Over 300,000 northern Afar living under trees, herded by the terrifying sound of artillery:



Over 300,000 northern Afar living under trees, herded by the terrifying sound of artillery:


  • As of March 8th, 43,000 Konnaba Afar fleeing into the last remaining ‘safe’ land are under the threat of dying of thirst…….

APDA visited Konnaba and Dallol in the Region’s far northwest from March 6th to 10th 2022 seeking the means to establish health and nutrition support for the displaced.


  1. The Konnaba debacle

Konnaba, a hilly, rocky district with a very fertile river valley flowing north east has the longest border with Tigray of the 5 districts now all under attack from the Tigray defense forces. This invading force broke in through Feris Dagi in mid-January forcing the communities to flee from the rocket launchers right from the outset. On arrival, the local administration accounted for 9,227 households, then in 5 sites stretching from Balbal just inside Konnaba to Dam’ale in Barhale north to Simbili in Dallol. This then population (over-whelming women, children and elderly) accounted for 55,362 of the approximated 67,000 population of the district. They also identified 250 non-Afar populations they were particularly guarding who are teachers, health professionals and business people who had lived in the towns of the district, among them 48 non-Afar women.

That was Sunday/ Monday morning. By that afternoon, TPLF forces had encircled Dam’ale in Barhale driving the largest group of 4,102 households north to Simbili. Within minutes, the road was packed with women, men and donkeys – as well as older children struggling to rescue the household possessions they had brought out of their houses 2 months before, balancing children on top of the load, streaming north. Sudden chaos and this human mass began marching north for 6 hours, collapsing under trees, struggling on – yes, Ukraine but only in proportionate numbers – no rescue, no food, no water. A mother lay under a tree in labor her husband begging others to help….



Meanwhile, another 2,005 households just north of Dam’ale are ordered to flee, Dam’ale by now has fallen to the TPLF, an Ethiopian air force jet sweeps in to bomb and the road into Konnaba is cut off isolating another 1,950 households in the river valley of Balbal – these people must flee through rugged hills, a journey of over 10 hours since they are in the firing line, trapped by the advancing TPLF.


What is painfully stunning is that Konnaba’s 67,000 are no better than terrified goats fleeing the hyena, herded from place to place stretching a piece of cloth or plastic between thorn-branches to shelter among trees – 2 months ago, they were probably the most enterprising horticulturalists, shop-owners, businessmen of the Afar Region. Left behind, they know their house is burnt, looted and the health, education services and water schemes they depended upon vandalized. The young are dying in the battle field, now a total of 53 women in the last 2 months delivered babies under trees and still this imposed abject misery goes unnoted, the headlines are Ukraine. Many have had to move on up to 6 times already.


By Wednesday, it is clear the small village of Simbili is both exposed and has too little water for them so again, they flow out into the dirt road and desperately walk on to Elefan further north in Dallol, 10 hours walk away. Many explained this is the last possibility, the Eritrea border the next possible frontier. As APDA team desperately distributed the little food it had managed to bring (50 kilograms of wheat flour for 4 households, 1 kilogram of dates and a piece of soap per household) and moved on to raise the alarm, 43,000 displaced people were left behind clearly endangered by thirst. Right now, they have medicines and a skeleton health team is bravely in place. APDA’s second truck of food must go through (more dates and ground barley – food that does not need cooking)…..


  1. Afdeera overrun by displacement

From Konnaba, the team came back through rural Afdeera visiting around 17,000 people displaced from Aba’ala in Harsuuma and around 43,000 people from Barhale in Daboore.  Harsuuma and Daboore are the most northern 2 sub-districts of Afdeera; Harsuuma 84 kilometers from Afdeera town and Daboore 118 kilometers along a roughish track. Both have running river water to satisfy thirst but, as of this week only one other NGO had reached Harsuuma and none had got as far as Daboore. Again, living under trees on the periphery of the two streams, people have survived up to 2 months displacement with the pieces of food they snatched from their towns as they fled, from the local Afar who cook them bread and slaughter goats for them and through their own genius of enterprise in trying, as was seen 10 Barhale displaced had set up a miniature market.

Kadiga’s story illustrates this amazing resilience. She is now 32 years old and fled when the first rockets began to shell the town of Aba’ala in December. She and her 5 children, her mother and the neighboring women ran for 3 days into the rural area of Aba’ala where she was till 15 days ago. Fortunately as she says it was daytime and all of a sudden rockets started falling again, this time hitting the temporary house the women had made for themselves – no one was inside but all inside was burnt. They fled with a total of 12 children, she being by then 9 months pregnant. She carried the 2 year old and struggled to carry water. They ran for some hours and then broke off into a steady walk. On the 4th day of walking, labor pains began but the other women just said there was no hope till they reached to Garbeena and Harsuuma. Kadiga described how awful it was to go with the labor for 2 days till she could take no more. Collapsing under a tree, the baby began to come and a woman she hardly knew said she would handle it. This is how her 6th child, a son came into the world. Asked what food did you eat, she said they had eked out the small amount of grain they had taken when fleeing Aba’ala but that had finished. Local Afar helped to revive her and she continued on till she reached Harsuuma in Afdeera, a total journey of 9 days. In Harsuuma, government food was distributed, each household getting 1 kilogram of flour and one kilogram of rice.


Again, APDA pleads for the World of justice to sanction the end of this insanity at the same time supporting the organization to run and rescue with:

  • Immediate food for those literally on the run
  • Food to sustain
  • Health teams that can walk with and stay with the displaced to treat them and support them in disease prevention and screen for malnutrition
  • Support for hygiene: soap, jerricans and where needed, water purification
  • Where it is possible to reach, water trucking
  • Traditional shelter support (dry-palm leaf mats), cooking pots and for those who don’t have them, blankets.


The organization has put/ is putting videos and photos of the Konnaba exodus and the tree life on its webpage and Facebook.


  1. Barhale refugees

Eritrean refugees from the Barhale camp are clearly now scattered. APDA found a handful in Dam’ale in Konnaba almost 200 people in Harsuuma, Afdeera and 1,283 households of the refugees in Daboore, Afdeera. All these mentioned are being hosted and housed among the displaced of the area with community support.


Having said all this, one cannot forget the communities that struggle to host these displaced people: malnutrition gripped them before the conflict, especially in Afdeera and Erebti, due to drought and locust infestations. Today their animals are dying as yet another extended dry season has hit the Region, rain having not fallen since early October.

Magaale also is in deep food security/ nutrition problem since they too sunk into famine – type malnutrition prior to the outbreak of fighting in January – locust infestation and drought affecting them but having almost no food delivered to the district in 2021 due to poor security and their sudden cut-off from the Tigray market.


The greatest challenge APDA has is trucks: the trucks APDA had TPLF took in December and few people are prepared to allow their vehicle risk going north – APDA must beg from any available owner.


Together, we must build up/ build-in hope to the Afar society in spite of the conflict: people must start up local petty trading, life skills and basic learning even in their displacement, child and maternal health must not be neglected. APDA is working on how they can access food at affordable prices. Right now, their future is in our hands.









Facebook Comments