101. Two out of 10,000 of these people are expected
to die of hunger every day, due to man-made famine conditions in the
region102. (See further discussion, and upgrade in section 6.1). In addition
to this, 66% of the fully documented victims was killed by violence that has
36
not been further detailed - most of the victims can be allocated to
massacres or executions, although some of them also may have died in
crossfire. In case of the latter, the perpetrator is indicated as ‘not provided’.
For female victims, deaths caused by sexual violence also may not be well
represented in the list. As of June 2021, the victims of sexual violence that
have been reported, were all women.
Perpetrators of the killings comprised Amhara militia (3.7%), Eritrean
soldiers (44%), Ethiopian soldiers (19%) and an additional 17% that can be
attributed either to Ethiopian or Eritrean soldiers (plus 1% by either
Ethiopian or Amhara soldiers), as they jointly carried out the killings. Killings
by TDF are less than 1%. In 12% of the cases, the affiliation of the
perpetrator is unknown. The fully documented casualties list does for
instance comprise few victims that can be attributed to the TDF or allied
forces. In contrast, these victims may be part of the ‘reported casualties’
list (section 4.3), which is often without known perpetrator for each
reported casualty due to the limited data availability. However, the number
of victims that can be attributed to the TDF or allied forces is expected to
be relatively low.
Fig. 4.1 Graphic representation of fully documented civilian casualties, by the end of November 2021
37
Among the victims, nearly all age groups are represented (Fig. 4.2),
although there are deviations from the population pyramid. In our sample,
fortunately, only 9% of the victims was under the age of 20 years, whereas
this age group comprises approximately 50% of the Ethiopian population.
Children are not frequently targeted, whereas many youngsters may have
fled to safer areas in fear of reprisals (and their whereabouts are unknown)
or may have joined the TDF fighters and hence cannot be considered
civilian victims in case they die. The most frequently targeted age group is
the group between 20 and 29 years old (23%), followed by the group
between 30 and 39 years old (20%).
Fig. 4.2 Age distribution of the fully documented casualties, by the end of
November 2021
In addition to the 3240 fully documented civilian casualties, at least 23
humanitarian aid workers also have been killed in the Tigray conflict.
Among the 23 victims are three employees of Médecins Sans Frontières
(MSF), who were killed in late June103, and 11 staff of the Relief Society of
Tigray104, highlighting the difficult and dangerous working conditions for
humanitarians.
Fully documented casualties according to age
group
> 90
80 - 89
70 - 79
60 - 69
50 - 59
40 - 49
30 - 39
20 - 29
0%
5%
10%
15%
20%
25%
30%
Number of fully documented
casualties
38
Map 13
Heatmap of the fully documented civilian
casualties in the Tigray War on 16
November 2021
Data source:
Verified social media posts, media reports,
advocacy groups listings and direct reports
39
4.3. Reported casualties and massacres
In addition to the map on ‘fully documented civilian casualties’, Map 14
presents the reported civilian victims (a total ranging between 9124 and
11516), as derived from 886 (social) media reports, reports of different
NGOs and humanitarian actors and press releases. The number of
casualties is most likely an extreme underrepresentation. As compared to
the September edition of this work, the numbers appear a bit lower,
because significant cross-checking was done, starvation cases removed,
killing sprees over several consecutive days considered as one ‘event’. A
few duplicates were also removed.
The main difference with the previous heatmap (Map 13) is that the names
of the victims and the exact circumstances in which the civilians were killed,
are mostly unknown yet or are not fully documented. The perpetrators also
have not been reported for many of these cases. Based on the established
database, a list of 283 massacres was compiled. Their location is visible on
the online database for civilian casualties:
http://www.ethiopiatigraywar.com/incidents.php
For this purpose, a ‘massacre’ has been defined as ‘a conflict incident in
which at least 5 civilians were killed on the same day at the same location’
a definition that comes from historical studies of massacres, including
those committed during the Armenian genocide105,106. The documented
massacres of the Tigray war are represented on Map 15, and contrasted to
the few sites investigated by EHRC and UNHRC107.
An important remark is also that these maps of civilian victims do not
include deaths by starvation or lack of medical care. At this stage, this is still
a totally under-documented aspect of the war.
In ANNEX A, as well as in Fig. 4.3, information on the timing of the reported
killings can be found. As information often only becomes available some
weeks or even months after the occurrence of a conflict incident, the
presented number of casualties is not final and will be updated
retroactively.
Fig. 4.3 Number of reported casualties (left) and massacres (right) between November 2020 and October 2021
0
1000
2000
3000
4000
November
December
January
February
March
April
May
June
July
August
September
Number of reported casualties
Reported casualties per month
40
4.4 Our findings contrasted to those of the EHRC OHCHR joint investigation
A joint investigation on massacres in the Tigray war has been set up by the
Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and the Office of the United Nations
High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The Joint Investigation Team (JIT)
presented its findings on 3 November 2021. In a preliminary analysis of this report
in Bistandsaktuelt (see: English translation), we particularly noted that by then, we
had mapped allegations of 260 massacres committed during the Tigray War. Many
of which also have been thoroughly documented by the international press. It is
then startling that the team behind this investigation has only visited nine of the
places where massacres allegedly took place. The widespread massacre in Tigray’s
holy city of Aksum (around 800 people killed by Eritrean soldiers) which has been
thoroughly documented by a number of media and independent sources was not
investigated on the spot. Other major massacres have also not been investigated by
the team, such as the well-documented massacres in Mahbere Dego (73 killed),
Togogwa (64 killed in airstrikes) and Debre Abbay (200 killed). Common to the last
three is that Ethiopian forces are claimed to be behind it.
Map 15 contrasts the places the JIT has visited to localities where massacres have
been reported.
41
Map 14
Heatmap of civilian casualties in the
Tigray War up to 16 November 2021.
Data source:
Social media posts, media reports,
advocacy groups listings and direct
reports
42
Map 15
Occurrence of massacres in the Tigray War
up to 16 November 2021, with sites visited
by the joint EHRC-UNHRC investigation.
Data source:
Social media posts, media reports,
advocacy groups listings and direct reports
43
4.5 Contrasting place and time of massacres and conflict incidents
In the first twelve months of the Tigray War, many conflict incidents have
been reported. These include battles, ambushes, air strikes, drone attacks
and shelling. Map 16 contrasts the locations where conflict incidents were
reported (based on confidential sources and MapEthiopia) with the
locations where massacres occurred, using a two-months time step. A
drawback in our data collection is that, despite the prevalence of peace in
most of Tigray since July 2021, no further information on earlier massacres
could emerge due to the internal and external blockade of communication
lines.
In the first six months of the war, the spatial distribution of massacres fits
quite well with that of conflict incidents.
The decrease in the number of massacres starting from May-June is
noticeable. It might be an artefact in the sense that communication lines in
the central part of Tigray had been shut down again in May. Also, in these
months, many fights were also more “distant” with shelling and airstrikes
instead of direct combats. The fights were larger, with faster movements
of the different armed forces. This could explain an underrepresentation of
the number of massacres. Possibly, also, ENDF and EDF soldiers feeling
defeat coming, might have been afraid of still involving in massacres, with
a risk of being recognized after capture as prisoners of war.
Throughout the one year of Tigray war, Western Tigray, and particularly
Humera remained a hotspot of massacres, unrelated to conflict incidents.
Here, numerous killings of Tigrayans took place, as part of an intense ethnic
cleansing campaign.
From July onwards, the armed conflict moved south, towards the Amhara
Region (and potentially to Addis Ababa and Gondar), and southeast
towards the Afar Region, potentially towards the Ethiopia-Djibouti road.
The collection of information about fighting and massacres in the Amhara
and Afar Regions is complicated, because primary sources here are almost
exclusively activists and government aligned media, such as ESAT and
AMMA. More than two-thirds of the reports on shelling and massacres by
TDF in the Amhara Region come from these media channels. Another
source are Tigray-aligned media, especially when it comes to shelling of
civilian areas in the Amhara Region by the ENDF. All this renders the
verification of information on civilian casualties more complex, starting
from August. For this period, we hardly have any reports coming from
civilians mourning their direct relatives.
44
Map 16:
Occurrence of massacres &
conflict incidents in the
Tigray and Amhara Regions
in Ethiopia. Source of
conflict incidents: Field
information from
confidential sources and
MapEthiopia (2021).
Nov-20 & Dec-20
45
5. Humanitarian situation, access and needs
5.1. Restricted humanitarian access
Though the outer borders of Tigray remain closed, the humanitarian access
within Tigray has strongly improved since July as aid convoys and medical
teams can now reach out to the larger part of Tigray108.
From November 2020 to June 2021, accessibility was largely impeded. For
instance, the UN OCHA Tigray region humanitarian update of 30 March
2021 stated:109 The ongoing hostilities, with clashes and ambushes
reported in most parts of the region, not only impact safety and wellbeing
of millions of civilians but also constrain humanitarian actors’ ability to
operate and support people affected. In parts of Southern and South
Eastern Tigray, for example, access has been curtailed for over a month and
the road from Alamata to Mekelle remains closed, blocking humanitarian
operations in the area […]
Overall, with the deteriorating situation and continued disruption of basic
services, the UN and humanitarian partners are in a race against time to
respond to the rapidly rising needs. More funding is urgently needed to
make sure aid organisations can assist every single person impacted by the
conflict.
As many people have moved out of towns to rural areas for safety reasons
(see Section 5.3 on Internally Displaced People), it remains very challenging
to reach most people who are in urgent need of humanitarian aid (food aid
as well as medical supplies and health care services).
As stated, this situation has strongly improved, and the main challenge is
to bring in the necessary aid (estimated at 100 lorries or cargo flights per
day) into Tigray.
More recent versions of OCHA’s accessibility map indicate that access to
the “inner Tigray” has become increasingly difficult for sake of lack of fuel.
46
Map 17
Restricted humanitarian access
due to the ongoing conflict
(31/07/2021). The situation was
unchanged by 31 August 2021,
with the notable exception that
the northern and western parts of
Tahtay Adiyabo (No. 21) had
become inaccessible.
Data source:
OCHA (2021c)
47
5.2. Humanitarian needs
At the end of February 2021, 4.5 million Tigrayans were reported to be in
urgent need of humanitarian assistance110; a figure that was updated to 5.2
million people around mid-May111. The latter corresponds to more than
85% of the total population of Tigray.
On 27 May, the UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock warned that the
humanitarian situation in Tigray is worsening and that “there is a serious
risk of famine if assistance is not scaled up in the next two months”112. In
addition to this clear message, Lowcock also stated that it is clear that
people living in the Tigray region are now facing significantly heightening
food insecurity as a result of conflict, and that conflict parties are restricting
access to food”.
Indeed, in order to reach all people in need, full and safe access to all parts
of the region is of utmost importance. Considering the terrain accessibility
(Map 3), the pre-war population figures at woreda level and the number of
internally displaced people (see section 5.3 and Map 18), we estimate that
in early June 2021, only 32% of the Tigrayan population was living in areas
that were fully accessible to humanitarian organisations (i.e. the towns and
surroundings of Shire, Aksum, Adwa, Adigrat, Wukro, Mekelle and
Alamata). Of this 32%, nearly half of the people originates from other areas,
and hence are fully dependent on aid. This also left 68% of the population
in partially accessible and hard-to-reach areas.
Given the high level of food insecurity in the region113, the earlier looting
and destruction of public and private properties114, unpaid salaries since
June 2021 and blocked bank accounts115, a widespread aid approach
(“blanket approach”) is necessary in the first place; after which fine-tuning
can be done.
Our own earlier observations on food aid in Tigray116, show that it is crucial
that aid is distributed in one or two locations in each tabiya; which is
challenging as there are more than 700 tabiyas in the region. Under pre-
war conditions, when the Regional Government and the Relief Society of
Tigray were mainly managing food distributions, it was not allowed to load
food onto motorised vehicles in order to decrease the risk of selling the
supplied goods to merchants, either by the beneficiaries or the officers
responsible for distribution. Rural people hence typically came with their
donkeys to the distribution centres, after which they carried the aid to their
homesteads.
A big additional problem for food distribution in the region, is that in most
places grinding mills do not work due to lack of electricity or fuel117. Some
of the humanitarian organisations (e.g. Tesfay) therefore had decided to
distribute flour rather than grain118.
In addition to food, many people also are in urgent need of non-food items.
The specific needs for children119, water, sanitation and medical aid are not
(yet) mapped, however, and neither are the immense needs for curing the
victims of rape and other gender-based violence120.
48
5.3. Internally Displaced People and refugees
5.3.1. Situation up until August 2021
After ten months of warfare, 1,850,000 Tigrayans have been internally
displaced by the end of August 2021 (Map 18) and tens of thousands of
Tigrayans have fled to neighbouring Sudan by crossing the Tekeze River
(see data layer in the Web Application presenting > 48,000 refugees). This
amount has decreased with 100,000 between June and August 2021. The
main reasons for the migration flows were safety issues with active
hostilities in nearly all Zones (Map 11)121, the random killing of civilians and
frequently occurring massacres (Map 15), the destruction and looting of
civilian infrastructure and ethnic cleansing in Western Tigray122, where
nearly all ethnic Tigrayans have been chased from their homes. The
decrease in total Tigrayan IDPs between June and August can be explained
by the fact that some of them have returned home, migrated to other, safer
areas or might have been recruited in the TDF army.
Still, as many displaced people were living with relatives in larger towns
that were considered safer, or were hiding in rural areas (e.g. mountainous
areas, caves or bushes Fig. 5.1), it is difficult to know the actual number
of Tigrayan IDPs. However, with an estimated total of 1.85 million people,
nearly one out of three Tigrayans is expected to have been internally
displaced. In comparison, the number of IDPs in the whole of Ethiopia was
estimated at 1.8 million people for the year 2020123.
Fig. 5.1: Tigrayan family hiding from warfare in a forest
The location of these nearly 1,850,000 internally displaced people at the
end of August 2021 is known124, of which 59% was living in the towns of
Shire, Mekelle, Sheraro, Adwa and Aksum (Map 18). The remaining 41% of
IDPs was living in other Tigrayan woredas and towns, and several other
towns in the neighbouring Afar and Amhara regions (e.g. Koneba, Aba’ala,
Dalol). Additionally, around 48,000 people were living in refugee camps in
Sudan (e.g. in Hamdayet, Um Raquba and Tunaydbah). The migration flows
of the IDPs, including their origin and endpoint, was only known up until
June 2021. In the previous version of the Atlas (version 2.1), this was
discussed in detail. It is also not clear how many IDPs might have returned
home since the end of August 2021.
49
After the retreat of ENDF and allies from larger parts of Tigray on 28 June,
2021125, a yet unknown number of “short range” IDPs have returned home
trying to salvage the production of their farm, but great challenges awaited
(e.g. the reconstruction of houses). For instance, between June and August
2021, there have been outflows of IDPs from hosting cities: Adwa (-9%),
Mekelle (-8%), Sheraro (-1%) and especially Shire (-69%). In Axum the
numbers of IDPs had increased with 4%. Hence, IDPs might have also
travelled from their primary host town to other towns or woredas.
Whereas the Tigrayan refugees in Sudan arrive in formally established
though overcrowded refugee camps with fairly well-developed facilities,
internally displaced people often reside in very difficult living conditions. In
May 2021 in Shire, Sheraro, Mekelle, Adwa and Aksum, 11% of the IDPs
was living outside without shelter, 10% was living in self-constructed
shelters, 20% was living in (non-partitioned) communal buildings (e.g.
school buildings Fig 5.3) and 59% was living in permanent shelters. In
Shire, where more than 670,000 IDPs were located early June126, an
estimated 12% of the displaced people was living outside without shelter.
With the start of the rainy season, the living conditions of these people
were expected to get worse and the risk of disease outbreaks to increase127.
However, by the end of June, more than 60% of the IDPs in Shire, Sheraro,
Adwa and Aksum had permanent shelter and the number of IDPs living
outside without shelter strongly decreased in these cities which does not
alter the fact that their living conditions were still miserable.
Fig. 5.2: Living conditions of internally displaced people in the five towns that host most of them by the end of June 2021, according to confidential sources:
living outside without shelter, living in self-constructed shelters, living in (non-partinioned) communal buildings, living in permanent shelters
11%
11%
42%
36%
Shire
4%
36%
26%
34%
Mekelle
4%
1%
42%
53%
Sheraro
6%
43%
51%
Adwa
3%
6%
33%
58%
Aksum
50
Fig. 5.3: A makeshift camp in a derelict building of the Shire Campus of
Aksum University (23 February 2021 ©Associated Press128)
By the end of August 2021, the living conditions have again undergone
quite some changes (Fig. 5.2). The amount of IDPs in Shire and Mekelle
living in permanent shelters has decreased again. In all cities, there is an
increase in IDPs living in communal buildings, and in Mekelle more IDPs
now live in self-constructed shelters. One possible explanation is that the
former permanent shelters that were mainly school buildings, medical
centres or administrative centres have been repurposed back to their
original functions, forcing IDPs to move out. For example in Mekelle, the
new shelters are located a bit outside the city. As many IDPs would not
want to be far away from the community that provided them with food and
other services, they might have chosen to stay in other locations in the city
(i.e. self-constructed shelters). Another reason could be the relocation of
IDPs, also including the IDPs returning home. Part of the permanent
shelters have been abandoned and reused for other purposes, while the
other people in the communal or self-constructed shelters decided to stay
where they are.
In line with the continued blockade of Tigray over the summer months,
many of the displaced people still did not have secure access to food, clean
water and sanitation. Due to the below-standard living conditions, many
people also require urgent medical assistance (Fig. 5.4). At multiple IDP
sites, people are prone to diseases such as malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia…,
pregnant women are in need of medical follow-up, and many people
require urgent psychological assistance after experiencing traumatic
incidents. Fortunately, the access to health care for the IDPs had slightly
increased by the end of Augustus 2021. Almost 40% of IDPs gained access
to health care, which is nearly a doubling since June. The access to clean
water has also slightly increased. Meanwhile, the access to basic needs of
the IDPs such as food assistance and electricity had decreased again. As a
lot of schools have been used as shelters, the education of many children
has been neglected.
Besides the still dire living conditions, internally displaced people have for
months also not been (fully) safe at the displacement sites129.
Fig. 5.4: Access to basic needs of the IDPs living in Shire, Sheraro, Mekelle,
Adwa and Aksum by the end of June 2021, according to confidential
sources.
0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100%
Health care
Electricity
Clean water
Food assistance
Primary school
Access to basic needs Yes No
51
The population pyramids (Fig. 5.5) indicate that elderly people and young
children are underrepresented within the IDP population. There is however
a strong overrepresentation of IDPs with ages between 15 and 17 years old.
Also, for all ages, women appear to be more numerous than men among
the IDP population. The underrepresentation of elders may be explained
by their (physical) inability of travelling to IDP sites, causing them to stay in
their home village. The lesser representation of men and young boys in
contrast to women may be caused by their recruitment in the TDF army or
by the targeting of young male travellers by the Ethiopian army. However,
it can also be caused by the fear of being recruited or targeted, which lead
to many men and young boys staying at home. Women, on the other hand,
may prefer fleeing to IDP sites, because there it is relatively more safety
due to the closeness of a community than in a remote homestead. In the
previous war in Tigray between 1975 and 1991, that is still in the memory
of many Tigrayans, men avoided movement to particular areas as well, to
evade forced conscription, detention or harassment while women also
risked assault and rape by military130. Of course, it is unclear how many IDPs
might have returned home by the end of August 2021.
Data shows that more than 50% of all IDPs in Tigray require food
assistance in order to access food (Fig. 5.6). Another big proportion of IDPs
can rely on donations from their host community, while some people
access food through begging, buying food on markets, using their savings,
or borrowing from friends and family. 5% of all IDPs do not have access to
food. With this huge amount of IDPs depending on food assistance, the
frequency of food distribution is decisive in the fight against famine.
However, the frequency of the food distribution is irregular for 28% of the
IDP sites (Fig. 5.7). Only 17% of the IDPs have seen food distribution in less
than one month, while others haven’t seen food distribution for one to
three months (20%) or even for more than three months (23%). 12% of the
IDPs haven’t seen any food distribution by the end of August 2021.
Fig. 5.5: Population pyramid of the Ethiopian population (2019)131 with an
overlay of the Tigrayan IDP population pyramid (by August 2021): male
population (Ethiopia), female population (Ethiopia), male population
(IDP) and female population (IDP).
2 1 0 1 2
0
5
10
15
20
25
30
35
40
45
50
55
60
65
70
75
80
85
90
95
100
Percentage of total population
Age
52
Fig. 5.6: How most IDPs in Tigray access food (by August 2021):
food assistance, host community donations, no access to food,
other ways of accessing food.
Fig. 5.7: When has food been distributed the last time (by August 2021):
irregular, within the month, one month ago, two months ago,
three months ago, more than three months ago, none.
5.3.2. Situation between September and the end of November
Based on confidential sources, an additional 23,000 people got displaced in
Tigray because of the conflict in September 2021. Most IDPs were displaced
within the Southeastern and Central zones, but there were also small
groups of IDPs who fled the Western zone in Tigray and took shelter in
Sheraro or other woredas in the Northwestern zone. By the end of
September 2021, an estimated 21,000 Tigrayans have returned home.
Food, drinking water and medical services are significant priority needs for
returned households and IDPs living in IDP sites, together with proper
shelter, cash and protection.
In October, as the conflict moved more south to the centre of Ethiopia,
there were little IDP movements detected in Tigray. Although, it can be
expected that more IDPs started to return home. A small group of IDPs
(<100) got displaced due to the loss of livelihood in their home area. Food
assistance remains the top priority need for all displaced people.
56%
36%
5% 3%
How do IDPs access food?
28%
17%
4%
10%
6%
23%
12%
Last food distribution
53
In the first two weeks of November, no IDP movements have been detected
in the Tigray region. In the third week of November approximately 40,000
IDPs got relocated in Tigray because of the conflict. Most of them were
fleeing the Gulo Mekeda woreda close to the Eritrean border and ended in
Adigrat town. Another group of around 1,000 IDPs were relocated from the
Western zone to the Central zone. For some IDPs, with varying
percentages, the need for protection, water and cash became less
significant. Food, however, is still the most significant priority need for
many people.
54
Map 18
Distribution of Internally Displaced
People (IDPs) due to the Tigray War at
the end of August 2021. The number of
IDPs in “hard-to-reach” areas remains
unknown and it is unclear how many
IDPs may have returned home since
August 2021.
Data source:
Field information from confidential
sources
55
5.4. Humanitarian response
The OCHA situation report of 7 October summarises the humanitarian
situation seven months into the conflict: The overall situation in Northern
Ethiopia continues to be highly unpredictable and is deteriorating by the
day. In Tigray, the humanitarian situation remains increasingly dire, while
the spillover of the conflict to neighboring Amhara and Afar regions is
rapidly increasing the humanitarian needs in those areas. Humanitarian
access in large areas inside Tigray remains viable, with some 75 per cent of
the region fully accessible. Access to areas bordering Eritrea in the far
north, western and southern parts of Northwestern Zone, remains
inaccessible due to the fluid security situation. However, the lack of fuel
and cash is significantly impacting the response. In addition, the delivery of
humanitarian supplies to Tigray Region remains heavily constrained via the
only access route through Afar (Semera-Abala-Mekelle corridor). Access
to some areas in Afar and Amhara regions also remains restricted due to
the ongoing conflict and insecurity.132.
In addition to access constraints, continued disruptions to communication
services and electricity (section 5.6), as well as the lack of emergency
communications equipment, further undermine efforts of humanitarian
actors to expand operations into areas outside the major cities and
towns133, where 68% of the people continue to live in partially accessible
and hard-to-reach areas (section 5.2).
Since the beginning of the conflict, the government and different
humanitarian organisations (i.e. WFP, REST, WV, CARE, FH) have actively
engaged in food distributions in different parts of the region. Early June
2021, the United Nations World Food Programme, which is leading the
emergency nutrition response across Tigray, reported to have provided
emergency food assistance to 1.05 million people in the Northwestern and
Southern Zones since the beginning of March134. In addition, the Relief
Society of Tigray (REST) mentioned135 reaching 1.1 million people with food
aid (in cooperation with USAID) in the first three weeks of March 2021.
CARE (Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere), on the other
hand, communicated to have reached 76,000 people in need by mid-
April136. Besides this, information on the number of people that have been
reached with food assistance remains scarce, although in May 2021 it was
clear that many people still had not yet been reached137.
The next sections address the aid distribution in Tigray, from most recent
to earlier situations.
5.4.1 Second round of aid assistance (as of May 2021)
A report by the Tigray Regional Emergency Coordination Centre138
mentions that in the first round of food distribution (started late March)
90% of the target population could be reached, while in the second round,
as of Mid-May, only 62% could be reached. Round 3 should have started
early July, was modified to early August and still didn't start by mid-
September.
Food aid rounds reflect the distribution of a 1 month food package (16 kg)
to the target audience (which is now 6.3 million).
This means that at least 38% of the population only received food aid once
(some probably nothing) in 5.5 months. And worse, almost 1.7 million IDP
only received food aid once (also a large amount probably nothing) in 5.5
months.
56
Hence, a large proportion of the population lives on less than 100 g of food
per day. Additionally, one must take into account that people ration their
food gradually, so they eat more at the start of the package and less when
it is depleting.
5.4.2 Detailed analysis of aid assistance in the first round (up to May
2021)
By 31 May, tables were circulated with detailed information on allocated,
dispatched and distributed food aid in the Tigray Region, and presenting
the results of the first round of food distributions, which started in early
March139. Then, in addition to approximately 10 to 15% of the IDPs, an
estimated 2.2 million people would have been reached with food aid,
distributed by REST (38%), WFP (37%), World Vision (WV; 12%), Food for
the Hungry (FV; 8%) and CARE (5%) in 50 out of the 88 woredas (Map 19).
With this challenging but important effort, nearly half of the people in need
assumedly had been reached with aid, although there were large
discrepancies between zones and woredas (Map 20). As food aid per
person typically consists of 15 kg of grains, 1.5 kg of pulses (mainly split
peas) and 450 ml of cooking oil (see section 5.5 for some reflections from
the field), a total of 37.5k tons of food have been distributed throughout
the region; a figure that deviates from the 49.9k tons of food reportedly
dispatched (Map 21).
This left 12.4k tons or 25% of the dispatched aid, unaccounted for during
the (formal) aid distributions. Although this deviation may be explained by
poor administration, it may also indicate the widespread looting of aid,
which was already referred to by Ms Etenesh Nigussie (head of
communication affairs for the Tigray Interim Administration) in February140
and was re-confirmed by government documents at the end of April141. As
mentioned by OCHA at the end of February, at that time “it [was] unclear
how much aid is reaching the intended beneficiaries”142.
From Maps 19, 20 and 21, it is striking that no aid had been distributed in
the areas under control of the Amhara regional forces and militia (i.e. in
Western Tigray, Northwestern Tigray south of the Tekeze River and parts
of Southern Tigray), where the Ethiopian government was responsible for
the food distributions. Hence, the question can be raised whether this is a
data problem or whether no food aid has actually been distributed to these
areas (despite the 12k tons of allocated aid). A possible explanation for the
latter could be that (i) most ethnic Tigrayans have left Western Tigray (Map
18) and that (ii) life had approximately turned back to normal in the parts
of Northwestern and Southern Tigray under control by the Amhara militia.
In several other woredas in Northwestern, Central and Southeastern Tigray
also no aid had been distributed, which could be due to active fighting and
hence security issues more recently (Map 11) information pertaining to
June, before communications were cut.
As over 2 million people still have not yet been reached with food aid, major
food gaps remain. People who have not been reached during the first round
of food distributions were located in the Central (31%), Western (15%),
Mekelle (15%), Eastern (13%), Southern (10%), Southeastern (9%) and
Northwestern (7%) Zones of Tigray. In addition to this, it is unclear how
many people have been reached more than once.
On top of these pending gaps, and as was already touched upon before, in
many woredas, there is a clear discrepancy between the amount of
dispatched aid and the aid that supposedly has been distributed to the
people in need. Next to looting, another possible explanation for this could
57
be that aid was (informally) distributed at unintended locations, for
example when lorry drivers were hindered by roadblocks along the way and
decided to deliver the aid anywhere else. This also could explain the areas
where the distributed aid exceeds the (formally) dispatched aid. As
mentioned before, 12.4k tons of food were unaccounted for, which is the
balance of the 15.4k tons of food that were dispatched but not distributed
(Map 21 areas in red) and the 3.0k tons of food that were additionally
distributed across the region (Map 21 areas in green).
An important remark here also is that we do not have any information on
the amount of food that possibly may have been looted from the local
distribution centres and hence wrongly has been labelled as ‘distributed’.
It is unclear what may be the cause for the situation in Mekelle, where the
the dispatched and distributed aid were well below the allocated aid.
For further nuancing the data presented here, please also read section 5.5.
58
Map 19
Allocated, dispatched and distributed
food aid at woreda level (31/05/2021).
Note that aid distributed to IDPs is not
included in this map.
With:
- WFP = World Food Programme
- REST = Relief Society of Tigray
- CARE = Cooperative for Assistance
and Relief Everywhere
- FH = Food for the Hungry
- WV = World Vision
Data source:
Confidential source within the Tigray
interim government
59
Map 20
Number of people in need
reached with food aid
(31/05/2021).
Data source:
Confidential source within the
Tigray interim government
60
Map 21
Dispatched versus distributed
food aid (31/05/2021).
Data source:
Confidential source within the
Tigray interim government
61
5.5 Humanitarian aid distribution when Tigray was under control of Ethiopian and allied armies (November 2020-June 2021)
5.5.1 Context
In sharp contrast to the many challenges mentioned by humanitarian
organisations, already by mid-February, the Ethiopian government said to
have distributed aid in 32 woredas, while mixing up old and new woreda
names, using Amharanised and duplicate woreda names143. Around the
same time, it mentioned that 1.8 million people in need had been reached
via the NDRMC and Joint Emergency Operation (JEOP) programme144. By
mid-March, the Ethiopian government also stated to cover 70% of all
humanitarian assistance in the Tigray Region, and mentioned to have
reached 4.2 up to 4.5 million citizens with relief supply145. At the beginning
of May, it stated that claims of extreme hunger146 were falsified147.
In absence of reliable quantitative and spatially distributed information on
aid effectively delivered to the people in need, we can only present
qualitative observations, derived from interviews. To fully understand the
context, it should be mentioned also that on 8 February, the Ethiopian
government officially dissolved the boards of the two largest local NGOs in
Tigray148, which are largely trusted by the people in the region. The Tigray
Development Association (TDA) and the Relief Society of Tigray (REST) are
formally be governed by 'a caretaker administrative board.
5.5.2 Functioning of aid distribution
On our request, during the month of February, a senior Tigrayan activist
contacted people on the ground and provided this report on the
functioning of aid distribution (which is still largely relevant in early June):
“One of the big problems is the absence of structures to reach out the
needy. The Relief Society of Tigray (REST) was the main organised
institution for this, but REST is now having a lot of problems:
Its management is interim and the board members have been
replaced; Amhara people are now dominating the board.
REST’s 33 warehouses in various woredas (with capacities of 700 - 1000
tons) have been destroyed.
11 offices have been looted.
70 trucks and vehicles have been looted.
Other Tigray-based NGOs have been forced to defame REST.
Having all these problems, REST’s hands are tied. But, USAID and CRF want
to deliver aid through REST, aiming at reaching 1.3 million people. So, they
are trying their best. But, lacking internet connections made them
incapable to communicate with their foreign partners.
They continue trying to directly deliver aid to the needy, after the
consultation of elders and others. There are logistics problems and people
at the interim administration or the military are not willing to help. As there
is no stable local administration in the woredas as well, it is hard to deliver
aid. USAID is now forcing the federal government for going themselves
down the level of tabiyas (sub-districts), as well as woredas far from the
main roads to deliver aid.
62
If REST is having a hard time in reaching out to the public with its existing
structures, it is almost impossible for others.
“The others, like WFP, are trying to use the interim administration and the
elders assigned by them, but the military is intervening in the process,
making it impossible to deliver aid. Military vehicles have been
requisitioned for aid delivery. The military is taking much of the aid and
together with the interim administration people, they sell it to flour
factories, rather than bringing it to the needy.
“The military have a clear intention, sometimes speak it out loudly, to
starve the public to punish them and then to make the TDF surrender.”
5.5.3 Witness from REST
To triangulate the before testimonies, back in February 2021, we discreetly
contacted one senior staff of the Relief Society of Tigray, who provided us
the following information: “With REST, we have shifted back from
development activities to humanitarian assistance, because Ethiopia is
attacking us so badly. Food aid is only provided to towns and villages along
the main roads, not to the rural areas. We are responsible for transporting
food aid in bulk, but we do not distribute it directly to the beneficiaries. The
names of beneficiaries and quantities are decided by others. We have no
control, no decision. If somebody wants to be a member of the PP, they
give him quintals
1
and quintals of grain. The poor get nothing. Those who
manage to collect a lot of food aid sell it on the black market later on.”
Our witness continued: “We went to bring food aid to a town in
Gulomakheda that is fully controlled by the Eritrean army. The Eritrean
soldiers took all the food aid that we brought. I was so sad. On that
occasion, I discussed with some farmers. They told me that the Eritreans
took everything. They took all medicines from the hospital and have sent it
to their country. Over there, the people are suffering and may die from the
smallest thing.”
5.5.4 Testimonies from people on the side of receiving aid
In addition to reports from development actors, we also collected
testimonies from the people who should be beneficiairies of aid (during the
month of February). For this, we again contacted people from different
1
The quintal is the commonly used measurement unit for grains and small
pulses in Ethiopia. 1 Qt = 100 kg.
woredas in Tigray, and conducted several interviews over the phone (see
table on next page where we have included the corresponding included
63
the categories of the observed differences between dispatched and
distributed aid Map 21).
We do not claim that our interviews are fully representative for the entire
woreda (or zone), but again the different testimonies confirm that aid is
not fully reaching the people who need it, often due to limited access in
rural areas, and because aid is transferred to others (e.g. by looting).
Disillusioned senior officers pertaining to the interim government and to
REST again mentioned early June that looting and diversion of aid lorries
were ongoing.
Zone
Woreda
No.
Location
Map 21
Testimonies
NW
10
Adi Daero
“Residents were denied food aid after the town’s inhabitants refused to appoint PP officials as administrators.
The residents demanded the evacuation of Eritrean soldiers instead.”
15
Shire town:
residents
“The initial wheat aid distribution was in December. Distribution was handled by the Ethiopian government,
and the aid did not get to all of Shire’s residents. Furthermore, those that were given 7 kg of wheat were
required to sign for 15 kg. If they refused to sign for 15 kg, they were denied the 7 kg. It is important to
emphasize that there was no electricity and hence, there was no way of grinding the grain. During this period,
three young men who were displaced and were taking shelter outside the warehouse, were killed after they
were accused of stealing wheat, which was impossible as these youngsters did not have a place to stay and
did not have the means to prepare the wheat.”
In the second week of February, USAID-labelled aid trucks have begun to arrive and people have been given
1 liter of cooking oil and 3 kg of split peas, and around 15 kg wheat per person. There is gross shortage of
food in Shire! People have to sell all they have at low prices to be able to buy food; people are literally starving
to death.”
15
Shire town:
IDPs
N/A
“The wheat aid given to the displaced people was 15 kg per person. The staff handed out wheat until 6 PM,
until their workday was done. The next day, as people lined up early in the morning, they were told that the
wheat was stolen as an excuse not to give more wheat. However, there is ample evidence that all the
remaining wheat was transported to Eritrea by the Eritrean soldiers.”
64
“In January, 30 kg wheat per person was distributed, but only to the IDPs and not to the residents of the town.
The IDPs were told that the 30 kg wheat was to last for the next two months and that they should not expect
any more aid in these next two months.”
C
26
Yechila
“They only distributed 15 kg of grain per person, but there was no oil nor beans. All other places in Abergele
woreda did not get any aid.”
29
Adwa
“Last time, they made us sign for having received 15 kg while they only gave 7 kg”.
33
Aksum
“I heard there has been food aid of 15 kg of grain per family, and only once. Neither I, nor my relatives have
received aid. I am not so sure about how many families received that 15 kg of food aid. How many days would
that last? Who takes the rest? The Eritreans?”
E
48
Adigrat
“They registered us four times saying that they will give aid but none was given. We think that the people
who register us are taking the grain for themselves and resell it.”
54
Erob
A witness from Erob woreda mentioned to Associated Press that Ethiopian authorities are withholding food
aid from families suspected of links to Tigray fighters: “If you don’t bring your father, your brothers, you do
not get the aid, you will starve”.149
M
66
Mekelle
“Some people who I know received food aid and they only got 8 kg of wheat and expired corn flour, the so-
called fafa.”
SE
70
Hagere
Selam
“Mostly transport to and from Mekelle is possible. The road is closed from time to time when battles occur
in nearby areas. Here, food aid distribution has started, 25 kg of grain per person. But it has been interrupted;
I do not know the reason. The aid was brought by the Relief Society of Tigray. It was distributed by the
appointed district administrator, under supervision of the army. The new administrator is not dedicated at
all, he is afraid of the situation. People do not like him because he works with the soldiers.
S
78
Addishuhu
“They distributed 15 kg of grain per person, only once, there were no oil or beans.”
65
Other: rural areas away from
the main road
N/A
In general, there is no information from rural dwellers as there is no telephone network. Several urban people
told us: food aid only comes to towns and large villages along the main roads, in minimal amounts. They do
not bring it to the rural areas, and they do not call the people from the rural areas to collect it in town.
The Mekelle business community stated: There is no humanitarian access outside Mekelle, and civilians are
being killed….”150
66
5.6 Essential public and private services after June 2021
Several essential public and private services have not been (fully)
operational since the outbreak of the conflict in November 2020. These
services include but are not limited to banking and telecommunication
services, including internet access. While occupying Tigray, the Ethiopian
army and allies tried to render some basic services, at least in Mekelle (see
next section).
Over the second half of June, the war entered a new phase. The Tigray
Government regained control over most areas, roads and towns of the
Region. On 28 June 2021, a unilateral ceasefire was declared by the
Ethiopian Government. Unfortunately, as of that date, all banks were
closed and all communication lines were blocked again (Map 22), returning
to the situation at the beginning of the conflict in November 2020. In
addition, VSAT equipment of multiple (I)NGOs in Mekelle and other towns
was dismantled by the Ethiopian National Defence Forces while
withdrawing151, and large amounts of money were taken from the banks by
the withdrawing army, so that people cannot access cash and salaries
cannot be paid to government employees. Some bank agencies reopened,
but without any means of transferring money. People who have kept their
economies as cash in their house have been encouraged by the regional
authorities to deposit it in the bank, so that other people can withdraw
small amounts.
Simultaneously with the disruption of communication lines, the electricity
supply was interrupted as well, even though it is necessary for urban water
supply and many other services. Since 5 July, power has been partly
restored in Mekelle and other towns, via electricity produced at the Tekeze
hydropower dam. Due to near-absence of power generation during the
war, the reservoir of the Tekeze dam was nearly full, and important
releases of excess water needed to take place. When such releases take
place, no power can be generated due to specific characteristics of the
hydropower plant152. In November and December 2021 the Tekeze and
Mekelle electric substations were again bombarded by the Ethiopian
Airforce, putting Mekelle and other towns in the dark.
67
Map 22
Operability of banking services and
telecommunication services (July -
September 2021).
Data source:
Key informants in different woredas in
Tigray and media reports
68
5.7 Service availability (November 2020-June 2021)
Based on interviews with key informants (n = 38) in various woredas
(districts), we have documented and mapped the accessibility to these
essential services, and provide an overview of the situation at the end of
March 2021, which was still valid at the time the Ethiopian troops and allies
withdrew from larger parts of Tigray on 28 June 2021. In this section, first
we describe the situation until 28 June (5.6.1 to 5.6.3) and then discuss the
situation after 28 June (5.6.4), which largely resembles the full blackout of
the beginning of the war.
For our interviews on essential services, we had difficulties to verify and
collect information on most woredas located west and southwest of the
Tekeze River. The main reason for this is that many Tigrayans (including
most of our key informants) have fled this area due to the informal
annexation by the neighbouring Amhara Region and ongoing atrocities
against civilians. In some of these cases, we derived our information from
media reports, and instead, we present a ‘reported’ but unconfirmed
situation.
5.7.1 Banking services
Since the outbreak of the conflict, lack of access to banking services has
been a major challenge for civilians in the Tigray Region. This, of course,
has a great impact on daily life practices in rural areas as well as in urban
centres as people experience difficulties to purchase food and other
essential products (e.g. medicines) - wherever and whenever goods are
available; weekly markets also have been interrupted and many shops have
been looted or destroyed in the first months of the conflict. Interrupted
banking services is one of the measures taken by the Government of
Ethiopia, aiming to hit the TPLF and its allies, but having a lot of ‘collateral’
impact on civilians. Since the start of the conflict, banking services have
been restored in (1) areas under control by Amhara forces (e.g. Korem,
Alamata and Waja in Southern Tigray), (2) Mekelle and (3) other urban
centres (e.g. Shire, Aksum, Adigrat, Edaga Hamus, Addishiho, Maichew and
2
https://msf.or.ke/en/magazine/msf-driver-assaulted-staff-witness-men-
dragged-buses-and-killed-tigray
Mekhoni) but still are restricted and unreliable in several major towns. At
the end of March 2021, and continuing up to June 2021, for many
Tigrayans, the regional capital Mekelle was the place to be for cash
withdrawals, which forced people to travel from far and also made people
to semi-permanently stay in Mekelle until the situation improves in other
areas and banks become fully operational again. Among the civilian victims
executed by soldiers
2
along the road from Mekelle to Adigrat in March were
people who came to Mekelle for cash withdrawals.
In several areas, banks deliberately have been looted and destroyed by
Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers, in line with the destruction of other public
and private properties throughout Tigray. In addition to this, it is important
to note that in many areas only the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE) has
re-opened, even though many people had transferred their money to the
69
Lion International Bank and Wegagen Bank in light of the increasing
political tensions during the years preceding the onset of the conflict. As
salaries of civil servants are nearly exclusively paid via their bank accounts,
many people have difficulties to access money.
Area
Towns with banking services
Information on banking services
Areas under
control by the
Amhara forces
(informally
annexed by
the Amhara
Region)
Western Zone: Humera, Dansha,
Ketama Nigus, Adi Ramets, Mai Cadra,
Adebay, May Gaba
Northwestern Zone: May Tsebri
Banking services are operational in Humera, and mainly include services from the CBE and
Abay Bank, but also comprise of private banks in urban centres. The Wegagen and Lion
International Banks were the main targets of looting and destruction in the Western Zone. For
all other towns in this area, the operability remains unconfirmed (we received conflicting
information on these areas).
Southern Zone: Maichew, Mekhoni,
Addishiho, Korem, Alamata, Waja
Banking services (mainly CBE) are operational in Maichew, Mekhoni, Korem, Alamata and
Waja. The services in Maichew and Mekhoni (located north of Korem, Alamata and Waja)
were restored more recently (early March 2021) than those in Korem, Alamata and Waja, and
are still not fully operational. In Maichew and Mekhoni, customers queue in front of banks for
long hours and sometimes are told that the money is finished or that the server is down. Until
the re-opening of the banks in Maichew and Mekhoni, people used to travelled either to
Alamata or Mekelle. In Maichew and Mekhoni, the most popular banks (i.e. Wegagen Bank,
Lion International Bank and Dashen Bank) remain closed. Similar to other areas, cash
withdrawals and bank transfers are subject to restrictions (upper limit of 50,000 ETB per day).
Even if such is the rule, bank officers are obliged to set their own upper limits (mostly 5000
ETB) in an attempt to distribute the limited amount of money among the long queueing
customers.
Mekelle
Mekelle
Banking services are operational since late December, and mainly include services from the
CBE and few private banks. At the end of March 2021, Mekelle still serves as the only reliable
place where staff salaries are paid (via bank transfers) and cash withdrawals are mostly
possible. Similar to other areas, cash withdrawals and bank transfers are subject to
restrictions (upper limit of 50,000 ETB per day). In practice, bank officers limit the withdrawals
to 5000 ETB.
Other areas
Northwestern Zone: Shire
Central Zone: Aksum
Banking services recently (early March 2021) were restored, although they are only partially
operational. In every town, only one branch of the CBE has been re-opened. Similar to
70
Eastern Zone: Wukro, Adigrat, Edaga
hamus
Southern Zone: Addishiho
Maichew and Mekhoni, customers queue for hours to days and are frequently told that the
cash money is finished and sometimes that the server is down. The number of customers is
much higher than the banking services can support. Many people still travel to Mekelle to
withdraw cash. The most popular banks (i.e. Wegagen Bank, Lion International Bank and
Dashen Bank) remain closed also here. Similar to other areas, cash withdrawals and bank
transfers are subject to restrictions (upper limit of 50,000 ETB per day). In practice, bank
officers limit the withdrawals to 5000 ETB.
Northwestern Zone: Sheraro, Adi
Daero, Selekleka, Endabaguna
Central Zone: Rama, Adwa, Semema,
Zana, Wukro (Marai), Edaga Arbi,
Enticho, Maikinetal, Nebelet,
Workamba, Abiy Adi, Yechilay
Eastern Zone: Bizet, Zala Anbessa,
Fatsi, Dewhan, Senkata, Hawzen, Atsbi,
Agulae
South Eastern Zone: Kwiha, Hagere
Selam, Adigudom, Samre, Hiwane
Southern Zone: Chercher
Banking services are not operational. People are travelling to the nearest town with
operational banking services, on the condition that the town is considered to be safe.
Dedebit Microfinance
Dedebit Microfinance was the most accessible financial institution in Tigray and has
approximately 400,000 customers. Dedebit Microfinance especially is accessible to farmers
and people in rural areas, as it also has service branches in each ‘niús-woreda (i.e. the
administrative level between tabiyas and woredas), where there are no other banks or
financial institutions. With the advancement of invading forces, the Dedebit Microfinance
offices were frequently looted and destroyed. Neither its head office in Mekelle nor its branch
service centres throughout Tigray are functional at the end of March 2021.
71
5.7.2 Telephone services
Telephone networks, managed and operated by the state-owned Ethio
telecom, have been blocked at the beginning of the conflict in November
2020. This has severely limited the amount of information on the conflict
that has reached the international community up to the end of June 2021.
This also has strongly impeded the organisation and upscaling of the
humanitarian response throughout the region, and obviously, this also has
impacted the distribution of information between family members and
friends within as well as outside the Tigray Region.
In territories under control by the Amhara forces (Western Zone and parts
of the Northwestern and Southern Zones), telephone services have been
restored some weeks after the occupation by the invading forces. However,
it is also noted that there are areas where telephone communication is
frequently interrupted, when coinciding with conflict incidents.
In Mekelle, the telephone network (for mobile phones as well as for
landlines) had been restored by Mid-December, after approximately 40
days of intense conflicts. This re-opening of the telephone network - which
coincided with the restoration of electricity supply in Mekelle - has been
widely used by the Government of Ethiopia to strengthen the narrative that
the situation had gone back to normal in Tigray. Since the re-opening of the
telephone network in Mekelle, services frequently were interrupted for
periods lasting from several hours to multiple days.
Weeks after the re-opening of networks in Maichew and Adigrat, telephone
services to Aksum were restored in early February. By the end of February
and early March, telephone services also have been restored to other
major towns along the main roads. As a result, rural areas in the vicinity of
these main roads also have started to receive telephone network. In some
of these areas, the network is only available near the highest mountain
peaks, whereas the rest remains fully out of access.
However, the communication blackout continued for up to eight months
throughout the vast majority of Central Tigray, and large parts of
Northwestern, Eastern and South Eastern Tigray. In these areas, rare access
to the telephone network can be obtained near mountain peaks, ‘hijacking’
the network from neighbouring areas, including the Amhara and Afar
Regions or neighbouring countries Sudan and Eritrea.
Note that governmental and non-governmental organisations have had
access to telephone communication via satellite connections throughout
the conflict.
5.7.3 Internet services
Along with the telephone network, the internet has been blocked at the
beginning of the conflict. At the end of March 2021, and continuing until
the end of June, internet access only has been restored in most parts of
Western Tigray, in May Tsebri (Northwestern Tigray) and in Alamata
(Southern Tigray). The vast majority of the Tigray Region remained without
internet access.
This has strongly hampered research and development activities, personal
and institutional communications, and small- and medium-sized
enterprises, which increasingly have relied on internet services…
72
Some governmental and non-governmental organisations had been
granted access to cable internet in several parts of the region. It is expected
that these were the networks used to distribute videos on ongoing
atrocities against civilians.
It may be useful to remind that internet services, as well as telephone
networks, frequently also were not operational in remote rural areas of
Tigray prior to the start of the war.
73
6 Agriculture and food security
6.1 Current and projected food security outcomes (June 2021 January 2022)
Based on Ethiopia-wide maps produced by the Famine Early Warning
Systems Network (FEWS NET), we have included maps on the current (June
2021) and projected (January 2022) food security outcomes in Tigray. As
the projected outcomes are the same for both periods in many parts of
Tigray, we have merged both maps and discuss them together under
‘projected outcomes’ between June 2021 and January 2022. Map 23
adopts the widely accepted Integrated Phase Classification (IPC), which
describes the severity of food emergencies using a five-phase scale153.
Details on each phase are captured in Fig. 6.2.
Due to the combined impacts of the ongoing conflict (Fig. 6.2), desert
locusts, the poor macroeconomic situation, and the Covid-19 pandemic,
the current (June 2021) humanitarian food assistance needs are well above
average in Tigray. Extreme low levels of economic activities, high levels of
internal displacements (Map 18), combined with restricted humanitarian
access (Map 17) and limited food stocks have resulted in a food security
Emergency situation for over 2 million people in several parts of
Northwestern, Central, Eastern and South Eastern Tigray. This situation
includes large food consumption gaps at the household level, resulting in
high acute malnutrition and excess mortality. Due internal migration flows,
many rural households also need to share the (limited) previous harvest
with relatives and guests, resulting in exhausted food stocks. Within the
same areas, approximately 353,000 people are famine-affected (IPC Phase
5) and hence at severe risk of starvation154. This is the highest number of
people in IPC Phase 5 since the 2011 famine in Somalia.155
Note that 353,000 people are famine-affected but that none of Tigray’s
districts is yet mapped under IPC Phase 5, as the following criteria156 are
not yet jointly met: (1) at least 20% of households face extreme food
shortages with limited ability to cope; (2) acute malnutrition rates exceed
30%; and (3) death rate exceeding two persons per day per 10,000 persons.
In large parts of Northwestern, Southeastern and Southern Tigray, as well
as in Mekelle, the current food security outcome includes the “Crisis” phase
(for over 3 million people), whereas the food security situation is less acute
in Western Tigray, with the “Stressed” phase113. There is no area in Tigray
under “Minimal” food security conditions, in contrast to peace years when
larger areas of Tigray were not concerned with food security issues157.
Fig. 6.1. After harvest, a farmer in Debre Genet had carefully stored the
straw as fodder for the upcoming year in four two-metre high heaps. On 5
April 2021, the Eritrean army terrorised the village and burned down the
fodder storages (© Kindeya Gebrehiwot).
74
Do to total blackout, we have no view whether anticipated improvements
in economic activity could effectively take place, despite significant
restrictions on household access to food and income that were expected
to persist (e.g. limited labour migration, access to credit, access to input
supplies…), undermining the cultivation during the upcoming growing
season. As a result, Emergency outcomes are anticipated to persist at least
until January 2022 all over Central and Eastern Tigray, as well as in parts of
Northwestern and South Eastern Tigray. This again highlights the
importance of granting full and safe humanitarian access to these regions.
In other areas, where economic activities are expected to increase in the
coming months and where the households’ production capacity is
relatively higher, “Crisis” outcomes are expected. In none of the zones, it is
expected to return to the “Minimal” or even the “Stressed” food security
phase before January 2022158.
Expecting a humanitarian assistance coverage of 60% of the population,
approximately 400,000 people were deemed to be at risk of famine by
September. In case the conflict would further escalate, “most areas of
Tigray will be at risk of famine”159.
Given the limited information available, it is difficult to assess the projected
food security outcomes. In several areas, people may also face additional
costs due to the looting of essential goods and the (partial) destruction of
houses. Yet, in line with practices elsewhere160, we used IPC, USAID or WFP
estimates, and population statistics, to calculate, for Tigray, a minimum of
425 hunger deaths per day, and a “conservative maximum” of 1201 per
day. That is, averaged, one person dying of starvation per two minutes.
With difficulties of access and communication, such extrapolation from the
numbers in the IPC phases is the only very approximate method to know
the number of starvation victims.
Fig. 6.2: Overview of the different IPC food security phases
75
Map 23
Current (June 2021) and projected
(January 2022) food security outcomes in
Tigray.
Data source:
after FEWS NET (2021) and IPC (2021),
USAID (2021)
76
6.2 Spring and summer rainfall in 2021 as compared to previous years and long-term averages
Using the CHIRPS 2.0 satellite rainfall product161, we have analysed the
rainfall conditions between February and April 2021 (‘spring’) and between
May and August 2021 (‘summer’) and have compared these conditions
with long-term averages and the conditions in previous years.
From this analysis, it appears that the spring rains in 2021 with
approximately 20 mm in Western Tigray, 100 mm in Eastern Tigray and 70
mm in Southern Tigray (Map 24) were drier than in 2020 but slightly
wetter than in 2019, and overall had ‘normal’ conditions throughout the
region (following the conventions of the American Meteorological Society
- Map 25). Exceptions on these ‘normal’ conditions are parts of the South
Eastern, Southern and Western Zones, where ‘abnormally dry’ to
‘moderately dry’ and even ‘severely dry’ conditions were observed. Even
though the rains came a bit late in spring 2021 (March was drier than
average), based on the observed rainfall conditions, farmers should have
been able to start ploughing during the months of March, April and May.
The summer rainfall conditions (up to August) are similar to those of 2019
and 2020 (Map 26). Based on long-term observations, we understand (Fig.
6.1; map 27) that most of Eastern, Southeastern and Southern Tigray, as
well as parts of Western Tigray were wetter than normal. It was “extremely
wet” around Alamata and Korem. See also the ombrothermic diagrammes
for Maychew and Mekelle (Fig. 6.3). On the other hand, Northwestern
Tigray and the northern part of the Central Zone were abnormally dry. Our
own qualitative field observations162 show that by the end of August, it was
still raining around Mekelle and south of it, but it had not been raining since
the beginning of August in the Tsa’ida Imba district, north of Mekelle. The
ombrothermic diagramme of nearby Adigrat also shows less rainfall in
August (Fig. 6.1). Though the crops there did not yet suffer from drought
by the end of August, they would have required at least one additional
good rain event. Whether or not it rained in September will have been
crucial for maturing the crops.
77
Fig 6.3: 2021 rainfall plotted on ombrothermic diagrams (precipitation scale = 2 × temperature scale) for Tigray’s zonal capitals (mean of years 19812020), with corresponding
climate type based on the Köppen classification: average monthly rainfall (mm), monthly rainfall in 2021 and average monthly temperature.
78
Map 24
Spring rainfall in February-April
2021 (inset maps allow a
comparison to previous years).
Data source:
CHIRPS (2019 2021)
79
Map 25
Spring rainfall conditions in
February-April 2021 as
compared to long-term averages
and previous years (inset maps).
The nomenclature of rainfall
conditions follows the American
Meteorological Society (AMS)
conventions.
Data source:
CHIRPS (1981 2021)
80
Map 26
Summer rainfall in May-August
2021 (inset maps allow a
comparison to previous years).
Data source:
CHIRPS (2019 2021)
81
Map 27
Summer rainfall conditions in
May-August 2021 as compared
to long-term averages and
previous years (inset maps). The
nomenclature of rainfall
conditions follows the American
Meteorological Society (AMS)
conventions.
Data source:
CHIRPS (1981 2021)
82
6.3 Outlook: the Tigray war may lead to another failed harvest in the next season
Since about 75% of the active population in Tigray is farmer163 and the humanitarian needs are already very high on the eve of the upcoming growing season
(i.e. 5.2 million people are in dire need of humanitarian assistance)163, good farming conditions throughout the summer season are of crucial importance for
the further development of the food situation in Tigray. Indeed, the harvest in November will need to feed the local communities until the following growing
season in the next year. This is especially true for the many rural families that live in hard-to-reach areas, where humanitarian organisations have not yet
managed to deliver food aid, and hence people particularly will depend on local yields.
In this section, we consider the rainfall conditions in 2021, in contrast to previous years and long-term averages, and discuss the state of ploughing during war
conditions. A more detailed analysis of these topics is available in two separate papers164,165.
6.3.1 Ploughing and irrigation in spring 2021
To verify this state of ploughing under ongoing war conditions, we have
analysed Sentinel-2 satellite images pertaining to spring 2021 for fourteen
rainfed and sixteen irrigated (contiguous) agricultural areas and have
analysed some aerial photographs taken in the surroundings of Mekelle. In
addition to this, we have conducted semi-structured interviews with
seventeen key informants who all have a longstanding experience with the
agricultural sector in Tigray and have an extensive network throughout the
region. The interviews helped to understand all contextual factors and
correctly interpret the remote sensing images. Our main findings are:
- Fewer rainfed croplands than normal have been ploughed in the
surroundings of Mekelle in early May 2021 ;
- Fewer rainfed croplands than normal have been ploughed in several
areas in Western Tigray, corresponding to the extreme high levels of
out-migration due to ethnic cleansing;
- Relatively good ploughing conditions could be observed in the rest of
the region: more lands have been ploughed than in rain-rich 2020, but
less than in the slightly drier 2019;
- Unlike medium- to large-scale irrigation plantations (e.g. along the
Tekeze River and southeast of Mehoni), farmer-led irrigation schemes
are operational and even slightly increased in area as compared to the
two preceding years. However, there is a shift from commercial crops
(e.g. vegetables) to cereals, which require less human presence on the
fields and hence involve fewer risks for the farmers.
Although these results gave hope that large parts of the agricultural areas
would be sown timely, farmers had to operate in very difficult sometimes
even life-threatening circumstances, and yields were alrady anticipated
to be well below average. The main reasons for difficult farming conditions
were:
- Ethnic cleansing in Western Tigray.
- Lack of farm inputs (e.g. fertiliser, chemicals, improved seeds...), oxen
and farm tools due to widespread looting and destruction of
infrastructure.
- Lack of advice from the agricultural offices.
83
- Eritrean soldiers forbade farm activities and threatened to kill farmers.
Farmers consequently feared to be killed, which was a well-founded
fear as several farmers already had been killed while ploughing their
lands.
- Lack of manpower as many youngsters had joined the TDF and men
particularly were targeted by (Eritrean) soldiers.
- Religious holidays in the Easter period that delayed ploughing.
Despite such difficult conditions, the Tigrayan farmers evaluated all risks
involved with ploughing and adjusted their farming strategies to minimise
the risks of looting and getting killed. These adjustments included:
- Ploughing very early in the morning (as early as 3 AM), before the
soldiers started roaming and marauding.
- Organising lookouts to verify that no soldiers were approaching.
- Shifts to crops that are less labour-intensive.
- Shifts towards higher involvement of women in the land management
(e.g. after ploughing, women may break down the larger soil clods or
even may continue ploughing the unploughed parts of the field).
From this, it is clear that farmers were on their own and had to rely on their
remarkable ability of self-organisation. Taking into account the resilience
of the Tigrayan farming systems, the status of tillage gave hope that the
growing season would not be entirely lost.
Fig. 6.4. Share of crop types and fallow in Kilte Awula’ilo district in peace
year 2019 and war year 2021. Main changes are: (1) a large share of the
land has been fallowed and also many oil crops have been grown (improved
fallow); (2) strong decrease of land occupied with wheat, also because
many farmers will have roasted and eaten their seeds while fleeing to the
mountains at war time; (3) strong increase of tef fields this is a crop that
could be sown 2-3 weeks later than wheat or barley, i.e. after the Ethiopian
and Eritrean soldiers left.
6.3.2 Cropping status in summer 2021
A team of Mekelle University and Ghent University geographers have
studied the status of crop growth and fallowing. Collecting field data from
0
10
20
30
40
50
60
70
80
90
100
2019 2021
Maize Sorghum
Tef Other cereals (wheat, barley, millet)
Legumes (beans, peas) Oil crops (Flax, niger seed)
Potato Fallow
84
161 plots in very difficult conditions allowed evaluating the status of
cropping in the wider surroundings of Mekelle, by the end of August 2021.
The team observed that local farming communities are remarkably
resilient, also in times of conflict and instability. Relying on indigenous
knowledge and local practices, farmers shifted to the production of crops
that need minimal effort and resources, but will also yield less harvest (Fig.
6.4). Large areas have been left fallow, and also, there have been very few
directly consumable (“lean) crops planted; the top lean crop maize
needed early planting, which was impossible due to war conditions. We
estimate that only 20-50% of the farmland will produce a reasonable yield
(Fig. 6.5), which is well below what is required to sustain the local
population in a subsistence farming economy. We have no reason to
believe that in other districts of Tigray, the situation would be significantly
different, except for Western Tigray, where many more lands have been
left fallow, due to ethnic cleansing of the population 164.
Our study166 tends to confirm OCHA’s statement on 2 September 2021
that “only 25% to 50% of the normal cereal production will be available
this year as the agricultural planting season has been missed in many
parts of Tigray” 167.
Fig. 6.5. Crop stands in Central Tigray, on 8 September 2021. At left (near Zongi, Inda Felasi district): foreground tef, middleground sorghum, at the back ploughed fallow. At
right (in Kayeh Tehli): mainly sorghum without fertiliser, with ploughed fallow on the hill. Crops near homesteads, at the middle of the hill, have a darker aspect due to use of
manure. The crops are too short for early September due to late planting and it is feared that they will not reach maturity. (Photos Yirga Weldu)
85
7 References
7.1 Maps
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8 Integrated Food Security Phase (2021). 5.5 million people in Tigray and neighbouring zones of Afar and Amhara face high levels of acute food insecurity.
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86
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7.2 Other references
1 Numerous publications address the origin of this war and potential paths to peace, which is largely out of scope of this work. The interested reader is
referred to the Crisis Group's briefing N° 167: "Finding a Path to Peace in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region", which in turn holds numerous references.
https://www.crisisgroup.org/africa/horn-africa/ethiopia/167-finding-path-peace-ethiopias-tigray-region
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3 BBC News, 26 March 2021. Abiy Ahmed: Eritrea ‘will withdraw’ troops from Ethiopia in Tigray conflict. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-
56536360
4 Associated Press, 28 May 2021. ‘Our season’: Eritrean troops kill, rape, loot in Tigray. https://apnews.com/article/only-on-ap-eritrea-africa-religion-
9fe9140b76da946e4fa65095a1d5b04f
5 France 24, 28/06/2021. Ethiopian government declares ‘unilateral cease-fire’ amid rebel advance in Tigray.
https://www.france24.com/en/africa/20210628-ethiopia-s-interim-government-flees-tigray-capital-as-rebels-advance
6 Yahoo! News, 02/07/2021. Cheers and hugs as rebels take back Tigray Capital. https://news.yahoo.com/cheers-hugs-rebels-back-tigray-
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7 The Guardian, 04/07/2021. Ethiopia: Tigray rebels accept ceasefire but set out conditions.
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8 MapEthiopia, 05/07/2021. All three bridges over the Tekeze River in Tigray have been cut.
https://twitter.com/mapethiopia/status/1412100088315396098?s=21
9 Reuters, 04/07/2021. U.N. warns of worsening famine, more clashes in Ethiopia’s Tigray. https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/un-warns-
worsening-famine-ethiopias-tigray-2021-07-02/
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