It has been two months since the Ethiopian government promised unhindered humanitarian access and protection to the people of Tigray as part of the Cessation of Hostilities agreement signed in Pretoria, South Africa. For most Tigrayans, the promised humanitarian access and protection has not yet materialized. The last food distribution update covered the week ending December 21. Sadly, the area of Tigray blocked off from humanitarian aid remained unchanged. Until the Ethiopian government is made to honor its promises, the road to peace in Ethiopia will continue to be lined with the unmarked graves of innocent civilians who are still dying in the ongoing Tigray Genocide.
The area of Tigray that remains blocked from aid was recently home to millions of people living in peaceful communities and small cities. Now no one knows how many remain. Families in Northern Tigray needed food and medicine last year and instead they got invading legions of poorly trained enemy soldiers. Many were displaced multiple times. Those who did not have the resources to flee genocidal armies or famine are forced to survive without any outside assistance. The current area of access denial includes the entire homeland of the Irob people and nearly all of Tigray’s Kunama community. If the blockade is not lifted the Irob may cease to exist as a culture and community and the entire population of Kunama will be trapped in Eritrea. These groups have been targeted specifically for violence and have been intentionally starved along with the population of Tigray.
Families who remain in the rural areas still blocked from humanitarian access once formed the backbone of the local food system. Many lost everything in the past two months, including the livestock and even the next harvest that Tigray desperately needs to survive. Although few have been able to recover what had already been sold to survive the famine and subsequent blockade; or looted or destroyed during the previous Ethio-Eritrean invasion.
Displaced with Nothing
According to the World Food Programme (WFP) there were 1.55 million civilians in the Northwestern zone who needed food assistance just prior to the invasion. Many of these people were already displaced and surviving only on the generosity of host communities. Among this population are extremely high numbers of unaccompanied minors, victims of trauma, women and girls who have survived horrific sexual violence, and people with chronic health problems who have not been able to receive drugs or treatment for years. Most of these households have received a six-week WFP food basket from only once or twice in the previous year. In most cases the ration was significantly reduced. Often this was just a sack of grain, which many families lack the ability to mill and must eat boiled.
As shown in the table below, late last month, WFP cut the food distribution target in the Northwestern zone by 630,244 (-40%). Inquiries to WFP into this change have gone unanswered over the holidays, but perhaps a response will come soon. WFP’s next food insecurity assessment is also overdue and should add clarity as to the cause of such a drastic change. The reduction is most likely due to mass displacement, as the populations in need rose elsewhere in Tigray. However, there was a three-month blockade on the entire region of Tigray and many areas are still blocked, which means that the target population for food assistance should have shifted in every zone.
|Zone||Round 1 Target||Round 2 Target||Difference|
It is not currently possible to know how many people have fled the Northwest. The last reliable displacement data from Tigray was from June 2021, since then all updates of the IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) have excluded Tigray entirely due to “logistical challenges.”
Even where there are pockets of progress, the benefit is uneven. In areas where some food and medicine has been delivered, it is simply not enough to go around. Families are being turned away from distribution sites or leaving with far less than the normal WFP food basket. Those fortunate enough to receive food generally get only a small amount of grain and hospitals only receive drugs and medical supplies for days at a time. In cities of Northern Tigray where access to basic services such as electricity and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) has improved, there is no indication that the benefit is reaching displaced populations, who may be much larger than each city’s host community.
It is imperative that the WFP and the IPC be allowed to conduct food insecurity assessments in Tigray immediately without any obstruction or influence from the Ethiopian government. This is not rocket science. These kinds of assessments have been conducted in Tigray for decades.
Obvious flaws and predictable failure
The peace process has moved at a glacial pace for seemingly predictable reasons. The Pretoria Agreement was an extension of this trend. By signing it, the Ethiopian government has legally bound itself to protect the people of Tigray and allow unhindered humanitarian access. Yet two months later, weaponized starvation is still being used to starve Tigrayan civilians and Eritrean soldiers and the extremist Fano group still occupy vast territories within Tigray.
The Eritrean army is known to have been in Tigray since 2020. The Pretoria Agreement did not name the Eritrean military but included a vague commitment from the Ethiopian government to remove this foreign enemy who have been credibly accused of mass atrocities including civilian massacres, gender- and sexual-based violence (G/SBV), and mass looting and destruction. There are several eye-witness accounts of what appears to be an effort to “depopulate” the Irob heartland of young males. According to reports from most major human rights organizations focused on the Horn of Africa, this slaughter was repeated throughout Tigray. Predictably, Tigrayan civilians throughout Northern Tigray, including Irob district, remain under Eritrean occupation and vulnerable to a daily threat of violence and abuse.
Last September, an UN-mandated commission confirmed that Ethiopia is deliberately starving the civilians of Tigray. In 2022, aid was completely blocked for six months of the year while the WFP was consistently reporting rampant and severe food insecurity. When the Pretoria Agreement was signed, no aid convoys had entered Tigray for more than two months. By September, weaponized starvation had already been accepted as a precondition for the Ethiopian government to participate in peace negotiations. Predictably, two months after the Pretoria Agreement, after more than enough time has elapsed for a full food distribution round for the 5.4 million Tigrayans currently identified by the WFP as being in urgent need.
Following the Pretoria Agreement, it should come as no great surprise that the blockade that could not be recognized, was not lifted; the army who could not be recognized, has not left Tigray; and the genocide that the entire international community has refused to recognize, did not end. What is happening right now in Tigray is the predictable outcome of appeasement. People who have survived more than two years of hell are being allowed to starve to death in Ethiopia to keep the peace process from becoming too uncomfortable for elite stakeholders. This does not build peace. It creates human suffering and fuels war. The human cost of peace in Tigray is too high to be sustained.