Starving Tigray: How armed conflict and mass atrocities have destroyed the economy and food system of an Ethiopian region and threaten famine – Ethiopia

This report has benefited from the research, analysis and review of a number of individuals, most of whom have preferred to remain anonymous. For this reason, we attribute authorship to the World Peace Foundation only.


“They literally destroyed Tigray.” Mulugeta Gebrehiwot speaking by phone from Tigray January 27, 2021 The people of Tigray, Ethiopia are suffering from an all-man-made humanitarian crisis.

This special report from the World Peace Foundation documents how the belligerent Ethiopians and Eritreans in the Tigray War completely dismantled the region’s economy and food system. We provide evidence of their ongoing actions to deprive people of objects and activities essential to their survival, actions that constitute international crimes. We follow the process of deprivation carried out in a generalized and systematic way. We indicate where this is leading: in the coming months, to massive famine and risk of famine; in the longer term, to sustainable food insecurity and dependence on external aid.

All 5.7 million inhabitants of Tigray are affected by this crisis, of which the United Nations estimates that 4.5 million are “in need”. It is first and foremost an urgent humanitarian disaster requiring life-saving assistance. The World Peace Foundation urges all belligerents to place the survival and well-being of those affected above political and military goals.

Regardless of who is responsible for initiating hostilities, the only reason for the scale of the humanitarian emergency is that the coalition of Ethiopian federal forces, Amhara regional forces and Eritrean troops are committing mass famine crimes.

This report does not go into legal details, but we believe accountability for mass starvation crimes should follow.

The crisis is also a challenge for the international community, which has invested substantial resources and expertise over 30 years to ensure that the provinces of Ethiopia, once prone to famine, are never again starved or starved. strain the aid budgets of foreign charities. and donors. How should international partners respond to the willful destruction of a common poverty reduction and famine prevention project by their “development partner”?

Today there is a serious lack of information on the scale and extent of the humanitarian crisis in Tigray. Established humanitarian crisis information and analysis systems have been deactivated. There isn’t even an agreed figure for the number of people needing assistance, although we do quote the widely used estimate of 4.5 million.

At each stage of the Tigray War so far, the most pessimistic assumptions have proven to be the most reliable. What we don’t yet know has always turned out to be more dreadful than what we can reliably document. We have reason to fear that this is the case with the forced famine crisis.

This report cannot fill the information gap. Rather, he tries to bring together what we know about Tigray’s economy and food system with what we know about the processes by which they are being dismantled. The report draws on publicly available data and established frameworks for food security analysis.

Section 1 builds on existing information to provide a (fuzzy) snapshot of the current humanitarian emergency in Tigray. This is necessarily incomplete due to lack of access for aid workers and journalists, and because standard predictions of food security fail in situations in which armed actors deliberately cause famine. The picture is extremely alarming. It signals a massive crisis to which national and international humanitarian actors were woefully under-prepared and to which the response to date has been woefully inadequate. We conclude that given the state of food security in central and eastern Tigray, it is likely that the populations of these areas have experienced high mortality rates in the past two months due to the effects of hunger, acute malnutrition and disease. There is no validated method to extrapolate mortality estimates from an acute food security analysis that we can provide, but a figure of between 50 and 100 additional deaths per day is credible.

Section 2 is a general analysis of the process of creating a food crisis, with particular attention to the context of armed conflict. It brings together international law prohibiting famine with the process of creating famine. The key concept here is that the crime of starvation is defined (in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and drawing inspiration from the Geneva Convention) as the destruction, removal or rendering out of use of “objects”. essential for survival ”. We explore what this actually means: not just ‘items’ such as food and medicine, but also activities such as moving freely to get these items or having a job to earn money and buy them. .

Section 3 examines the structure of livelihoods and food security in Tigray before the outbreak of the war. The region was historically a food deficit region dependent on migrant labor, and was the epicenter (along with neighboring Wollo province) of the 1984-85 famine. After 1991, the economy was developed and reconfigured by the government in partnership with international donors, determined that people would never again be starved. Tigray has become more food secure through the promotion of diversified and sustainable small-scale agriculture, commercial sesame production, artisanal mining, industries and various components of the productive safety net program. , among other initiatives. This is a major achievement that took three decades to build.

The paradox of resilience in Tigray is that this impressive development has exposed the population to new vulnerabilities if these new structures are dismantled. The economy and food system have been hit hard by hostilities and the consequent closure of banks and microfinance institutions and the disruption of government resource transfers, land seizures and forced displacement, and massive looting. This plunder includes the systematic looting of industry and services as well as the closure of migrant labor options. This framework gives a more complete picture and indicates the trajectory of the crisis. Achieving basic food security over the next 12-18 months will be extremely difficult for the average Tigrayan, alongside the long-term challenge of impoverishment.

Section 4 compiles the evidence of famine crimes committed in Tigray. This is a detailed list based on public sources plus some confidential information from interviews. The evidence listed is not intended to identify specific famine crimes or identify specific perpetrators.

Rather, it is evidence indicating various criminal acts that warrant further investigation.
It includes a summary account of the looting and dismemberment of assets, destruction of assets, looting and vandalism of health facilities, schools, homes, banks, offices, hotels, water services and sanitation, and other private and public infrastructure. It describes the obstruction of essential activities, including ethnic cleansing, sexual violence, obstruction of labor migration and destruction of employment opportunities. This section also examines the role of the information and communications blackout in preventing those affected from coping and briefly discusses the attacks on refugee camps for Eritreans.

Article 5 turns to inhibit an effective international response, including lack of timely and accurate information and lack of humanitarian access. Strict restrictions on information flow from Tigray mean widespread and systematic atrocities are hidden from the world, including critical information about the perpetration of the famine and the impacts on the civilian population. Access for humanitarian actors remains limited as to where they can go, what they can do and their ability to assess the overall situation. Most of the affected population does not have full and secure access to humanitarian assistance.

Article 6 consider the answers and remedies. It begins with the cessation of hostilities and humanitarian access (for humanitarian actors and those affected). Urgent action is needed to keep farmers on their land and provide them with what they need to farm during the fast approaching rainy season. Freedom of communication is an essential part of the above. We then turn to responding to the element of intentional starvation, which begins with recognizing starvation crimes, investigating and punishing them, and ensuring restitution and reparations.

Our brutal conclusion is that the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments are starving the people of Tigray. Circumstantial evidence suggests this is intentional, systematic, and widespread. In today’s difficult situation, it may be necessary for international humanitarian actors to cooperate with the authorities to provide essential assistance to the victims. It is not appropriate to commend the Ethiopian government for allowing modest acts of mercy to the survivors of its policies.