Ethiopian Demography and Health
Population Density, Tigray 2008  
Source: Based on data from the Central Statistical
             Authority [9]. 
(persons per sq. km) 
Tigray forms the northernmost reaches of Ethiopia, and is located between 36 degrees and 40 degrees east longitude. Its north-south extent spans  12 and a half degrees to 15 degrees north. It is bordered by Eritrea in the north, Sudan to the west, Amhara to the southwest and Afar in the east. It is a very historic region noted for its custodianship of “… one of the powerful civilizations of the ancient world, [which] was centered here from at least 400 BC to the 10th century AD. Spreading far beyond modern Tigray, it molded the earliest culture of Ethiopia and left many historical treasures: towering finely carved stele, the remains of extensive palaces, and the ancient places of worship are still vibrant with culture and pageantry.” [1]

Tigray is a region in transition having suffered the brunt of the 30 year war between Ethiopia and its former province of Eriterea which gained independence in the early 1990s. It suffered more from  a renewed fighting in the year 2000 that led to further dislocation of the rural population in the border regions. This, on top of the seemingly unending impacts of drought, famine, and the serious (and insidious) impacts of environmental damage. The later is a response to millennia of settlement in the region with few changes, if any, in farming practices which exposed the precious top layers of soils to erosion by the seasonal torrential rains of the summer months assisted by the rugged and steep landforms. Progress is slow, as a result as is the pace of life. “The highlands receive most of their rainfall during the summer months, much of which goes into tributaries of the Nile, 85% of whose water comes from Ethiopia. The soil has been depleted by many centuries of cultivation; water is scarce. Using methods that are thousands of years old, farmers plow their fields with oxen, sow seeds and harvest by hand. The harvest is threshed by the feet of animals. In the home, women use wood or the dried dung of farm animals for cooking. Women often work from 12 to 16 hours daily doing domestic duties as well as cultivating the fields.” [1]

Landforms and Climate

“ Tigray is located at the northern limit of the central highlands of Ethiopia. The landform is complex composed of highlands (in the range of 2300.3200 meters above sea level, (masl), lowland plains (with an altitude range of <500.1500 masl)1, mountain peaks (as high as 3935 masl) and high to moderate relief hills (1600.2200 masl). Thus Tigray has diversified ago-ecological zones and niches each with distinct soil, geology, vegetation cover and other natural resources. The climate is generally sub-tropical with an extended dry period of nine to ten months and a maximum effective rainy season of 50 to 60 days. The rainfall pattern is predominantly uni-modal (June to early September). Exceptions to the rainfall pattern are areas in the southern zone and the highlands of the eastern zone, where there is a little shower during the months of March to mid May. Considering rainfall, atmospheric temperature and evapotranspiration, more than 90 percent of the region is categorized as semi-arid. The remaining areas in the region can be categorized as dry submoist (near the central south highlands and the Wolkite highlands) and arid (the lower areas of Erob and Hintalo Wajerat woredas). There are also some moist zone patches in the Kisad Gudo, Mugulat and the Tsegedie highlands.” [2]

The region is divided into four zones – West Tigray, East Tigray, Central Tigray, and Southern Tigray – and 35 Weredas (see map below)

                                                 Source [3].

An online source on the local environment and economy presents a clear picture of the major difficulties the region is facing today as the government  currently in power whose top leaders are from this region strive to bring about positive change that can transform the region’s economy, and improve the environment. The following excerpts are obtained from this online source [4]

Environmental issues:

Cultivable land is scarce with growing population
All land is owned by state but user rights given to farmers and pastorlists
The majority of the population in Tigray relies largely on peasant agriculture, but becoming (slowly)
        more market oriented.
The pressing environmental issues include soil erosion as well as reduced fertility and productivity,
       gully formation, deforestation, pressure to cultivate slopping land, and use of dung for fuel rather than
        as organic fertilizer 
Unable to afford inputs (because of high risk of crop failure)
Vicious circle of over-use of land in order to meet basic food security causing decreased fertility

Economic issues:

Difficulty of transportation due to the rugged terrain, a vicious cycle of poverty caused by over-use of land in order to achieve basic food security in ways that are highly detrimental to the health of the environment, inability to afford soil inputs, high risks of crop failure, rapid population growth, land tenure (last redistribution of land took place in 1991), land fragmentation, and landlessness, limited off-farm incomes, top-down technical approaches in proposed government solutions

Ongoing efforts to remedy these problems:

Soil/water conservation (SWC) measures  supported by NGOs as well as the  regional government technical officers, promotion of “area closures” to allow environmental regeneration, communal (tabia) resource management including state managed forest enclosures. 
Agriculture-Led Industrial Development (ALID) strategy adopted by the current government in power [5] to create strong linkages between the agricultural sector and the nascent industrial sector of the regional economy, thereby, alleviating chronic poverty, ensuring food security, and reducing the level of unemployment.
Improved regional transportation access “…  has contributed to agricultural development and improved resource management and human welfare” as has the overall improvement in education [6]
Measures have been taken to “liberalize the input and output markets and increase institutional support for agricultural research and extension services” as well as “land registration aimed at improving farmer’s land tenure security” [7]

Recent droughts,  their impacts,  and government response

Draught and famine have been routine occurrences in the region since the 1970’s. One of the latest reports on the subject indicates that “… there are 1,831,600 people in need of relief food assistance in Tigray region (excluding West Tigray Zone) due to complete failure of belg and poor meher production [and] delayed on set of meher rains (by five months compared with the normal time)….”. The affected areas included “….Atsibi-Womberta, Wukro, Erob, Gulo Mekeda and Afherom Woredas in the Eastern Tigray Zone and Raya Azebo, Hintalo-wajirat, Alamata and Endamehoni in the South Tigray Zone. [8]. A mix of proposed solutions to confront the challenges includes resettlement. The idea of resettlement has not been new to Tigreans but the destinations, scale -  the number of people involved - as well as the objectives have changed over time. 

 “The major objectives of current resettlement initiatives are mainly to reduce environmental degradation in areas of origin by transferring drought-affected people to more fertile and less populated areas for increased food production and subsistence farming. People affected by the Ethio-Eritrea border conflict that are said to have shown interest for resettlement may also be included for resettlement. One of the potential areas selected for resettlement is the Humera district of West Tigray Zone…. Most of the people will be moved from Central Tigray Zone and will settle along the Tekeze River and the Shiraro-Humera road …..” [8]

Population Distribution and Density

Tigray has an estimated population of 4,565,000 (July 2008) and an average density of 91.2 persons per square kilometers [9]. Wereda densities vary from a low of 12.3 persons per square miles in Kafta Humera to just over 250 persons per square kilometers in Adwa, Laelay Maichew, and Alamata (see map below). 




2.Belete Taffere (2002) Efforts For Sustainable Land Management in tigray: The Role of Extension, in Berhanu Gebremedhin, John Pender, Simeon Ehui, and Mitiku Haile (eds.) Policies for Sustainable Land Management in the Highlands of Tigray. EPTD Workshop Summary Paper no.14.  Summary of Papers and Procedings of a Workshop. Axum Hotel, Mekelle, Ethiopia, March 28-29, 2002.
5.Haile Yohannes (2002) Overview of the Tigray National Regional State: Achievements of the First Five-Year Development of the First Five-Year Development Plan and Future Prospects, in Berhanu Gebremedhin, John Pender, Simeon Ehui and Mitiku Haile (eds.) Policies for Sustainable Land Management in the Highlands of Tigray. EPTD Workshop Summary Paper no.14.  Summary of Papers and Procedings of a Workshop. Axum Hotel, Mekelle, Ethiopia, March 28-29, 2002.
6.John Penderet. et. al (2002) Agriculture and Land Management in the Highlands of Tigray: Causes and Implications, in Berhanu Gebremedhin, John Pender, Simeon Ehui and Mitiku Haile (eds.) Policies for Sustainable Land Management in the Highlands of Tigray. EPTD Workshop Summary Paper no.14.  Summary of Papers and Procedings of a Workshop. Axum Hotel, Mekelle, Ethiopia, March 28-29, 2002.
7.Berhanu Gebremedihin, John Pender, and Simeon Ehui (2002) Land use, Land Tenure and Sustainable Land Management in Tigray, in Berhanu Gebremedhin, John Pender, Simeon Ehui and Mitiku Haile (eds.) Policies for Sustainable Land Management in the Highlands of Tigray. EPTD Workshop Summary Paper no.14.  Summary of Papers and Procedings of a Workshop. Axum Hotel, Mekelle, Ethiopia, March 28-29, 2002.
8.Ahmed Ali Egeh and Dechassa Lemessa (2003). Updates on Humanitarian Situations of War and Drought Affected Population in Tigray. United Nations Emergency Unit for Ethiopia (UN-EUE)
Urban Populations

There are a total of 49 urban centers in Tigray with a population of 2000 or more. Expectedly Mekele - the capital - is the largest with nearly 185,000 people. Adigrat is second with 71314 people and Axum is third (see the table below). Seven additional urban centers have a population of over 25,000, and nine more have a population size between 10,000 and 25,000. A quarter of the 49 urban centers in Tigray have a population of less than 4000 (see graph)

Urban Population Distribution in Decreasing 
                  Size-Order of Towns - July 2008
Demographic Characteristics

If you would like to help update this page, please send comments and/or data (as an e-mail attachment) to Dr. Aynalem Adugna
at Don't forget to indicate sources.