The Ethiopian and Eritrean armies deliberately destroyed Tigray’s water sector

"Women and Children queuing up to collect clean water delivered by truck in a drought affected village in Raya Azebo, Tigray Region" by UNICEF Ethiopia is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Decades of steady progress in enhancing the region’s water supply have been reversed by the allied invading forces, leaving many Tigrayans in a state of desperation. 

Water is an essential resource for life. In Tigray, rainfall is the main source of water for agricultural production, but it is erratic and seasonal, as about 75 percent is distributed in July and August. 

Because Tigray is dominated by arid and semi-arid environments, it has experienced recurrent droughts over the years that affect millions of people. 

Up to 550,000 hectares can be irrigated in Tigray from existing surface and groundwater which could cover around 58 percent of the region’s cultivated land. However, despite monumental efforts over the past three decades, Tigray’s irrigated area only covers less than eight percent of the cultivated irrigable land.

Amid the war and siege on Tigray, any progress made in recent years was reversed by the invading Ethiopian and Eritrean armies as part of their concerted efforts to degrade Tigrayan society in its entirety.  

Prewar Status

Over the past thirty years, the governments of Ethiopia and Tigray, along with their development partners, have put a great deal of emphasis on improving the region’s water sector. 

Various governmental organizations and local and international NGOs have worked together in developing Tigray’s water sector. These partners were mainly involved in the construction of water supply, irrigation, and hydropower infrastructure. 

According to the Tigray Bureau of Agriculture and Natural Resources (TBoANR), about 30 percent of Tigray’s landscape was covered with soil and water conservation-based development works.

In the early 1990s, Tigray was characterized by severe land degradation, leading to an excessive amount of surface runoff water flowing out of the region. Decades of soil and water conservation efforts have greatly reduced the surface runoff. 

For sustainability and long-term durability of the water supply and irrigation projects, water users’ associations were formed. These associations were useful for cost recovery, early follow up, and timely maintenance.

In the past three decades, various types of wells and water supply dams were built. The TBoANR estimates that 19,159 rural and 715 urban water supply structures were constructed to serve 2,332,223 and 756,875 beneficiaries, respectively. 

As the Bureau’s reports indicate, these projects allowed Tigray’s water supply coverage to increase from below 18 percent before the 2000s to 61 percent in 2020. 

Due to a growing number of investments, there were also more than eight bottled drinking water factories in Tigray that provided purified and bottled water. 

In addition, around 134 dams, 1,250 river diversions, 4,038 motor pumps, 24,008 shallow wells, 308 deep wells, and other water holding structures were constructed in Tigray for irrigation purposes. 

In total, more than 36,245 irrigation infrastructures were constructed to irrigate 64,363 hectares of land aiming to serve 212,524 beneficiaries. As a result, the expansion and productivity of irrigated agriculture significantly increased in Tigray.

Moreover, the Tekeze hydropower dam was constructed to improve electricity access with a capacity to generate 300 megawatts in 2009. This hydroelectric power expansion allowed 45 percent of Tigrayans to access electricity. 

Wartime Destruction

During the war, the allied invaders purposefully destroyed Tigray’s economy. The Ethiopian government also prohibited most humanitarian aid in the form of food, medicine, and fuel, and basic services such as telecommunication, banking, trade, transportation, and electricity as part of its wartime strategy of laying siege to Tigray. 

Water infrastructure is among the key sectors the allied Ethiopian and Eritrean armies targeted to pillage. Key domestic, industrial, and institutional water supply lines, irrigation schemes, office infrastructure, and facilities were damaged or destroyed.

After the war began on 4 November 2020, 50 percent of the 9,213 total water supply schemes were destroyed and remain out of service, according to the Tigray Bureau of Water and Natural Resources (TBoWNR). 

The invading forces explicitly targeted the potable water purification and bottling factories in Tigray. Now only two factories are functioning as the rest were looted and damaged. There is also a lack of packaging and additives resulting from the siege. 

As a result, many rural areas and towns do not have access to water in Tigray.

TBoWNR data also indicates that 3,196 irrigation infrastructures are currently out of service as a result of the destruction by the allied invaders. Furthermore, an estimated 57 percent of irrigation farms on the banks of the Tekeze River and 89 percent of Welkait sugarcane farms were destroyed during the war on Tigray. 

Destruction of a switchboard, office facilities and people fetching unpotable water in Mekelle and rural areas.

Moreover, a large number of fruit plantations involved in irrigation schemes were also targeted by the allied invaders. This included destroying fruit plantations in numerous districts of Tigray such as Samre, Agulae, Mereb Lekhe, Kola Tembien, and Egela. 

The TBoWNR reports that a number of water sector projects under construction in Tigray, including 36 water supply and 25 irrigation projects, were deliberately targeted, destroyed, burned, and/or looted. 

For example, the Gereb Giba water supply dam project in Mekelle under construction at a cost of 270 million USD was targeted. Its heavy machinery such as excavators, loaders, dump trucks, truck mixers, shower trucks, and drilling machines were pillaged. 

Supply Strained

The invading forces not only caused physical damage to water sector infrastructure but also released false information that Mekelle’s water supply had been poisoned. Consequently, Mekelle residents were terrorized as other sources of water for domestic consumption were not available. 

Due to water shortages and poor sanitation, four people died while extracting water from open water sources in the Sebe’a Kare area of Mekelle. 

Tigrayans have also suffered from water borne diseases as the siege and blockade have created a lack of water treatment chemicals such as chlorine for purifying drinking water. This is most pronounced in rural areas of Tigray. 

Affordable detergents useful for sanitation and hygiene facilities are also not available to most in Tigray. 

More than 1.2 million people were internally displaced from the region, mainly from Western Tigray. These IDPs are mostly sheltered in Shire, Mekelle, and other towns of Tigray such as Alamata, Sheraro, Axum, Adwa, Abyiadi, Adigrat, and Maychew. 

As a result of this influx of additional water users, the water supply systems in these towns are complicated as the burden on each town has grown beyond their capacity.


Furthermore, the Mekelle water supply has been burdened due to high levels of water consumption as the number of migrants has drastically increased. As a result, more than 40 active boreholes in the Aynalem and Chineferes wellfields around Mekelle are on the verge of collapse due to over-exploitation of the city’s water supply system. 

The Tekeze hydropower system was also bombarded during airstrikes at its transmission station near the dam. Thus, partial service with only 75 megawatts of electricity is being generated. 

Due to the electricity interruption, water supply, milling machines, and food preparation have been interrupted, thus complicating the life of Tigrayans without electricity. The absence of light has also created favorable conditions for thieves. 

Due to the siege and war on Tigray, the damaged water infrastructure (irrigation, water supply, and hydropower) have not been maintained or reconstructed, as spare parts and other essential machinery and equipment are lacking in Tigray. 

Unfortunately, overall water sector development works that were underway before November 2020 have now been curtailed indefinitely. 

Ways Forward

Help is needed from the international community in supplying chemicals, detergents, and materials for water purifying, sanitation, and hygiene purposes. Spare parts are also needed to maintain and restore the damaged water schemes in Tigray. 

The international community, including UN aid agencies, should play a role in the revitalization, rehabilitation, and restoration of Tigray’s water sector.

Given Tigray’s dryland topography, the water supply must play an indispensable role in the overall socioeconomic development efforts. All development policies should consider water as a primary resource for local livelihoods that is also essential in relation to the food and energy sectors. 

For this reason, peace and security should be guaranteed for Tigrayans by deterring any future aggressions similar to what has been happening in Tigray for over two years.

Tsegazeab Gebreselassie Kahsay,  Hintsa Libsekal Gebremariam,  Dawit Teweldebirhan Tsige, and  Mogos Amare Adane have contributed to this work.

Query or correction? Email us

This is the author’s viewpoint. However, Ethiopia Insight will correct clear factual errors.

Main photo: Women and children queuing up to collect clean water delivered by truck in a drought affected village; Raya Azebo, Tigray; 07 January 2008; UNICEF Ethiopia, Getachew.

Published under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence. You may not use the material for commercial purposes.

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About the author

Gebremedhin Gebremeskel

Gebremedhin (Ph.D) is a Senior Researcher of Water Resources and Irrigation Water Management at the Tigray Agricultural Research Institute, Mekelle, Ethiopia.

About the author

Girmay Darcha

Girmay Darcha is PhD student at Mekelle University and a Researcher of Agroforestry and Forestry at the Tigray Agricultural Research Institute, Mekelle, Ethiopia

About the author

Mitiku Haile

Laureate Dr. Mitiku Haile is a Professor of Soil Science and Sustainable Land Management at Mekelle university, Tigray, Ethiopia


  • It is one of the crimes committed by the Eritrean army in Tigray. I have seen this action with my own eyes. Even if we call them monsters, it does not describe them.

  • This is very biased journalism. Journalist should be reporting on actual events that took place. But Ethiopia Insight should be ashamed of its editorial board’s decision to publish an opinion of 4 Tigrayan’s who are tplf sympathisers. Ethiopia is already fragile, who give a huge platform to a handful Tigray to misinform the good and God fearing Ethiopians people. Word such as invaders tell the authors stance. To the people of Eritrea and Amhara people TPLF failed to change regime in Ethiopia and Eritrea. TPLF got slammed and crushed. War is destructive but refrain from publishing opinions of tplf cadre who are masters of misinformation and disinformation.

  • The water issue everywhere in Ethiopia every village they don’t have water I don’t know what you try to do you are a Liars this is the way to make money in Ethiopia the water issue problem every village so what the big deal now stupid Liars

  • What are these lies. It was after all TPLF criminals massacred Ethiopian soldiers unexpectedly several soldiers at night. Your TPLF Junta must be ashamed at all. TPLF failed to steal territory from Ethiopia and Eritrea and create Tigray Land. TPLF group are terrorist.

  • A few days ago on March 20, US government stated its findings that “war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing” was committed in the war on Tigray. The statement also included that many of the war crimes committed were “calculated and deliberate”, which explains what happened to the water sector narrated in the article. It can be said that in Ethiopia 2,000 years of history now includes 2 years of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

  • Ethiopia did NOT invade Tigray. The war started by the belligerence of TPLF’s leadership that miscalculated their ability and the resolve of the rest of Ethiopia defending our unity. It’s well documented that TPLF did the invading and destruction in Amhara and Afar. Stop fabricating narratives in an attempt to get sympathy and funds from the West. You started the war; You lost the war and now you are facing the consequences. Period !

    • Did u watch Professor Tilahun Yilmas proposal for the extermination of the ppl of Tigrai using the same method a cancer is removed from the patient? Did U watch Daniel Kebret’s call for the eradication of the ppl of Tigrai from history? Did u listen to ESAT’s call for the rise of 100million Ethiopians to eradicate the 6 million ppl of Tigray? Did u listen to Seyou Teshome/s call for the extermination of every young person from Tigrai? You may answer NO. The meticulously planned and executed Tigrai Genocide and Tigrai Siege in a total darkness was and total destruction of Tigrai’s assets including water resources an internationally documented crimes of the centuray committed by Amhara and Eritrea at the forfront of the planning and carrying out of the barbarism against humanity.

  • When education and educated are to use thier power of knowledge and articulation to manipulate facts and truth to convince the world in horrendous manner, imagine what kind of moral remain to hold the global citizenship together for something better.

    Value only truth.
    Water shortage both in the Highlands and lowlands of Ethiopia is common. If you like, there are cities and villages with less than 30% of portable water coverage in Oromia, Afar, Amhara or Gurahge people and the same is true in Tigray However, using this fact deliberately to defaming Eritrea and Amhara is totally unacceptable.

    On the other hand, this level of lie shows how strong and fearless and manipulative intellectuals are emerging as a threat to this struggling world not to let anyone behind both from humanity and development.
    By deduction from such master lie and facts observed during the war: tigray army have killed Amharas’ livelihoods like ploughing oxen , milking cows randomly and have also burned
    Out half harvested crops on the fields , in addition Afar people’s livelihoods like camels have also been killed so ? The writers know thier level of coordination understanding and belief in terrorism values and they have more in thier brain to act, to teach, to disturb the world not only innocent Ethiopian and Eritrean but, also humanity and intellectualism.

  • Hideous tplf operatives did untold atrocity on Afar and Amhara people destroying everything in their path like madmen. They think they can claim impunity by suing others for crimes done by themselves. I ask – what was the reason behind all the cruelty, destruction, defecation in hotels, dismantling of schools, clinics, public utilities..why?why? Do you think the victimized people will forget these crimes just because some criminal elements like the so-called dullard professor write something silly in such a biased paper? Never, never will the crime of tplf be forgotten..

  • How informative this article is. I feel that water is the most vital resource to human beings next to oxygen. I think, those aggressors who destroyed the most precious resources for life, are more than enemies. The war was indeed genocidal. What else do genociders do other than destroying water infrastructures? The authors should be praised and this article indeed is important to keep for history records for the generations to come.

  • It is completely a lie. U, woyane looted properties of neighbouring regions severely. Do not confuse z international community. U started z war ( which ur senior cadres did not deny) when smashed, u started craying.

  • I would like to appreciate the effort made by this team in reporting the devastation on water sector due to the war embarked on Tigray. Like the water sector, the allied forces also looted the properies of four Universities in Tigray, industries (Like Sheba Leather industry,Addis Pharmaceutical industry, Almeda Textile , Baeker Agro processing Park) Agricultural mechanization Centers and others.Surprizingly, they purposefully destroyed their leftovers in each and every sectors too!

  • Fabricating a tons of lies didn’t bring any solution to the problems stated. First of all the Ethiopian defence force wasn’t an invader at all. Looting and destroying public resources was your TPLFs tactic and strategy starting from its inception the the 1970s plus during TDFs invasion of the neighboring regions. On top if this please stop claiming places like Wolkite and Tekeze areas which are out of your region as it was forcefully annexed while you were in the helm.

  • You were a cheer leader when TPLF attacked the Ethiopian Army base assuming that TPLF will prevail but unfortunately TPLF failed and also they dragged the Tigrans with them to drain unfortunately. No one to blame but TPLF and its supporters.

  • “…amid the war and siege on Tigray…” what z hell!? Who started the war!? I recall that TPLF fired the first shot. Weather they call it preemptive or defensive. The fact on the ground is that TPLF fired the first shot. Let me ask you this- “when i Bitch-Slap you on your face”; what would be you response? A rose?? Pls!! I am with my PM.

    • Dawit,
      If someone slapped your face do you have to kill his children, family and burn his house? Do you have to burn his village, school and destroy his health centers? Why can’t you slap or kill the one who slapped you only? Why do you have to destroy every school, church, health center, industry, etc.?

      • How dare are you trying to teach Eritrean people like this examples? remember on 1998 war. Thats enough for you

  • Thank you so much for this detailed and evidence based factual information on the damages of the war on the population. Very difficult to believe how far the destructions are on ordinary people. SAD.. Please keep giving factual information..Tks again.

  • Eritrea or Eritrean did not destroy your water line. This is a lie and you know it. This is an effort to collect fund by false information. It’s a fact that you people need help, but you need to tell the truth. Stop blaming Eritrea or Eritrea.

    • You are an idiot if you think Eritrean defence forces didn’t damage and loot Tigray’s water infrastructure. Where do you get your information from? Eritrean state media perhaps?

    • Tedros,
      Do you know about Stockholm syndrome? You seem to be in love with your abuser – the master of terror “HGDEF/Isayas Afewerki”.

  • Eritrea or Eritrean did not destroy your water line. This is a lie and you know it. This is an effort to collect fund by false information. It’s a fact that you people need help, but you need to tell the truth. Stop blaming Eritrea or Eritrea.

  • Let us support the people in Tigrai!
    Creating sustainable irrigations scheme, building small dams accross main rivers are essential for both irrigation and drinking safe water, thus would creat relief on the people who are struggling to survive

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