Report of visit to Afar Region’s Tigray border districts: ‘Aba’ala, Magaale and Yallo
November 21stand 22nd2020 in ‘Aba’ala, Magaale and adjoining Erebti
November 24thand 25th2020 in Yallo and Guulina
Trip 1: Hamad Md (APDA community economic advisor), Humud Yusuf, driver, Valerie Browning, APDA program coordinator
Trip 2: Ahmad Burhan, driver and Valerie Browning, APDA program coordinator
- To find exacting and up-to-date information from government authorities in border areas to understand how they are affected by the current conflict in Tigray and what plans the government has to cope with the ongoing affect of conflict
- To understand from the government authorities and the community what is the effect of the conflict on the community and what plans are in place to overcome those affects
People spoken to include:
Heads/ delegated heads of all visited woredas; police heads of each woreda; community members, APDA field workers in Magaale, Yallo and Erebti. Information was also picked up from health centers, Kalwaan hospital, markets and shops.
Information in Summary:
After now 21 days of the conflict in Tigray, what is evident is that all visited districts were utterly dependent on Tigray for electricity, supplies, market, banking as well as being highly socially linked.
‘Aba’ala was the most northern district on the Tigray border visited and joins to Tigray at Quiha, a border town that leads onto the Mekele Airport and the road into Mekele. The district has 56,000 people (estimate) living in the town that acts as the northern Kilbat/ Zone 2 administration capital. These 56,000 urban and semi-urban people living in 8 kebeles and there are an additional 6 rural kebeles making up the entire district.
- ‘Aba’ala is to date unaffected militarily and has not seen any evidence of conflict
- The first and major problem is lack of water. The town of 8 kebeles depended on water being pumped from 8 boreholes using electricity from Tigray. Currently, the majority of people buy/ collect river water some 10 kilometers from the town: 15 ETB/ jerrican. Reportedly, this water is now turbid as the river is running low. The district government is negotiating the possibility of getting solar pumps and generators in Samara from the Water Bureau.
- Report of displacement: Noor Darsa (Head of Police). People are arriving at Quiha from Mekele at the rate of 40 people on average daily: professionals (university teachers, teachers, doctors and so on), Ethiopian and foreign. They travel to Quiha by bus then walk 20 kilometers to the ‘Aba’ala police post where they are searched and screened. The police then write them a letter further on to Samara to go to the place/ town of their choice in Ethiopia. Informally, around 100 to 150 people from Tigray have come into the town and are living with community members with the support of the resident community. When asked if they expected IDPs, both the government and the police replied there was no current possibility of hosting them as they, the authorities were concerned for their ability to support the existing community in terms of food, water and health care. More than 20 Eritrean refugees who were resident in Mekele have come through and sent through the auspices of UNHCR.
- The district has no communicationwith the exception of police ‘telegram’ strictly for security purpose
- The electric supplycoming from Mekele was cut for almost 2 weeks and now opens occasionally for a few hours at low power – not suffieince to power the motors for the wells.
- Tigray was the primary source of foodfor ‘Aba’ala. Now there is limited supplies being brought by government (relief food) and by merchants but the latter at extortionately high prices.
- There is no fuel– the one petrol station was disabled by the owner before he went to Tigray at the start of the fighting.
- Bankingwas dependent on the Mekele Commercial Bank so it is frozen.
- Mekele was a back-up referral hospital and now this is not possible.
Magaale is a woreda of roughly 37,000 people adjoining to the southern border of ‘Aba’ala and connecting to Tigray through Mokkoni. This is a much more rural district where the main concern is that there is no market leaving people from the entire district unable to purchase food. They were marketing goats to Tigray through Mokkoni. Like ‘Aba’ala, they have no access to banks aside from now going far south to Kalwaan in Guulina travelling through Yallo.
Again, electrical power came from Tigray as well as the shortest route to refer a delivering mother in problem.
Ten days previous to the visit, TPLF soldiers had come into the closest border kebele of Tonsa and raided 57 goats that the local people were trying to market. Four local men including the 3rdhead of the kebele tried to resist and they were taken away captured to Tigray. Two houses were burnt in the incident from some sort of firearm.
The government of Magaale now strongly fears worsening malnutrition. They already have upwards of 40% of their under 5 year olds with moderate malnutrition but with no goat market, even those who have herds will suffer similarly. Their plea to APDA was to find a way to open the goat market.
There is flour in the district just brought up from Nazareth close to Addis Ababa but this sells at 1,500 ETB/ 50 kilograms (normal price around 600 ETB). If they can get a sale for a goat, it sells at around 500 ETB when it should reach up to 3,000 ETB.
Locusts have devastated almost all grazing leaving the animals in a critical condition if vegetation – rejuvenating rain does not fall till around April.
Yallo adjoins to Magaale going south on the Tigray border. The district is home to the largest market in Afar Region connecting to Alamatta, Gubgudo, Balla and Chercher.
There the news is much more drastic as now 11 days ago, the government launched a 3 – day fight for the border town of Chercher, the town the community has the greatest link to. Apparently the Tigray army had a military base adjoining the town. Rockets were fired from the periphery of Yallo town literally rocking the houses and leaving the 16,000 odd occupants to scatter toward Kalwaan, some 15 kilometers east of Yallo.
With the Tigray army in the town of Chercher and surrounding villages, there was a horrific massacre since apparently this army had use the tactic to hang on to the civilians. Two days after the battle, Afar men went to bury the dead and report burying scores of people among them women, children, elderly and blind., the people who could not flee. Most of the houses are burnt.
310 people did reach Yallo town and were housed in the government school for 6 days, fed and given sleeping mats. Finally, they were trucked back to the border when it was clear the area was under government forces. A further 45 people who had fled from Chercher, sheltering in the border kebele of Gidda’eela were fed, food taken by camel. Again, there is a further number of people in the Gorrisso Riverbed, 7 hours walk from Yallo (no road access). Afar have gone there and given them goats to eat.
The Zone administration town of Kalwaan, home to the main local hospital treated almost 1,000 wounded soldiers, government supplies and medical workers having been brought up from as far away as Addis Ababa. Two injured civilians were treated: one 2 year old and a man. The medical director described wounds as horrific since very high powered weaponry was deployed. These people have been referred on for further treatment through Woldiya hospital.
The largest animal market in Afar Region in Yallo is now stopped; there is no electricity – the supply they depended on from Chercher is burnt in fighting. The district head described 24,000 Afar pastoralists in need of immediate food assistance since they are unable to sell goats, locusts have destroyed their grazing pasture and there is already remarkable malnutrition in the district.
It needs to be noted that ADDITIONAL perspective is occurring as this is being written with the attack on Mekele taking place (November 26th), the government news reporting 80,000 people have left the town of Mekele and more can be expected to do so. These people are likely to flee into Afar Region through Quiha. ‘Aba’ala will need immediate support of water trucking, food and shelter. Afdeera and Soddonta in Bidu are possible sources of trucking water.
- ‘Aba’ala needs a water solution: repairing of motors and the means to run the motors: fuel or solar
- The massacre that occurred in Chercher needs human rights and government investigation and support for the traumatized and dispossessed people
- The conflict is adding yet another layer to the food insecurity and consequent destitution of the pastoralists, particularly in remote areas since there is no reasonable working market for the entire northern and central Region of Afar. Afar Region needs animal market outlet through Djibouti or otherwise since there are no slaughterhouses or such that can take the animals within the Region. The government needs to release the banking services that are linked to Tigray so people and local cooperatives can avail funds
- Health emergencies such as difficult deliveries need support and referral
- Malnutrition in remote settings of all northern Afar needs to be addressed with consistency given this conflict could well grind on for some time.
APDA will do what it can to turn around assistance to the most needy situation and is trying to work through the market problem of finding other sources of buyers. This however needs logistics and capital funding.