Uwwa, sifra in afar region
Updating Displacement and Returning post- fighting; Uwwa, Sifra and Adda’ar, Afar Region
– December 10th to 12th 2021
1. Preamble and background
Fighting between the government forces and TPLF stopped as of December 2nd 2021, the final battles fought in major battle areas, the TPLF pushed out of Afar Region into Amhara Region through Bati, the junction town on the border with Afar Region close to Burka in ‘Adda’ar. Since then, there have been squirmishes wherein the TPLF are showing their seeming intent to come back. On Saturday while in Uwwa, the government artillery were firing into the border hills behind Biilu, the TPLF giving fire – return as of the afternoon.
Overall, high tension remains that the actual war is not over and the actual border kebeles are still not considered free for their occupants to return.
APDA’s reason for assessing was to
a) Understand how and when people could return from displacement to their home areas
b) See how much destruction exists where fighting was continuous for over 2 months such as in Uwwa and Sifra town and how the government services can pick up
c) What is the actual priority need of the affected communities
In the process, APDA met with the district leaders as well as its own team of health workers and women extension workers on the ground and was able to develop a more exacting plan of action for this week and further.
Therefore, the summary per district is as follows:
The administrative town remains almost non-functional; no market, no food –selling shops, administration very tentatively in place. As mentioned, long-range artillery fire was constant during the visit.
APDA visited where TPLF had actually had bases for 4 and 5 weeks. Almost all Afar houses (daboyta) are either stripped of their mats or burnt. The traditional Afar bed (aloyta) apparently had many military purposes including a protection barrier in fighting, cut to strips to carry wounded, firewood but all in all, from each house the aloyta is stripped. Traditionally, it takes up to 2 years to make an aloyta carefully crafted by women – bought, the cost is 5,000 ETB (92.5 USD). This, along with the family house is the property of the woman. To fight the current winter cold, women have gathered the stems of a weed-shrub called gala’ato, forming a frame much smaller than they normally would and covered it with grass. Very fortunately, the 2021 main rains were productive producing high grasses in places since people were restricted from grazing animals by the insecurity. The problem with a grass house is that it cannot protect from rain like to house made of traditional dried palm – leaf mats do. All forms of household property were raided including clothes, cooking pots, ropes and any stored food.
Most have lost animals: goats and camels killed in fighting crossfire; goats slaughtered to feed the vast armies.
Since fighting continues on the border, TPLF firing into Afar from the Amhara Region hills, people in the borders who did return have displaced yet again.
Since now for 3 months, there has been no food supply reaching or accessible to Uwwa rural areas, under five year olds and pregnant/ lactating mothers have extraordinary high malnutrition. APDA continues to conduct surveillance in these areas.
All visited health and education facilities are trashed, the main school in Uwwa having housed the TPLF army.
Fighting continued in the Mille River gorge and surrounds that adjoin Uwwa with Sifra, up until December 4th. Having freed the market town of Sifra, the government cleared it of any possible explosives and battle-dead, allowing the community to return. Other than one woman who had harbored in Assaita now selling injura and shiro – shops are closed and the market dead.
Government authorities expect to begin dis-mantling the vast displacement camp at 50 kilometers from Mille called Wokki as of the next days. These people are expected to return to the town and rural areas having got some shelter and hygiene/ sanitation support – shelter support did not actually cover all the 70 – odd thousand who eventually gathered there. Among them are some identified as malnourished, 26 people who had been taking HIV medication from Sifra health center, some whose animals are lost to the conflict and many rural families whose traditional house was destroyed/ looted.
Further on toward ‘Add’a’ar in Sifra, the towns of Wa’ama and Andalakalo where there was a TPLF occupation, schools and clinics are in ruins. In Wa’ama, the school library contents are strewn across the ground and the school laboratory equipment unusable now. Huge rockets holes are in the school walls. One building of Andalakalo school was apparent set ablaze with inflammable fuel – buildings need total reconstruction.
This, the last battle – ground of TPLF is strewn with hundreds of the rotting corpses of dead left behind by the TPLF, very young looking men and a few girls. There were 4 decisive battles, bodies are in community settlements as well as all over a wide stretch of ground making it a challenge for the government to collect and bury them. The stench is awful but more than that, pastoralist families who once lived in these areas cannot return until this is rectified. This should include an agreement also with the adjoining Amhara government as corpses in their battle – areas will be washed into Afar Region with the expected rains of this month and January.
Displaced amounting to around 32,000 people are in 4 major locations, ‘Assboora in Waranso near Eli Waha town, Uddale Daaba on the road south to Talaalak, Madeera between Wa’ama in Sifra and Kassa Gita, the town now in ruins as well as Yaldi. Of the 4 camps, these displaced have received the least assistance having got food for the first time around 10 days ago. They have been in displacement for 5 weeks.
Again, as above, TPLF has systematically stripped their traditional houses of any mats that were the house wall/ cover of the house; looted all property and destroyed the traditional bed. APDA found them suffering from malaria and on Saturday night, drove a 5 year old and her family to reach an ambulance that she get treatment in Dubte hospital – Aisha was unconscious with cerebral malaria. There are no mosquito nets and the only health service is APDA’s 8 mobile health workers waking through the areas to assist – the team is about to be strengthened.
Again, massive destruction and looting: Kassa Gita town is around 60% in burnt – out ruins but thankfully, their water well is functional. In Madeera, TPLF unscrewed the valves that allowed the community to safely collect water and cut up the pipes taking the water to distribution.
Finally, in asking the displaced community to prioritize what they need now, this is how they answered:
a) Warm clothes for children and others from the now bitter night cold and blankets
b) Cooking pots and basic equipment to eat – cups, eating trays
c) Water collecting jerricans and soap – APDA has supplied some and just sent another truck with more
d) In order to go home, traditional mats to re-construct their houses
e) Medicines for anemic mothers, malaria, pneumonia and the like
As APDA discussed with them, they had just received the first food assistance of a carton of macaroni, 2 liters of cooking oil and 10 kilograms of wheat flour per household for 500 households – in that specific camp, 300 households did not get the food help.
APDA intends to run a campaign in the Afar towns of Logya, Dubte and Samara collecting clothes and sleeping blankets. The latter will probably not be adequate. The organization is immediately talking to the Water Bureau to replace the parts that made the well dysfunctional.
Widows need assistance and the actual loss of the herd is yet to be tallied.
The needs are extensive; health services and education is not functioning. The local markets are not working due to lack of food and that the Afar anyway have not had a lead place in markets. Transporting food and supplies is a huge challenge as vehicle owners are not willing to go into these areas and transport vehicles anyway have become scarce in the Region, owners fleeing to safer areas.
Finally, sadly APDA has had its water drilling rig rendered dysfunctional, the electric wires cut and parts removed. It was working in the rural area of Talaalak where the TPLF came through.