225 Die of Starvation in Tigray, Ethiopia Denies Humanitarian Crisis

Bianca Bridger
Bianca Bridger
Bianca holds a degree in Political Science from the University of Otago, New Zealand. As the Africa Desk Chief for Atlas, her expertise spans conflict, politics, and history. She is also the Editor for The ModernInsurgent and has interests in yoga and meditation.

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What You Need To Know:

Since July 2023, around 200 residents of Edaga Arbi in the war-torn region of Tigray have died of starvation per official reports, with another 16 perishing in the nearby town of Adwa. 

Since the official cessation of Ethiopian and Eritrean military operations against the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a left-wing ethnic-nationalist paramilitary group in November 2022, officials in Addis Ababa have denied the existence of a humanitarian crisis in the region. As a result, thousands of civilians lack food, fuel, cash, shelter and medical supplies, resulting in the exodus of many to Sudanese refugee camps. Up to 89% of those in the Tigray region require food aid, with 47% experiencing severe hunger and malnourishment. 

Per Human Rights Watch, residents of Western Tigray, nestled in Ethiopia’s Northern Region have continually faced forced displacements, sexual violence and ethnic cleansing, despite the onset of the truce agreement. Thousands of refugees have fled towards the remote Sudanese border points in Kassala and Gedaref States, with the temporary camps unable to meet the needs of the large influx of peoples. 

Experts warn that the run-off effects from the Tigrayan conflict, in conjunction with continual drought and flood cycles threaten to bring about a famine similar to the one faced by the nation in the early 80s. 


A History of Strategic Famine: 

The 1983-85 Ethiopian famine affected around 7.75 Million people, with around 300,000 to 1.2 Million dying of starvation as a result of the policies enacted by Mengistu Hailie Marium, Chairman of the nation’s Socialist Junta until 1987, when he became President of the newly created People’s Democratic republic of Ethiopia.

Marium undertook a policy of strategic food restriction as a counterinsurgency measure in areas considered hostile to his Junta, with Tigray and Amhara Regions being the worst affected. 

However, The TPLF’s long history of vying for power in Ethiopian politics, cannot be solely characterized as an honest liberation struggle. After an investigation by the BBC’s Martin Plaut, it was uncovered that in 1985, the group’s humanitarian arm, the Relief Society of Tigray (REST) used funds provided by Western aid organizations to purchase weapons. An estimated $100 Million was diverted to the TPLF and supporting groups in a concerted effort to overthrow Ethiopia’s ruling government. 

Furthermore, despite the fact that Tigrayans make-up just six percent of Ethiopia’s population of 120.3 Million, the TPLF dominated Ethiopian politics from 1991 until 2018, when the nation’s current Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was elected. 

The Current Crisis:

The 24-month long conflict in the region, fought between November 2020 and November 2022, came as the result of a TPLF attack on the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) Northern Command headquarters. A two-pronged response from the ENDF, who engaged the TPLF from the south, and the Eritrean Defense Forces (EDF) who engaged the TPLF from the north came to an assumed end once Mekelle, the region’s capital, was captured. 

However, the TPLF, the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF), made up of former ENDF generals and the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) hailing from the Ethiopia’s Oromia region, and a designated terrorist group in the country, formed a coalition aiming to oust Prime Minister Ahmed. 

In March of 2022, a humanitarian truce allowed for the distribution of aid in Tigray before fighting once again broke out in August. 

The implementation of an indefinite truce in November of 2022 ended the conflict between the ENDF and the TPLF,TDF,OLA coalition on paper. However, the EDF did not take part in the truce talks and continue to occupy several woredas and kebeles in the region. 

Speaking to the EthiopianReporter, Chief Cabinet Secretariat of the Tigrayan Interim Administration, Amanuel Assefa stated, “Irob, Gulomekeda, northern Tigray, and parts of northwestern Tigray remain in the hands of Eritrea. Six kebeles in the northern zone of Tigray are under the control of Eritrean forces. Tahtay Adiabo woreda, Badime and its area, Adi Tsetser, Gemhalo, Adimeti, and other kebeles in the northern part of Tigray are under the control of Eritrean forces.” 

Adding to the crisis was the suspension of food aid by USAID and the UN’s World Food Program in March of 2023, after it was uncovered that food beneficiary lists had been manipulated by the Ethiopian Government, in addition to the prolific theft of food aid by various parties to the conflict. 

Food aid for refugees resumed in October 2023, but is yet to resume nationwide. 


A Bleak Future:

Although the Tigray conflict has ended officially, the region lacks major infrastructure, electricity, water, shelter and food. Reports of extrajudicial killings, torture, and rape continue to surface alongside the growing number of those dying of starvation. 

Ethiopia’s continued denial of the crisis while simultaneously accepting and diverting food aid from those in dire need has created a climate of mistrust between the Government and foreign aid programs. Furthermore, the occupation of various areas of Tigray by Eritrean Security Forces has provided the Ethiopian Government an opportunity to absolve themselves of any responsibility regarding the human rights abuses taking place there.