7 Facts You Need to Know about the Famine in Tigray

Since November 2020, a brutal war in the northern Ethiopian region of Tigray has trapped civilians in a waking nightmare. Countless reports have detailed human rights abuses, displacement, sexual violence, ethnic cleansing, and war crimes. A growing number of people living through the violence are dependent on life-saving humanitarian assistance for survival, but communications, banking, and access to the region has been largely cut off by warring parties as fighting rages on. Meanwhile, the region is teetering toward widespread famine.

Despite the horror of the situation for millions of people, Tigray’s famine has rarely made front page news or the top of international agendas. But the world cannot look away as Tigray starves. Here are seven facts you need to know about Tigray’s famine:

  1. Tigray is experiencing famine. On August 8 – just two months after the UN declared that “famine-conditions” were affecting 350,000 people in Tigray and just and one month after USAID declared 900,0000 Tigrayans were facing famine – the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET) published its food security outlook for Tigray. The report shows there are people throughout the region identified as in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5, i.e. famine). An estimated 5.2 million people are now critically food insecure and require sustained life-saving assistance to prevent them from falling into famine.
  2. Relief aid is not getting in. At the end of June, the Ethiopian government imposed a blockade on Tigray. Since then, according to USAID, only 10 percent of the necessary relief assistance required is being allowed entry to the region. The World Food Programme (WFP) has said it needs 100 trucks every day to enter Tigray to keep up with needs. Given the extreme shortage of relief assistance entering the region, one must assume those needlessly suffering is far higher today.
  3. The blockade is causing extreme human suffering. Since the blockade took effect in June, banks have remained closed, preventing civilians from accessing their money to purchase food. Communications remain cut, blocking people trapped inside Tigray from telling their families they were alive. And fuel has not been allowed entry into the region, shutting down flour mills, water pumps, and electricity generation necessary to maintain medical services.
  4. Needs are mounting. The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA’s) most recent Humanitarian Update details the extreme shortage of support for millions of people trapped in the region. In every ‘life-saving’ sector (food, health, water and sanitation, nutrition, and shelter), needs massively outweigh the valiant and dangerous effort of aid workers. 
  5. Children are needlessly suffering. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that the number of children under the age of five suffering from severe acute malnutrition in Tigray had jumped from 33,000 to 160,000 in just three months, and now estimates a 10-fold increase in the number of children who will suffer from life-threatening malnutrition in Tigray over the next 12 months. Nearly 50 percent of pregnant and lactating mothers screened at health facilities suffer from acute malnutrition.
  6. This is a man-made famine. Humanitarian agencies are concerned that the extreme shortage of food supplies and basic services caused by the blockade will continue to drive famine. The Ethiopian government and parties to the conflict must uphold their responsibility to protect civilians and allow unfettered access for humanitarians to reach populations in need with life-saving assistance before it is too late. It is within their power to do so.
  7. This is the region’s second famine in less than forty years. People in northern Ethiopia also experienced a famine in 1984-85, when an estimated 2 million people died from starvation and related illnesses. This tragic history cannot be repeated.  

Right now, people in Tigray have nothing to eat and nothing to feed their children. This is happening in real time. But there is time to prevent the absolute worst of it. The UN Security Council and African Union must set aside political division and see the catastrophe as it really is: a real and growing threat to international security.

BANNER PHOTO CAPTION: A man walks among the remains of his destroyed house in the village of Bisober in Ethiopia’s Tigray region on December 9, 2020. Photo Credit: EDUARDO SOTERAS/AFP via Getty Images.