Afar Pastoralist Development Association (APDA)
Report of visit to Konnaba in northern Afar Region, February 2nd to 5th 2021
Valerie Browning (report author, phone 251 911642575) and Ali Yusuf
- Realizing there was no recently clarified information in Samara, collect information on new arrivals coming into Konnaba as reported by phone message (Mahammuuda, woreda 2nd in charge rang late January gaining connection from high point between ‘Aba’ala and Barahale).
- Find the immediate needs of these people
- Connect the gained information as widely as possible
People spoken to include:
In Konnaba administration: woreda head and second head, cabinet members, head of health, community members, Tigrayans now residing in various houses in the town of Konnaba, shop owners, various people engaged in assisting displaced Tigrayans
In Kadda Hara and Kwa’a kebele: kebele leaders; clan leader; committee established for supporting displaced people; nurse; teachers; previous APDA members/ employees (APDA had a 3 – year project in Konnaba from 2007 to 2010 supporting 22 mobile health workers; 22 women extension workers and 22 Afar teachers) as well as 477 newly displaced people now in 2 community – organized camps.
Overall status in Konnaba:
Electric supply is periodic; there is no phone connection or banking. Around 20 kilometers into ‘Aba’ala, there is phone network and banks have resumed. The woreda government reported the phone connection may resume in the coming week along with bank service.
2 Djibouti number plate vehicles and around 8 young boys with motorbikes currently service transport to Konnaba from ‘Aba’ala and within Konnaba.
Market into Konnaba is extremely limiting: there is a minimal sale of local goats for food-shops in the town. On February 5th, the first bulk load of vegetables arrivedin Konnaba town from Mekele: 4 wooden pallets of tomatoes and 8 sacks of onions. The sellers said they intend to sell tomatoes at 40 ETB/ kilogram and onions as 25 to 30 ETB/ kilogram. One merchant had gone to Mekele via ‘Aba’ala to purchase the supplies, the direct road from Konnaba to Wukro and beyond having been land-mined and deliberately put into disuse.
Kadda Hara and Kwa’a, focal kebele of visit:
Kadda Hara and Kwa’a is one of the nine kebeles (sub-districts) of Konnaba constituting high and rugged hills following the 2 permanent streams of Kadda Hara and Kwa’a along the Tigray border adjoining to Dallol. There is no road access although construction has been attempted and access includes following the streams of water and climbing very high cliffs. Kebele leader says the kebele normally has 1,600 households. People are herding goats (from 5 upwards to 100 goats per household but average around 15 to 20 goats), keep very few cattle for milk in the house and have camels and donkeys, the latter being the means of bringing any goods up into the kebele. Their houses are permanent settlements perched high up and as far as they can, the farm from rainwater as well as small patches of orchard-type farming from the streams of water. In all, since APDA knew them in 2010, they have constructed 5 schools teaching to grade 8, the iron roofing, metal supports and cement carried up the hillside on donkeys, camels and people’s shoulders. Construction is clearly an art and based on the massive amount of rocks they have. They have also constructed clinics and veterinary clinics.
Displaced people in the kebele and the incident of fighting from which they fled:
- New arrivals
According the kebele leadership, they have registered a total of 477 people starting from late December 2020. They described 165 households supported in the veterinary clinic compound of Kadda Hara and 115 households in the once – APDA – used school in Kwa’a and 2 adjoining private houses. These people are overwhelming women with children and children (65%); young boys and men with a couple of elderly people. They are all speaking Tigrinya, a few speak Afar and one, a university student from Adigrat, speaks English. Probably, they are dominantly Moslem but Christians are also among them. One child seen had a broken arm incurred while fleeing.
As was pointed out by the local Afar, fighting occurred in the hills that are the backdrop of the camps they have formed for these newcomers, one particular hill was well burnt by the firing used. In fact, the sound of guns (they say Bren was constantly in use) was constant up until January 26th and 27th. The Afar people say the militia of Tigray is still in the hills.
Of the 477 people, the first arrived on January 1st stating when interviewed, they are now 33 days in the community – prepared camps. Others came on succeeding days up until the present time when on February 4th, a man arrived and daily one or two come.
Those interviewed all spoke of coming from villages close to the Afar Region border of Addago Robi, Assaro, Asgabet, Harso, Sanafi and Hawali, all in the Tigray woreda of Sa’si’ Sa’ada. They all related that fighting started on a Saturday – most likely December 26th lasting for 3 days in all villages. They say it was mid-morning and the household were scattered at the time farming, looking after animals, collecting material and so on. Only children and elderly were in the homes.
They describe dropping everything and fleeing ‘for their life’ in many directions. Both men and women described that they were fired on as they fled. They fled into a forest area on the escarpment with Afar Region, hiding in the trees and a few caves that are there. Some say they stayed in the forest for 5 days, others 10 days. Asked how they survived, they recounted that they all but died of starvation and several men said they thought that many did die of starvation. They also said those who tried to return to their village from the forest were shot dead.
The local Afar recounted that in the forest there are a few Afar houses. These people apparently tried to feed these fleeing people but once they realized they were well out of their depth and literally had no food in their own home, they sent messages to the kebele leader below to come and rescue them. The kebele leader with the clan leader then gathered men and youth and sent them to the forest. Initially, those who they found refused to come with them saying they preferred to die. The Afar then persuaded them saying if they wanted to die, they must go back to their village but if they went further into Afar area, they would be protected and fed. Many of them, especially children had to be carried down as they were all extremely emaciated. The local community then arranged them into the 2 camps as mentioned, beginning their fulltime job of feeding and protecting them.
The overriding impression of these people is their haunting fear and their mourning for the fact they are almost 60% separated from direct families: as written below, many recounted missing upwards to 3 children; single 10 year old girl totally alone; missing husbands is very common and missing other relatives. When asked what their main need was they said ‘peace’. They are desperate for news of their loved ones and those who come bring some news but mostly not good. One mother missing 2 children apparently has also lost her 2 brothers dead. The new person arriving bringing the news could not tell her of her brothers’ death knowing she is also missing children. While they are eating what the Afar cook – mostly macaroni as per photos, they do not complain of food or blankets or the like but did say without soap it is hard to manage the children and the women need soap. They made great speeches of thanks to the Afar for their generosity in sharing food, sleeping mats, blankets, clothes – whatever they could bring them.
The actual injuries these people had incurred included 2 mothers who had miscarried: one bled heavily and was left on the border, the Afar community going to collect her and have her hospitalized in the Target Hospital in Feris Daagi and the second was also taken to Konnaba for further care, men carrying the women down the mountain. Finally, a 12 year old boy who had fled alone had a mental crisis and eventually taken to ‘Aba’ala for treatment.
- Another 20 households
The kebele leaders says there are 20 households who came with one or 2 cows and a handful of sheep. They are keeping these people in a particular grazing area the animals having arrived very weak.
- 70 Afar households
Again, the kebele leader spoke of 70 Afar households that were living right close to the fighting area that came further into the kebele for protection. Afar assisted these people but on February 1st and 2nd, he said he sent them back to their houses of origin.
- Arrivals since the outset of fighting in early November 2020
Of the 12,250 Tigrinya people who came into Konnaba woreda in November and December, 3,200 were registered in Kadda Hara and Kwa’a. These people are living assimilated in Afar houses, again with the support of that household. Indeed, this is the kebele most affected by displacement from Tigray according to figures APDA acquired from the woreda government in late December. These figures however are not revised so it can be assumed it is somewhat higher now.
Overall understood needs
- Immediate/ urgent
As described by IDPs in order of expression:
- PEACE – ‘we need our families and our homes’
- Soap for children and women – wash clothes and wash children
- Clothes – have only the clothes they wear so unable to change clothes or wash them readily
- Food for children (there are all ages from 45 day old baby onwards)
- Blankets and mats – too few at the moment
- According to nurse in charge of health team, there are no medications. Afar treated miscarrying women by killing goats for them to eat. Child with broken arm treated with Afar traditional treatment.
- Medium to long-term
- Children need education. Since prior to COVID – 19, schools not opened in Tigray
- IF they are unable to return to their homelands in the foreseeable future, people need to work – they are building constructors, daily laborers, and farmers. Women are capable of farming and making traditional handcrafts.
The kebele and local people saw short and long-term need as
- Assistance to malnourished Afar children directly on the border in the hills. Frontline health workers have conducted screening and found SAM and MAM cases.
- Re-stocking to households with too few goats and malnutrition (around 70 HHs)
- Road construction – there has been some attempt to construct an adjoining road with Dallol.
- Agreed problem of maternal health due to remoteness and no road access. Need some form of access to referral to lower high maternal death rate.
Assistance given and in the pipe-line
The government sent 18 quintals of wheat flour to Kadda Hara and Kwa’a some 3 weeks ago. Again, all IDPs in Konnaba received 64.00 ETB in cash but according to kebele leaders in Kadda Hara, this did not reach their kebele. The government reported forming a cooperative and purchasing food from Samara and Logya for Konnaba since they were so dependent on food coming from Mekele before.
FSA (Friendship Society Association) supported 624 IDP households in Konnaba around 40 days ago with 50 kilograms of flour, 5 liters of cooking oil, faffa, a blanket, food tray, bucket, cooking pot in 3 kebeles including Kadda Hara and Kwa’a. The kebele leader stated that while the first plan was to assist 240 households, this was decreased to 120 households and then down to 70 households. Of the new IDPs, 24 households received this assistance.
In discussion with FSA program manager in Afar Region, there is a plan to assist a further 160 households similarly.
PLAN International are also contracted to support Konnaba woreda in the supply of and distribution of SAM and MAM treatment food. The woreda head of health was expecting them but there has been some time when the supply chain had stopped.
Target, Germany has a very well constructed and supplied maternity hospital in Feris Daagi. Due to the Tigray crisis with no connection, bank, fuel and the fact that many of the hospital staff was actually Tigrayans who went back to Tigray at the start of fighting, the hospital now functions with full woreda support. The woreda has given staff, what medications they have as well as the woreda ambulance.
Concluding remarks and recommendations going forward
- As the local communities have hosted the IDP communities from Tigray almost single – handed, they need to be part of the plan going forward whether in immediate assistance in the case of local households impoverished by their ongoing, generous support of the IDPs or in stabilizing conditions in returning the local market as well as inter-Regional market and productivity.
- IDPs vocalize their dependence on the local Afar for support with gratitude as well as embarrassment at degrading the local Afar to share what they have. Immediate needs must be met, particularly that of food. As I left Kwa’a, the committee supporting IDPs was discussing how to raise more money to purchase food – they had run out of resources.
- The Ethiopian authorities must investigate the pillage and reported criminality against civilians: whether firing on those fleeing or apparently raping girls/ women to alleviate the fear the community are living with.
- A system to re-unite families – especially children must be found. People need closure for the extremely agonizing memories they have.
- Children urgently need to resume school and there should be support for IDPs to express themselves either through media or in formed groups with some form of recreation. This should relieve the overload of fear, anger and mourning they suffer.
- Those who can work should be encouraged to do so whether immediately by cottage industry where they are and then properly rehabilitated back into their livelihood to return. It would be good to see what they do also benefit local Afar in the vicinity of the border so they can continue in a vein of inter-support and friendship that is clearly evolving through this experience.
Individual stories as solicited from the 477 IDPs and those in Konnaba town.
- Gebre Kiros Hagos: 65 year old man with 3 children and wife all in Kadda Hara.
‘We ran immediately from fear of the fighting – they were firing rockets and guns. As we were running, the militia tried to stop us by firing at us but we made it to the forest just inside Afar Region. We stayed in that forest for 10 days – some of us got food from Afar there but not all of us. Then the Afar came sent by their kebele leader. They pursued us to go further saying they would feed us and protect us. The Afar men carried my children down to this school. They saved our life as we were going to die by hunger or the gun. My wife is breast – feeding and she almost lost the milk for the baby.’
- Mesfin Muusa: 40 year old man from Hawli now an IDP in the school in Kadda Hara
‘Fighting started on Saturday morning (probably December 26th) in the town of Hawli. We all ran toward to forest inside Afar to hide but the military cam after us. When then ran in all directions deeper into the forest. Some of us found caves to hide in. I grabbed 3 of my children and ran. Do not know where my wife is. When we did find Afar people, they never stopped helping us and eventually we were brought to this school house. Here we have everything from the Afar people. They even go and fetch water for us and help cook the food. They found some soap and gave us but that is finished now. It is very difficult for women here – I helped to bring one mother who miscarried. What we know is the army took everything from our houses even farm equipment and everything from the house. They also burnt farms and houses. In Tigray, I had a small business constructing houses. I had a small saving in the Lion Bank but now think that will not be possible as the bankbook is gone. Really in every way we thank the Afar people for helping us’.
- Kassa Kassay 28 years. He has a wife and 4 children
He said once he got his wife and children into the forest and after some days, he decided to go back to his house and see if he could rescue anything. When he neared the village, the military stopped him and told him not to move. He said he stayed for sometime and when it was dark escaped back to the forest. ‘I am so lucky to be alive’ he said. I saw our entire village is burnt. He also thought many people must have died there. He also said that other people who went back from the forest to the villages were mostly killed.
- Silaahun, university student from Atsabi.
He was studying year 4 engineering in Adigrat University and spoke clear English. He said he ran from his house in Atsabi where he was with his family (single) when the fighting started. He had seen 7 local people shot dead. He said most of those killed were men, not women. He asked for help to continue learning in Samara University. He has no idea of his family, whether they are alive or dead.
- Sada Mohammad Hasan 32 year old woman
She says when the fighting started I was transporting 2 bags of grain on my donkey. ‘The guns were so terrifying, I simply ran. The army came behind us shooting. My children were around the house and they ran in another direction. With all the firing, I do not know how I managed to escape. I now have the youngest because she was on my back. I don’t know where 3 of our children are or m husband. There was another woman who when we reached the forest area where we were hiding gave birth to her baby. We all tried to help her.
Now we have nothing in our hands – only the clothes we wear.’
- Haalima Hussein Abdalla from Adaguru Robi – 28 years old.
‘When the fighting started I was doing some weaving in my house. There was a huge explosion. Two of my children were away with the sheep. I fled without them and without my husband. There is still no news of them. I now only have the youngest child who I am breast-feeding. ‘
- Faatuma Adan Ali
‘The war started in Adigrat and Daggahammos. I am from Assara. Fighting started in my village 3 days later. I fled with my 4 children and to the forest – we almost died of hunger as we stayed 10 days with no food. When the Afar found us, my children were totally weak and dying. They carried them down the mountain to Kwa’a. My husband went recently to Yemen to go to work in Saudi Arabia, I do not know if he is dead or alive. We are thankful to the Afar otherwise we are all dead.’
- Kedir Gebrehagos from Addogo Robi and now in Kwa’a
He says war started a month ago and there was 3 days of fighting. He fled without his children and after 27 days found 5 of them but 3 are still missing. His wife is with him. His sister had a miscarriage when running and they had to leave her on the border of Afar Region. He got Afar from Kwa’a to go back and pick his sister up and take her for treatment – firstly, they killed a goat so she could eat the liver and then they took her down the mountain to Konnaba. The Afar gave us blankets and a sleeping mat.’ He says there is no news of their village but he thinks all is burnt and that many people left behind have died. He said that as IDPs, they are making a problem for the Afar community as they are feeding them and supplying them.
- Asgabeit Adan M/d
‘Firing started on Saturday continuing to Sunday. I ran with my children and wife to save our lives. All was left behind – animals and house. I tried to go back and see the village but the soldiers started firing on me before I reached the place. I have no idea whose army they are but they were all in uniform.’
- Mumina is around 10 years old
She simply fled with the people running and is without any single relative now staying in Kwa’a. She could give any detail of where she was from and it was felt best not to actually question her.
- In Konnaba town
A shopkeeper has 3 young girls from Tigray living in his house. His wife knows the mother of one of the girls. They fled from Atsaba in late November. The girls said they did get assistance as mentioned above from FSA but that is now utilized. They said they hoped they would be assisted again. This same shopkeeper and his wife are also feeding another 20 Tigray youth each mealtime. In all, there are over 3,000 IDPs from Tigray in Konnaba town as is quite evident on the streets and in the teashops.
For further reference:
Usmann Noor, Woreda head – 0942014480
Valerie Browning, APDA Program Coordinator – 0911642575, email@example.com