in the Tigray
P R O F. D R . J A N N Y S S E N , G H E N T
U N I V E R S I T Y , D E P A R T M E N T O F
G E O G R A P H Y
O N B E H A L F O F T H E R E S E A R C H T E A M
Presentation at a hearing organized by
the Health Professionals Network for Tigray,
4 April 2022
Research experience in Tigray since 1994 –Study area turns into war crime scene
22 June 2021
As of start of Tigray War
•Scientists’ call for ceasefire and humanitarian aid (11 November 2020)
•Reporting information that we collected
•Document the rapidly evolving humanitarian situation
•Use the ‘power of maps’ and make the invisible visible
•Collect and combine qualitative as well as quantitative evidence
•Primary sources : telephone interviews
➢General data collection (n > 1500)
➢Semi-structured interviews (n > 300)
➢In-depth interviews (n > 100)
➢Generalist interviews with office holders at regional, national and international
levels (n > 100)
•ArcMap and ArcGIS online
•Telephone, media, and cross-checking
•All proved right, except 2 cases
•Questions about “who did the incident post-mortems”, “are all
interviews recorded, transcribed and encoded?”…
•Not so, we did not use such methodologies; we have even less access
than international organizations.
•We essentially hint at what is there
•One could wonder why states and international organizations, with
large budgets have not been doing this from the onset of the war?
Link to warfare
Civilian direct casualties
•Tallied number of civilian direct casualties is 6k-12k.
•Narrative indications: widespread "killing mood" with the occupying armies; fleeing people
observed corpses along their route in many occurrences
•Very few data on W Tigray where ethnic cleansing took place; nothing leaks from the
northern border strip, see VICE report on entire villages swept away
•Video confirmations: "killing Tigrayans" considered act of valor for Ethiopian, Eritrean,
Amhara soldiers (Debre Abbay, Mahbere Dego); similar eyewitness report by Mehdi Labzaé
•Estimation = tallied number of victims times 5 to 8
Overall death toll
•There is very few information available
•near-absence of communication
•blackmailing of NGOs who have a partial view of the situation, but do not
speak out for fear of being banned from working in Ethiopia
•Crude estimate (256k-465k)
•The starvation deaths are based on the figures of the IPC –Integrated Food
Security Phase Classification (400,000 people in famine, May/June 2021) and
USAID (900,000 in famine, June 2021; 700,000 as of September 2021).
•Example: IPC 4 = Emergency = 1-2 famine deaths/10,000 per day! (2-4 for U5)
Deaths due to lack of healthcare
•Number of deaths due to lack of healthcare based on
the excess mortality that it generates.
•2019 mortality: 6/1000 per year (World Bank data)
•Strong decrease since 1980s
•Now back to earlier rates, due to collapse of
•20/1000, or even 32/1000 (Dr. Tony Magaña)
•Excess mortality : (20-6)/1000, etc.
•Calculated on the 3.9 million people in need of
medical care (OCHA)
Seeking perfection of data?
•Questions about sampling strategies… Obviously, we did not sample
villages and towns. Our calculations are extrapolations from data that are
•There is also a possible partial overlap between the categories. Yet, in the
worst-case scenario there would be nearly half a million civilian deaths.
•Seeking perfection with the data may be a way of ignoring the problem i.e.
you can’t “declare” starvation when you don’t have this and that data…
•The fact that the UN was not allowed to transport documentation
material (USB drives, phones, cameras, etc.) from and to Tigray for a very
long time (and even now), has meant that the situation in Tigray is very
poorly documented. Journalists who could report about the situation on
the ground are not allowed to travel to Tigray.
Situation in Afar and Amhara regions
•We do not address the numerous deaths in other conflict-ridden regions of Ethiopia,
nor the ethnic prosecution of Tigrayans throughout the country.
•The larger part of famine and health care victims in Afar and Amhara regions has been
due to the Ethiopian government imposing a blockade on all parts of the country
controlled by the Tigray forces, be it for a shorter or longer term. During the duration
of control by TDF, the Tigray forces also attempted to resupply Tigray with goods found
in Afar and Amhara.
•Number of civilian deaths in the Amhara and Afar regions assumed an order of
magnitude less than in Tigray, for various reasons:
•Duration of warfare and blockade is in the order of a few months, vs 17 months for Tigray
•There have been war crimes against civilians, but this was not stimulated by Tigrayan
policy, nor widespread like what happened in Tigray itself. There is no Tigrayan equivalent
of hate preacher Daniel Kibret. TDF soldiers have not been proudly sharing imagery of
massacres. No targeting of farming activities; warfare took place well after the planting
•Once Tigrayan troops moved out, food and medical aid could rapidly be brought in again; in
contrast to Tigray, the affected parts of Afar and Amhara have an important hinterland
from where humanitarian supply could be rapidly brought in, especially towards the
Amhara territories, resupplied at 80%.
Food insecurity - Famine and Farming activities & aid blockaded
▪20 –30 % of the land fallowed, unlike previous
years (⁓5%) (own findings)
▪Only 20 –50 % of the land to give reasonable yield
▪Farmers are really nearing the margin. Individual
accounts witness that in many parts of Tigray
people have run out of food, sold their valuables,
and now abandon their homes in search of food.
•The harvest would be exhausted by April and if the
humanitarian blockade remains, up to 50% of the
population could be left without access to food
No way out
•There is no clear view of where people
•In normal times people would go to
urban areas, which is not possible
these days as the situation is even
worse in urban areas.
•Human trafficking including to Addis
Ababa, is also emerging as a business.
•People have started crossing the
borders to Amhara region in search of
food for survival, exposing themselves.
Tigrayan hunger refugees upon arrival in Kobo
(mid-March 2022). Clothing and hair dress
indicate that their origin is the wider area around
Bora or Samre
Thank you for listening!