Our colleague Fasika went to the regions of Amhara. Afar in Ethiopia traveled. There she met two strong women who told her about their experiences fleeing their home villages.
In early 2020, peace still prevailed in the Amhara region of. Many people were living off livestock as smallholder farmers*. © Wiards/World Hunger Relief
"It was around 4 p.m. in the afternoon when our village was suddenly filled with gunshots and screams from all directions. I saw more than 25 people killed by the gunmen. We ran for our lives and left everything behind", Tenagne recalls the horror of the 8. March 2021, when their small village in northern Ethiopia was stormed by Oromia Liberation Front (OLF) fighters. Tenagne Abera* is a 33-year-old mother of six children. She and her family were displaced from Horeguderu Wellega Zone, she tells me during my first visit to Tewledere IDP Center in Amhara Region.
I want my life back
Tenagne Abera, a 33-year-old mother, lives with her children in Tewledere IDP camp in Amhara, Ethiopia. © Welthungerhilfe
Tenage and her family were doing quite well when they lived on a small farm in Horegudru and had a few cattle. When their village was stormed, they not only lost their sources of income – their crops and livestock – but also their home. They left home barefoot and with nothing but the clothes they were wearing. They left the only place they knew, Horegudru, and walked to Dessie.
Then they were temporarily settled in Tewledere wereda in the South Wello Zone. "We had left everything behind, but we were warmly welcomed by the people of Wello. The government supported us so that we could survive", she recalls.
But unfortunately this did not last long. Tenagne and other IDPs in Tewledere were displaced again when troops from the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) captured the towns of Dessie and Kombolcha in the Amhara region. Tenagne says they traveled for days in life-threatening conditions until they reached a place called Mota Wereda. "It was unbearable for my children. We heard gunshots behind us and ran for our lives. I carried the two-year-old baby on my back and pulled the four-year-old's hands at the same time. I was so grateful when my children and I arrived safely at a military camp in Mota Wereda."
Too little help arrives
IDP stands for Internally Displaced People. These are people who have fled within their own country. According to the latest UN refugee report, there are about 79.5 million refugees worldwide. Most of them, about 45.7 million, are internally displaced and find refuge in another part of their home country.
Today, Tenagne and her children are living again in an IDP camp in Teweledere, along with other IDPs, following the expulsion of TPLF troops from the Amhara region. Tenagne reports that little aid is reaching them, however. She says support from humanitarian agencies in Tewledere is poor, and she believes the prioritization of people receiving aid should be changed. "There is no prioritization of children", Tenagne said, and she doubts the situation will improve.
The effort to get the available support is physically and psychologically very exhausting for the mother. The relief efforts of Welthungerhilfe and its partner organization AISDA therefore pay special attention to vulnerable groups such as nursing mothers, families with young children and people with disabilities. In addition, a committee of internally displaced persons was formed. This gives them the opportunity to better communicate their needs.
When this conflict is over, we know that our homes will be destroyed, but we will start again, work hard, improve our lives, and take care of our children.
She wants nothing more than to return to her home. "Some of our neighbors who recently joined us from Horegudru told us that every neighborhood was looted by the OLF and the houses destroyed. Still, I'm willing to start over if I have to. I would like to return there. It is the only place I call home."
Tenagne is worried about the future, but she is also hopeful that things will improve. "I hope that soon our country will be peaceful and we can return to our hometown and continue our lives. When the conflict is over, we know our home will be destroyed, but we will start over, work hard, improve our lives, and take care of our children."
"My husband is retarded"
37-year-old mother Halima Ali and her four children live in a warehouse at a salt factory in Afar that serves as a refugee camp. © Welthungerhilfe
Before the conflict in northern Ethiopia, Halima Ali worked as an administrative assistant at a vocational training center in Berhale zone. When the war reached their house, they had to flee within seconds. They had no time to pack their bags. They ran out of their house empty-handed and under heavy fire, leaving everything behind to save their lives. Halima's husband refused to go with them. He preferred to stay behind rather than leave all that he had spent a lifetime building up. The family does not know if he is still alive.
Halima and her four children walked for four days to Afdera Woreda to escape the war. Now she and her children live with other internally displaced people in a warehouse of a salt factory in Afar, which serves as a refugee camp.
Recently, others who were left behind in the attack arrived in Afdera. They left their homes because there was no more food there. They exchanged news from their hometown, but unfortunately there was no news about the whereabouts of Halima's husband. And then one of Halima's fears was confirmed: All of her belongings had been destroyed and looted.
If we stay healthy and if there is peace in our hometown, we will be fine.
"Thanks to the host communities in the city of Afdera, we survived the fear and trauma of the heavy shelling, but the echo haunts us to this day. My children regularly wake up from nightmares", tells Halima.
Speaking about the support they are currently receiving, she says, "We are in a desperate situation." Life in the camp is difficult for them and their children. "There is not enough food, but the number of IDPs is huge and more people are coming every day", she adds.
A large gap between need and supply
Ethiopia is regularly hit by severe droughts, and dry seasons lead to crop failures and the death of livestock – climate change is one cause of the increasing weather extremes.
Halima is grateful that she survived the horrors in her hometown. But life in the refugee camp is not easy either. The gap between the needs of internally displaced people. The support actually available is unimaginably large. Selecting those in need is difficult. Out of thousands of IDPs, 200 or 300 are selected for assistance. "It is difficult to call the measures supportive. We barely survive, but we thank Allah that we endured everything to be able to tell our story".
Once peace reigns, Halima hopes to return home and start a new life. "If we stay healthy and if there is peace in our hometown, we will be fine again", she says.
Halima and other IDPs have witnessed the deaths of civilians, including friends and family members. What they saw hit them emotionally. This immense trauma is impacting her mental health, but there is little or no psychological counseling or support available in Afar.
There is a lack of basic necessities
The need for humanitarian aid in northern Ethiopia continues to far exceed available resources. According to the UN, there is currently a funding gap of 338 million. U.S. Many IDPs in Afar and Amhara report that the aid they receive is far from sufficient. They urgently need food, clean water, shelter and basic household items such as mattresses, blankets, mats and kitchen utensils. With little access to clean water or sanitation, COVID-19 and other communicable diseases are a real threat.
In Afar Welthungerhilfe is working with our partner organizations, APDA, AISDA, FSA, and ACTED, to respond to growing humanitarian needs. In 2022, APDA and Welthungerhilfe have already identified 10.000 people with food (wheat flour, oil, lentils and salt) affected by the ongoing conflict in the border areas between Afar and Tigray. Selected IDPs and recent returnees in 10 kebeles (villages) and the district capital, where most IDPs and returnees in the district are located. In addition, emergency shelter, hygiene kits and facilities were organized, as well as camp coordination and livelihood restoration activities, which reached more than 100.000 people affected by the crisis reached.
In Amhara, Welthungerhilfe and its partners AISDA and ORDA have distributed bed and kitchen sets as well as WASH items such as sinks, jerry cans and jugs to more than 10.000 people distributed in the region. In addition, Welthungerhilfe is working with its partner ORDA on emergency relief activities focused on shelter, hygiene, and livelihood restoration. This is expected to help more than 50.000 people affected by the crisis were reached.