Eysa Mohammed, a fifteen-year-old girl from northern Ethiopia‘s Afar region, was collecting water near her home when an explosion underfoot tore shrapnel into her leg, making her one of a growing number of children crippled by weapons dumped during the country’s civil conflict.
Eysa told the journalists in her family’s hut in Kasagita, “So much blood was gushing from my right foot.” In February, doctors removed two large pieces of metal from her leg, but she is unable to walk.
Fighting in northern Ethiopia has subsided since the end of March, after starting in the Tigray region in November 2020 and spreading to Afar and Amhara last year. In a war that has killed thousands of people, the federal government declared a unilateral truce last month. Tigrayan forces announced their withdrawal from Afar on April 25.
However, even after open battle around Kasagita ceased in December, discarded explosives have maimed or killed dozens of youngsters in Afar, according to three area health officials.
Adults have also been injured, but officials claim that children are especially vulnerable since they are typically unaware of the dangers and handle strange-looking items.
The number of people injured in Afar by unexploded munitions was not provided by health officials. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, almost a fifth of the country’s health institutions are out of commission as a result of the war.
According to Tamer Ibrahim, head nurse for the surgical center, between December and late February, the Dubti Referral Hospital, Afar’s largest, saw roughly 25 cases each week of youngsters injured by unexploded ordnance or landmines. Medical records for 22 of the cases were seen by the media during a visit in late February, with some attributing injuries to a “bomb” or “explosive” based on patient testimony.
In the paediatric hospital, six youngsters with amputated limbs sat on filthy beds.
Unexploded ordinance injuries continue to occur; a 20-year-old man lost his hand on April 18, according to Dr. Abdollah Dooran, who manages Kasagita’s health center. Since the fighting stopped, he said he had seen roughly 50 such injuries.
Residents said they are afraid of gathering water and returning to farming activities, both of which are critical to the rehabilitation of northern Ethiopia, where the war has left hundreds of thousands in starvation and displaced almost two million people, according to UN data.
According to Mark Hiznay, senior armaments researcher at Human Rights Watch in New York, “unexploded ordnance and abandoned ammunition will continue to hinder humanitarian activities, hamper agriculture and building projects, and prohibit safe resettlement.”
Lia Tadesse, Ethiopia’s Health Minister, informed the media that she was unaware of any incidences of children being hurt by unexploded ordnance or mines in Afar or other places.
The media was unable to determine which weapons caused the injuries or which side caused them.
According to Dr. Mohammed Yusuf, the Afar hospital’s chief executive, the only way for hospital staff to figure out what caused the injuries is for patients to testify.
Some patients have claimed to have found grenades. Others said they trod on explosives, despite the fact that there is no credible proof that mines were planted during the battle.
Tigrayan forces did not deploy landmines and sought not to leave explosive ordnance behind, according to Getachew Reda, a spokesman for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). He didn’t go into depth about any cleanup efforts.
Questions about injuries and deaths from unexploded ordnance or landmines were not answered by the director of the federal government’s humanitarian aid office or military spokespeople.
War broke out 17 months ago in the Tigray area between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government and Tigrayan troops led by leaders of the TPLF, the regional party that used to administer the federal government.
Abiy is accused by the TPLF of attempting to consolidate authority at the expense of Ethiopia’s ethnically divided regions. The TPLF, according to Abiy’s government, is attempting to retake control of the country.
Because officials in the Tigray region did not reply to requests for comment, the media was unable to obtain official data on youngsters injured by unexploded explosives.
According to a doctor at Ayder Referral Facility in Mekelle, Tigray’s capital, his hospital had received 139 cases of children gravely injured by explosives as a result of the war by the end of last year.
The doctor, who did not want to be identified, supplied photos of eight youngsters with burns and big bleeding wounds on their legs, hands, and torsos, as well as blown-off fingers and toes. The photographs could not be independently verified by the media.
Gizachew Muluneh, a spokesman for the Amhara region’s regional government, stated 3,320 children had been hurt in the conflict, but did not specify what caused the injuries.
Last July, the TPLF invaded Afar, claiming to be trying to break a stranglehold on food supplies entering Tigray and seize a crucial route leading to Djibouti, the Horn of Africa’s primary port.
In November and early December, Ethiopian forces and the TPLF fought for 28 days in Kasagita, which is located along a vital supply route into Addis Ababa. When the reporters arrived in February, the landscape was littered with burned-out houses and abandoned green munitions boxes. Residents of the town claimed that 38 civilians were killed in the conflict, which a number of media outlets were unable to independently confirm.
According to three Kasagita residents, the first fatality of unexploded ordnance was 2-year-old Saed Noore, who was murdered on Feb. 16 while playing outside his house.
“His entire body had turned to charcoal. He died not long after “Dr. Abdollah, the town’s clinic director, agreed.
Four more children between the ages of 4 and 10 were brought to Abdollah’s clinic with injuries from unexploded munitions in the following five days, he said. Ten of the more serious cases were transported to Dubti Hospital, which is 140 kilometers (87 miles) distant. There were three people that died there.
One of the children, five-year-old Dawud Ali, was taken to Dubti after his stomach was blown open when he and a friend mistook a grenade for a toy, according to Abdollah, who cited the parents, who the media were unable to interview. Three days later, he passed away.
For a few weeks in December, a government onslaught pushed Tigrayan forces back from Afar. However, Tigrayan forces returned and took control of six districts in northern Afar. Until the administration agreed to a ceasefire, fighting erupted on a periodic basis.
“There are explosives everywhere, and accidents happen when people start their regular duties,” Tamer, a nurse in Dubti, said. “We’re in a precarious situation.”