A war has plagued Ethiopia’s northern region of Tigray for almost two years, resulting in hundreds of thousands of lives lost, unimaginable atrocities, a devastated health care system, famine, and human rights violations that have had aid agencies sounding the alarm. 

It was somewhat good news then, when on March 24, 2022, the Ethiopian government declared an “indefinite” humanitarian truce, in order to allow access to aid to those who need it most in Tigray. 

In a statement released that day, the national government said that it was “committed to exert maximum effort to facilitate the free flow of emergency humanitarian aid into the Tigray region.” 

“The government of Ethiopia hopes that this truce will substantially improve the humanitarian situation on the ground and pave the way for the resolution of the conflict in northern Ethiopia without further bloodshed,” the statement continued.

As of May, however, while humanitarian aid has been trickling into the region, reports say that not nearly enough aid is yet making it to where it needs to be in order to service the 5.2 million people who face urgent need in the region. 

While the humanitarian truce was seemingly a step in the right direction, aid agencies have still found it difficult to assist citizens in need, meaning that despite the ceasefire, people continue to face the same barriers they have been facing throughout the war. 

The Tigray War at a Glance

  • The war began in November 2020, as the result of a civil dispute between the national Ethiopian government, and the regional government in Tigray led by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). 
  • The violence escalated and began to affect neighboring regions Afar and Amhara, with Afar providing the only channel of access for aid into Tigray. 
  • It also put the lives of Eritrean refugees, who had sought refuge in Tigray, at significant risk. 
  • Humanitarian aid was illegally blocked from entering war regions on several occasions, and the United Nations called out human rights violations being perpetrated by all parties to the conflict. 
  • The war was ongoing until March 24, 2022, when the Ethiopian government declared a humanitarian truce, an agreement that sought to allow much-needed access to aid for citizens in the region. 
  • Read more in our article about the war and the impacts it’s having on people in the region.

4 Key Facts to Know About the Humanitarian Truce in Tigray

  1. The purpose of the truce is to be able to provide humanitarian aid to the 5.2 million people in need in Tigray. 
  2. It was called by the Ethiopian government following 16 months of war.
  3. Tigray’s regional government agreed to the truce under the condition that enough aid reached Tigray’s people in time.  
  4. The Ethiopian government has previously been accused of blocking aid from accessing Tigray.

What Is a Humanitarian Truce? And Is It Working in Tigray?

A humanitarian truce is recognized as a ceasefire between fighting parties so that civilians who are exposed to violence and the impacts of war can get access to much-needed aid.

Is the truce in Tigray working? Yes and no. Yes in the sense that violence has been limited and both parties agree that the needs of Tigray’s people have to be put first

No in the sense that both parties do not agree on the same terms, and the war has the potential to continue as a result of this. 

The truce in Tigray is complicated. We already know that the war was ongoing between the regional Tigrayan government (the TPLF), and the national Ethiopian government. It was the Ethiopian government that initially waved the white flag, using the word “indefinitely” to define the terms of the truce they intended. However, it takes two to shake hands on the terms of a truce. The TPLF agreed, but not on the same conditions. 

The conditions that the TPLF set depend on the aid itself, as they said that they would only adhere to the truce as long as adequate aid is delivered to Tigrayans in need without disruption and within a reasonable timeframe.

“The Government of Tigray will do everything it can to make sure that this cessation of hostilities is a success,” the TPLF said in the statement it sent out agreeing to the truce. “We call on the Ethiopian authorities to go beyond empty promises and take concrete steps to facilitate unfettered humanitarian access to Tigray.”

The TPLF’s response came as a result of the Ethiopian government having blocked aid from accessing the region previously. In fact, on several occasions the Ethiopian government and its military forces had blocked access to aid for those who need it most in Tigray. With only one route for aid responders to use in and out of the region, the blockades have meant that millions of people in Tigray had been waiting for help that couldn't reach them. 

The Ethiopian government has continuously denied that it has blocked access to aid, despite organizations reporting otherwise. As of June 2022, there has been a ramp up in unfettered access to aid, however it is not yet enough. Meanwhile, former UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, Mark Lowcock, has called out the Ethiopian government for reportedly blocking the declaration of famine in Tigray.

This means that despite an obvious famine — which Lowcock identified in his previous role as early as June 2021 — without a declaration by the government, the situation on the ground could not be treated as a famine, and the urgency of the situation could be downplayed. 

With the TPLF’s conditions of the current truce being directly tied to the amount of aid received in the region within a reasonable timeframe, the international aid community is currently holding its breath as the regional government reports not having seen enough aid coming into the area. 

In an open letter to UN Secretary-General, António Guterres in April (almost a month after the truce was declared) the TPLF called the amount of aid entering the region “far from sufficient to meet burgeoning needs” and went on to claim that the Ethiopian government had been keeping aid from accessing the region as a tactic of war. 

The TPLF have said that the consequences of not meeting their terms would be, “if peaceful options are no longer viable, we will be forced to resort to other means to break the devastating blockade that has made Tigray hell on earth.” 

How Does This Relate to the Mission to End Extreme Poverty?

The Tigray war has already impacted Ethiopia’s progress towards achieving the UN’s Global Goals, and now limited access to aid and the threat of continued fighting without this aid can only make matters worse. Humanitarian assistance means access to health care, food and water, quality education, and overall safety and security for all of Tigray’s people. 

Immediate aid relief means working towards UN’s Global Goals 2 and 3, for zero hunger and access to adequate health care for all. Tigray is currently experiencing famine, and the situation is worsening each day that aid can’t reach the region’s people. The region’s health care systems have been significantly damaged in the war and there have been reports of preventable health threats harming communities in Tigray. 

While these are the immediate issues that humanitarian aid can help relieve, the impacts of the war have meant that the Tigray is struggling to work towards a great number of the Global Goals, including Goal 4 for access to education, Goal 5 for gender equality, Goal 6 for water and sanitation, and goal 16 for peace, justice, and strong institutions. 

War already fuels and exacerbates poverty, and a lack of aid can only make matters worse. 

What Action Can We All Take? 

The first thing you can do is get up to date on the ongoing situation and how its affecting Tigray’s people, by following Omna Tigray — a non-partisan organization working to keep the public informed about what’s going on on the ground — on social media, and subscribing to their lists, and following along on their website. Omna Tigray also runs its own campaigns to help citizens on the ground which you can get involved in by taking action here. Global Citizen has been working with Omna Tigray on our coverage of the crisis in Tigray to ensure accurate reporting of the situation on the ground. 

You can also take action with Global Citizen to help relieve the overall impacts of war around the world, by calling on world leaders to help girls caught in conflict and crisis globally continue to have an education, for example, as well as all the actions you can take on our Take Action page. You can also sign up to be a Global Citizen, to find out more ways you can take action on some of the world’s most pressing issues either on our website here or by downloading the Global Citizen app here.

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Tigray War: What Does the Humanitarian Truce Mean for People Living Through the Conflict?

By Khanyi Mlaba