The world’s biggest active war: Appeal for Tigray, Ethiopia 

4 November 2021 – Scholars  and Researchers

More than 110 scholars and researchers from 21 countries ask you to join us in calling for an end to the blockade of food and medicine in Ethiopia.

After a year of war, Tigray has been devastated and cut off for months, and humanitarian deliveries to neighbouring regions are also threatened. Our fears of a catastrophic famine have not only been realised: they have been exceeded. Ethiopia has the highest numbers of starving people on the planet, and the largest active ongoing war.

We continue to call on all parties to pursue a political settlement to political problems: to ceasefire and negotiate. But lifting the blockade on people who have been starving for months cannot and should not wait for negotiations: it must happen now; it must happen first.

The onus is on the Ethiopian government to allow adequate food, fuel and medicine to reach people in those growing areas which it does not control. We call on our own governments, and UN bodies, to do much more to achieve this – to prioritise full access for life-saving deliveries.

International law includes the international responsibility to protect and withholding food from civilians during war is a crime. Women, children and the elderly are dying needlessly in Ethiopia, a country that we all love. It must stop now!

Sign the appeal, share the link


It is now a year since civil war erupted in Ethiopia on 4 November 2020: between the Regional Government of Tigray and the Federal Government of Ethiopia, with its Eritrean and Amhara Regional allies.

A year ago, concerned researchers warned that “warfare will not bring a viable solution, for any of the involved parties […] particularly, Tigray is heading for famine, at levels that will rival the disaster of 1984-1985.” Our worst fears have been exceeded, and the situation is still deteriorating – faster than ever.

Ethiopia now has the highest numbers of starving people on the planet.  In early October, UN humanitarian aid reached only 1% of the 5.2 million people in urgent need of emergency food in Tigray and neighbouring areas, its operations hampered by an Ethiopian government blockade.

Ethiopia is also scene of the largest active war on the planet. Multiple hundreds of thousands of fighters have been mobilized on each side of the conflict, which has moved into neighbouring regions, also threatening humanitarian deliveries to displaced communities and other civilians in Afar and Amhara.

This crisis should be the biggest news story on the planet. That it is not, is due to the information blackout and aggressive disinformation which form core elements of the Ethiopian government’s strategy.

As was done a year ago, we appeal to all parties to the war to agree on a cessation of hostilities in order to move to a negotiated settlement, and to pursue a political solution to political differences. But lifting the blockade on starving people cannot and should not wait for that to happen: it must happen now, it must happen first. The onus is on the Ethiopian government to allow adequate food, fuel and medicine to move into those growing areas which it does not control.

We call on our own governments, and UN bodies, to do much more to achieve this. International law includes the responsibility to protect. Women, children and the elderly are dying needlessly in Ethiopia, a country that we all love. It must stop now. 


Tigray’s population remains cut off from basic humanitarian needs (no food, medicines, fuel, electricity). It is also cut off from information (no telecoms or internet), and economic means (no banking services or trade). The world has not been allowed to see what this means for the lives and livelihoods especially of women, children and older citizens, but the information is there.

In January the Federal Government’s own appointees in Tigray admitted that people were dying amidst an unprecedented lack of food. In April an academic study documented the Ethiopian government’s “systematic” strategy of “Starving Tigray” by destroying its economy and food system. In July UNICEF reported a tenfold increase in acute infant malnutrition and feared 100,000 infant deaths.

Infants and the elderly starve first, and excruciating pictures of their slow deaths have gradually leaked out. In August USAID confirmed that less than 7% of needs were being allowed into Tigray, and that stocks would run out later in the month. In September the UN reported “unprecedented levels of malnutrition” in Tigray with 79% of lactating women surveyed found to be acutely malnourished.

A widening blockade

The government responded on 30 September by expelling 7 senior UN officials for “meddling,” in what the UN Secretary General stated was violation of international law. The following week The Economist concluded that “Ethiopia is deliberately starving its own people.”

The UN’s latest report states that 1.4 million children aged under 5 need emergency feeding and intervention in Tigray, and adjacent areas. Meanwhile, on 18 October the Ethiopian PM suggested he might close Ethiopia to all imports of food aid: this only weeks after the FAO reported that 16.8 million Ethiopians (including 5.5 million in Tigray and neighbouring areas) faced acute food insecurity or worse. 

A government airstrike on Mekelle on 22 October forced the UN to abort and then cancel its flights, further shutting off humanitarian operations in Northern Ethiopia.  After repeatedly calling for the withdrawal of forces and a return to the status quo ante, Tigrayan forces have moved beyond the borders of Tigray, saying they are determined to break this siege by any means necessary.

The conclusion is unavoidable: “If the international community doesn’t bring aid to end famine in Tigray, Ethiopia and the whole Horn of Africa will face a widening war.” Ending a blockade which is starving civilians is also the key to peace.


The war has gone through several phases. A year ago the Ethiopian government promised a short “law and order” operation and within weeks celebrated its “completion.”

Between November 2020 and June 2021, however, fighting continued within Tigray. Horrific human rights abuses were perpetrated against the population of Tigray by Ethiopian and Eritrean troops, Amhara Regional State special forces, and irregular militia groups from Amhara: repeated mass executions of civilians; a campaign of rape of unknown thousands of Tigrayan women; and ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands from the west of Tigray.

By April, 1900 victims of 20 massacres had been reported: by October, 3055 named victims of more than 250 massacres had been documented, in what is still believed to be only the tip of the iceberg.

In early July the military situation shifted, and forces of the Tigray Government regained control of most of central and eastern Tigray (but not of large areas of Western Tigray, or those areas on the northern border where Eritrean troops remain entrenched).

In a second phase of the war, Tigrayan forces moved into areas of Wag Himra, Wollo and Afar, and the area across which the Ethiopian government cut supplies and services to civilians grew. By October, it was reported that food and medicine had also run out in Lalibella, as NGOs were unable to restock here either. The UN confirmed that the humanitarian situation in Amhara and Afar was “also deteriorating” with “hundreds of thousands of people in both regions” beyond the reach of humanitarian support, and many others displaced.

Total mobilisation

In July the Ethiopian PM vowed to eradicate the forces of Tigray’s ruling party, describing them as “weeds” and “cancer.” In September, his social affairs advisor called for their “eradication for all time,” in a speech which was widely condemned outside Ethiopia.

In October, fighting entered a third phase with the launch of a government offensive on all fronts, drawing on mass mobilization. The reported capture of Dessie and Kombolcha by Tigrayan forces in late October drew another full call for popular mobilisation from the Federal Government. Meanwhile, social media has seen an explosion of hate speech and calls for illegal action against neighbours and civilians as well as combatants, including on the part of activists and politicians.


For a year, every episode of this conflict that has been outside the official Ethiopian Government narrative has been subject to systematic denials, accusations of deception and manipulation – and worse.

Week after week, all information reported by the international media, international organisations and human rights NGOs has been denounced as a conspiracy, and individuals have been threatened. When these same organisations sometimes corroborated Government sources, it has been brandished as absolute proof.

This tactic of cover-up, denial and conspiracy-theory reinforces pro-government supporters’ feeling that they are the “real victims,” that they are unfairly misunderstood and unheard. These denials may have worked in the short term. In the general confusion of information that is impossible to verify immediately, this tactic can be effective.

Looking at the longer term, the perspective is different. The facts set out above, summarising a year of conflict, were all questioned and decried before they were later established and acknowledged, including in some cases by Ethiopian Government officials. Our commitment as researchers is not to take sides with one group or another, but to “take sides” with the reality of the facts on the ground, and to expose this where there are distortions of reality.


A month ago the head of UN Relief operations noted that the situation in Ethiopia “threatens the stability of the whole country, but the immediate priority must be averting imminent catastrophe in Tigray.” We agree.

As was done a year ago, we appeal to all parties to the war to agree on a cessation of hostilities in order to move to a negotiated settlement, and to pursue a political solution to political differences.

But lifting the blockade on starving people cannot and should not wait for that to happen: it must happen now, it must happen first. The onus is on the Ethiopian government to allow adequate food, fuel and medicine to move into those growing areas which it does not control.

We note with horror that a semi-official narrative has been allowed to develop in Ethiopia which opposes humanitarian intervention because it could help support an “enemy.”

Whatever the political objectives which some may believe could be served by a medieval strategy of siege warfare, we reiterate: the deliberate starvation of civilians during war cannot be understood as anything other than a war crime under international humanitarian law.

We hope that Ethiopians and all the political forces that represent them will be able to return to the conditions of a dialogue necessary to resolve whatever issues were at the origin of the war.

But in the immediate term it is the humanitarian peril that must be addressed: it is time to stop the siege.  We call on our own governments, and UN bodies, to do much more to achieve this. International law includes the responsibility to protect. This responsibility also means that international actors have the duty to assist victims of gross human rights violations in other countries, including where hunger is used as a weapon. Women, children and the elderly are dying needlessly in Ethiopia, a country that we all love. It must stop now. 

Initial signatories as at 4 November 2021

(in alphabetical order of primary name)

  • Dr Stéphane Ancel, Researcher, CNRS, Paris, France
  • Dr Sofie Annys, Researcher, Institute for Agriculture Fisheries and Food Research, ILVO, and member, Department of Geography University of Ghent, Belgium
  • Dr Alula Tesfay Asfha, Post-Doctoral Special Researcher, World Heritage Studies Department, University of Tsukuba, Tsukuba, Japan
  • Professor Dr Keita Aoshima, Associate Professor at Otemon Gakuin University, Osaka, Japan
  • Francesca Baldwin, Doctoral Researcher, University of Reading, UK
  • Dr Trygve Berg, retired Associate Professor, Department of International Environment and Development Studies (Noragric), Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU), Norway
  • David Berga, Doctoral Researcher, Anthropologist, Barcelona, Catalonia
  • Professor Dr Paolo Billi, retired Full Professor, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Ferrara, Italy
  • Dr Ninon Blond, Assistant Professor of Geography, École normale supérieure de Lyon, France
  • Professor Dr Frans Bongers, Professor Tropical Forest Ecology, Environmental Sciences Group, Wageningen University & Research, The Netherlands
  • Dr David Brenner, Lecturer in Global Insecurities, International Relations, University of Sussex, UK
  • Professor Deborah Fahy Bryceson, Honorary Fellow, Centre of African Studies, University of Edinburgh, UK
  • Matt Bryden, Strategic Advisor, Nairobi, Kenya
  • Dr Maria Bulakh, researcher, Associate Professor HSE University, Moscow, Russia
  • Dr Chekol Kidane Negassie, independent development consultant, Manchester, UK
  • Dr Giulio Castelli, Research Fellow, Food, Agriculture and Environment, Universita degli Studi di Firenze, Italy
  • Dr André Crismer, medical doctor, Liege, Belgium 
  • Jordi Cuixart i Navarro, cultural activist, Barcelona, Catalonia
  • Skip Dahlgren, Retired Archaeologist and Writer, North Little Rock, Arkansas, USA
  • Professor Catherine D’Andrea, Simon Fraser University, Canada
  • Professor Dr ir. Jozef (Seppe) Deckers, emeritus Full Professor, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, KU Leuven, Belgium
  • Catherine Dom, researcher and consultant, Brussels, Belgium
  • Dr Elleni Centime Zeleke, Assistant Professor, Department of African Studies, Columbia University, USA.
  • Professor Haggai Erlich, Emeritus Professor in the Faculty of Humanities, Tel Aviv University, Israel
  • Dr Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael, Research Associate, African Cities Research Centre, University of Manchester, UK
  • Dr Emanuele Fantini, Senior Lecturer/Researcher, IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, The Netherlands
  • Professor Fetien Abay Abera, Professor of Plant Breeding/Seed Science, Former Acting President of Mekelle University, Ethiopia
  • Dr Eloi Ficquet, Assistant Professor, African Studies, Interdisciplinary Religious Studies, École des hautes études en sciences sociales, EHESS, Paris, France 
  • Dr Michela Gaudiello, adjunct, Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology, Warsaw University, Poland
  • Professor Michael Gervers, Professor of History, University of Toronto, Canada
  • Guesh Solomon, PhD student, Hiob Ludolf Centre for Ethiopian and Eritrean Studies, Hamburg, Germany 
  • Habtom Kahsay Gidey, Research Associate, Technical University of Munich, Germany
  • Haftamu Gebreslassie, Postgraduate Student, University of Brescia, Italy
  • Dr Hagos Abrha Abay, Researcher, Hamburg University, Germany 
  • Professor Haile Debas MD, Emeritus Professor of Surgery, former Dean of the School of Medicine and Vice Chancellor for Medical Affairs, University of California San Francisco, USA
  • Dr Monica Hanna, Associate Professor, Dean of the College of Archaeology and Cultural Heritage, Arab Academy for Science and Technology, Aswan, Egypt
  • Professor Laura Hammond, Professor of Development Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies, SOAS, London UK
  • Dr Jörg Haustein, Lecturer in World Christianities, University of Cambridge, UK
  • Dr Wolfgang Heinrich, Researcher and Consultant, Bad Herrenalb, Germany
  • Rev. Eberhard Hitzler, former head of the Lutheran World Federation Department for World Service, Bamberg, Germany 
  • Dr Markus Hoehne, Social Anthropologist, University of Leipzig, Germany
  • Jonas Berhe, Trades Union Organiser and Activist, Germany
  • Bev Jones, independent development consultant, Oxford, UK
  • Professor Mukesh Kapila, Emeritus Professor, Global Health and Humanitarian Affairs, University of Manchester, UK
  • Dr Gunnar Köhlin, Associate Professor and Director, Environment for Development Initiative, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
  • Dr Marie-Luise Kreuter, Historian, Researcher, Landau in der Pfalz, Germany
  • Professor Dr Sil Lanckriet, EthioTrees Association and Guest Professor, Ghent University, Belgium 
  • Dr Sonia Le Gouriellec, Associate Professor of Political Science, Catholic University of Lille, France
  • René Lefort, independent researcher, Paris, France
  • Dr Jörg Lehmann, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Tübingen, Germany
  • Dr Lutgart Lenaerts, Researcher, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Norway
  • Dr Stephen Lister, development consultant, Oxford, UK
  • Dr Roy Love, associate staff, University of York, UK
  • Professor Terrence Lyons, Professor of Conflict Resolution, George Mason University, USA
  • Professor Tony Magaña MD, Chief of Neurosurgery and Neuroscience, Mekelle University, Tigray, Ethiopia
  • Dr Momoka Maki, Associate Professor, Global Studies, Sophia University, Japan
  • Andreu Martínez d’Alòs-Moner, Researcher at INCIPIT CSIC, Santiago, Spain
  • Professor Volker Matthies, retired Professor, University of Hamburg, Germany
  • Mehret Haile, Food and Nutrition scientist, Cologne, Germany 
  • Dr Thera Mjaaland, social anthropologist, Norway, and Adjunct Professor at the Institute of Environment, Gender and Development Studies, Mekelle University, Ethiopia
  • Dr Fiona Meehan, independent researcher, Ireland
  • Tobias Mörike, curator, Erfurt University, Germany 
  • Jason Mosley, Research Associate, African Studies Centre, Oxford University, UK
  • Moritz Müller, Doctoral Researcher, Anthropologist, Goethe-University, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
  • Professor Mulugeta Gebregziabher, Professor of Biostatistics, Vice Chair of the Department of Public Health Sciences, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, USA
  • Dr Mussie Tesfagiorgis, Department of History, University of Winnipeg / RCIC, Canada
  • Professor Peter Nadig, Full Professor of Ancient History, University of Mekelle, Tigray, Ethiopia, and Free University, Berlin, Germany
  • Dr Denis Nosnitsin, Research Fellow, Asia-Africa Institute, Hamburg University, Germany
  • Professor Dr Jan Nyssen, Full Professor, Department of Geography, Ghent University, Belgium
  • Dr Rumi Okazaki, Associate Professor, Tokyo, Japan
  • Dr Sue Onslow, Visiting Senior Research Fellow, Kings College, London, UK
  • Dr Marit Østebø, Assistant Professor, University of Florida, USA
  • Professor Terje Østebø, Chair, Department of Religion, Professor, Department of Religion & Center for African Studies, University of Florida, USA
  • Philippe Pellet, Research Assistant, Research Institute on Religion and Society, Budapest, Hungary
  • Dr Wolfgang Pittroff, development specialist, Germany, Professor and former Dean, Mekelle University, Tigray, Ethiopia
  • Martin Plaut, Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London, UK
  • Reiner Prass, Historian, Erfurt, Germany
  • Dr Gerard Prunier, Senior Researcher, CNRS, Paris, France
  • Dr Rashid Abdi, independent researcher, Kenya
  • Dr Angela Raven-Roberts, Gender Studies, Lady Margaret Hall, Research Affiliate, Centre for Comparative and International Education, Oxford University, UK
  • Professor Richard Reid, Professor of African History, Oxford University, UK
  • Professor Mirjam van Reisen, Tilburg University, The Netherlands
  • Dolors Sabater Puig, Diputada del Parlament de Catalunya, Badalona, Catalonia
  • Dr Safia Aidid, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Toronto, Canada
  • Dr Daniele Salvoldi, Adjunct Assistant Professor, American University, Cairo, Egypt
  • Samuel Kidane Haile, Lecturer, Aksum University, Tigray, Ethiopia
  • Dr Miho Sato, Assistant Professor, School of Tropical Medicine and Global Health, Nagasaki University, Japan
  • Professor Dr Pino Schirripa, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Sapienza University of Rome, Italy 
  • Robin Schoemaker, Independent political scientist, The Hague, The Netherlands
  • Professor Dr Iris Schröder, Professor of Global History, Erfurt University, Germany
  • Dr Valeria Semenova, art historian, Department of Asian and African Studies, University of St Petersburg, Russia
  • Dr Divya Shrivastava, Associate Dean & Associate Professor, School of Performing Arts, NMIMS University, New Delhi, India
  • Rolf P Schwiedrzik-Kreuter, Researcher, Sociologist and Consultant, Landau in der Pfalz, Germany
  • Dr Wolbert Smidt, Senior Researcher, University of Jena, Germany, and Adjunct Professor, Mekelle University, Ethiopia
  • Dr Lahra Smith, Associate Professor, Georgetown University, Washington DC, USA
  • Klara Smits, Doctoral researcher, Tilburg, The Netherlands
  • Dr Edward GJ Stephenson, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Durham University, UK
  • Dr Federica Sulas, Senior Research Associate, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge, UK
  • Dr habil. István Tarrósy, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science and International Studies, Africa Research Centre, University of Pécs, Hungary
  • Marie Taubert, Gotha-Adua city partnership, Gotha, Germany
  • Professor Dr Alexander Thumfart, Social Scientist, University of Erfurt, Germany
  • Dr Charlotte Touati, independant researcher, Geneva, Switzerland
  • Dr Till Trojer, Post-Doc Researcher, London, UK
  • Professor Dr Kjetil Tronvoll, Full Professor, Peace and Conflict Studies, Oslo New University College, Oslo, Norway and Adjunct Professor, College of Law and Governance, Mekelle University, Ethiopia
  • Dr Sarah Vaughan, independent researcher, Edinburgh, UK
  • Dr Sufian Weise, trainer, Berlin, Germany
  • Dr Welderufael B Tesfay, Senior researcher in information privacy/security at the Chair of Mobile Business & Multilateral Security, Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
  • Dr Jacob Wiebel, Assistant Professor of History, Durham University, UK
  • Woldegiorgis Ghebrehiwot, Researcher and Journalist, Media Manager, Nairobi, Kenya, and former Lecturer in Journalism, Mekelle University, Tigray, Ethiopia
  • Professor Yacob Mulugetta, Professor of Energy and Development Policy, University College London, UK
  • Professor Zeray Alemseged, Donald N. Pritzker Professor, University of Chicago, USA

Published by Mukesh Kapila


3 thoughts on “The world’s biggest active war: Appeal for Tigray, Ethiopia 

  1. Your efforts and initiatives are very commendable. This is, indeed, one of the first and most pressing priorities towards securing peace in the country and perhaps in the HoA. Hope people of good will and countries with an influence would heed your call to action.


  2. Your humanitarian concern and advocacy against mass atrocities in Tigray when most of the world look the other way is commendable and will not be forgotten by Tigrayans.


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