How Blockade Is Escalating Death Rates In Ethiopia’s Tigray Region

A recent report by the World Food Programme (WFP) has shared that nearly 40% of people in Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region are suffering “an extreme lack of food” following 15 months of fighting between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Ethiopian government.

According to the UN agency, the region which is home to about 6 million people has continued to suffer a de facto blockade imposed by the Ethiopian government in the past few months. Ethiopia cut off almost all access to food aid, medical supplies, cash and fuel in June last year when the Tigray forces regained control of the region.

 “Families are exhausting all means to feed themselves, with three-quarters of the population using extreme coping strategies to survive”, the WFP’s report (PDF) shared.

Another report by the region’s health bureau, published on Wednesday by the independent Ethiopia Insight, says about1,500 people died of malnutrition in just part of Ethiopia’s blockaded Tigray region over a four-month period last year, including more than 350 young children. The report cites more than 5,000 blockade-related deaths in all from hunger and disease in the largest official death toll yet associated with the country’s war.

The head of Tigray’s health bureau, Hagos Godefay, in his report, also shared that 5,421 deaths were confirmed in Tigray between July and October. It was the first of such assessment since the war between Tigray and Ethiopian forces began in November 2020, he said.

The deaths are majorly from malnutrition, infectious disease and non-communicable diseases that could easily be treated if the region is allowed medical aid.

The assessment also found at least 369 children under 5 had died of malnutrition, part of a total of 1,479 deaths in the region.

Ethiopia’s war broke out in November 2020 following months of mounting tensions between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the former governing party of Tigray that once dominated national politics.

Abiy had declared victory over the Tigrayan forces on November 28 after federal forces captured Tigray’s capital, Mekelle, but fighting dragged on. Within months, the Tigrayan forces regained most of the territory they lost before launching counteroffensives in the neighbouring Amhara and Afar regions.

The war, which has killed an estimated tens of thousands of people and forced millions from their homes, has shifted in recent weeks, with the Tigrayan forces retreating into their region after attempting to advance on the capital, Addis Ababa, and Ethiopia’s military saying it would not pursue them further. That opened the way for fresh mediation efforts by the United States and the African Union, with humanitarian access a key goal.

Patsy Nwogu

Reporting on data-driven featured stories and investigations.

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