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Children are being killed and maimed by discarded explosives in Ethiopia -Breaking


© Reuters. The Dubti Referral Hospital treats a boy who sustained a left-hand injury from an explosive left in front of his home in the wake of a battle between Tigray People’s Liberation Front forces (TPLF), and Ethiopian National Defence Forces Forces (ENDF).


By Giulia Paravicini

KASAGITA (Ethiopia) – Eysa Mohammed, fifteen years old, was collecting water in her Afar home, northern Ethiopia, when an explosive underfoot ripped her leg. She is one of a growing amount of children who have been injured by weaponry discarded during the civil war in Ethiopia.

    “So much blood was spilling from my right foot,” Eysa told Reuters in her family hut in the town of Kasagita. In February, doctors removed large metal pieces from her left leg but she is unable to walk.

    Fighting in northern Ethiopia, which began in November 2020 in the Tigray region and spilled over into Afar and the Amhara region last year, has eased since the end of March. Last month, the federal government issued a unilateral ceasefire. This was in response to a war which has claimed thousands lives. Tigrayan troops announced their withdrawal from Afar, April 25, on the 25th.

    But discarded explosives have maimed or killed scores of children in Afar even after open combat near Kasagita abated in December, three regional health officials told Reuters.

    Adults have also been wounded, but the officials say there are more child victims because they are often not aware of the dangers and handle the strange looking items.

    The health officials did not provide an exact total of injuries by unexploded ordnance in Afar. According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, around a fifth of the country’s health facilities have been damaged by fighting.

    However, between December and late February, the Dubti Referral Hospital, Afar’s largest, received about 25 cases per week of injured children from unexploded ordnance or landmines, said Tamer Ibrahim, head nurse for the surgical unit. Reuters reviewed 22 cases during a late February visit. Some of these were attributed to an “explosive” or bomb, according to patient testimony.

    Six children with amputated limbs lay on dirty beds in the paediatric unit.

    Injuries from unexploded ordinance are still happening – a 20-year-old man lost his hand on April 18, Dr. Abdollah Dooran, who runs Kasagita’s health centre, told Reuters by telephone. According to Dooran, about 50 injuries had occurred since the fighting stopped.

    Residents said the danger makes them fearful of fetching water and resuming farming activities key to the recovery of northern Ethiopia, where the war has left hundreds of thousands in famine conditions and displaced around two million people, U.N. figures show.

    “Unexploded ordnance and abandoned ammunition will continue to obstruct humanitarian activities, hamper agriculture and construction efforts,” and prevent safe resettlement, said Mark Hiznay, senior arms researcher at New York-based Human Rights Watch.

    Ethiopian Health Minister Lia Tadesse told Reuters she was not aware of the incidents of children injured by unexploded ordnance or mines in Afar or the other regions. 

Reuters could not determine which weapon caused the injuries or what side they were from.

According to Dr. Mohammed Yusuf (the chief executive of Afar hospital), patient testimonies can only be used by hospital staff to determine the cause.

    Some patients have said they picked up grenades. Some patients claimed they had stepped on landmines. However, there’s no evidence that mines were laid in the conflict.

    Getachew Reda, a spokesman for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), said Tigrayan forces did not use landmines and tried not to leave behind unexploded ordnance. He didn’t give any details about clean-up operations.

    The head of the federal government’s humanitarian aid office and spokesmen for the military did not respond to questions about injuries and deaths from unexploded ordnance or landmines.


    War erupted in the Tigray region 17 months ago between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government and Tigrayan forces commanded by leaders of the TPLF, the party that controls most of the region and used to run the federal government.

    The TPLF accuses Abiy of trying to centralise power at the expense of Ethiopia’s ethnically based regions. Abiy’s government claims that the TPLF wants to regain control over the country.

     Reuters was unable to get official figures on children injured by unexploded ordinance in the Tigray region because authorities there did not respond to requests for comment.

   A doctor at Ayder Referral Hospital in Mekelle, Tigray’s capital, said that by the end of last year his hospital alone had received 139 cases of children seriously injured by explosives as a result of the war.

A doctor who requested not to be identified shared photos of eight children suffering from burns, large bleeding wounds (legs, hands, torsos), and their fingers and toes broken off. Reuters could not independently confirm the photos.

    Gizachew Muluneh, spokesman for the regional government of the Amhara region, where fighting has also been fierce, said 3,320 children there had been injured in the war, but did not provide a breakdown of what caused the injuries.

    The TPLF invaded Afar last July, saying it was seeking to break a stranglehold that prevented food aid from entering Tigray and to capture a strategic highway leading to Djibouti, the Horn of Africa’s main port.

    Ethiopian forces and the TPLF fought in Kasagita, which lies on along an important supply route into the capital Addis Ababa, for 28 days in November and early December. In February, Reuters saw burned out houses and abandoned ammunition boxes scattered across the terrain. According to residents, 38 civilians were killed in the fighting. Reuters could not independently verify this number.


Three residents claimed that Saed Noore was the first unexploded ordnance victim in Kasagita. He was killed playing outside of his home on February 16, three years ago.  

    “His body was completely carbonized. “He died soon after,” Dr. Abdollah said, the clinic’s director.

    In the following five days, four other children between the ages of 4 and 10 were brought to Abdollah’s clinic with injuries from unexploded ordnance, he said. Dubti hospital 140 km (87 mi) was sent with 10 severe cases. Three of them died at the hospital.

    One, five-year-old Dawud Ali, was sent to Dubti after his stomach was blown open when he and a friend mistook a grenade for a toy, Abdollah said, citing the parents, whom Reuters was unable to interview. He was pronounced dead three days later.

    A government offensive in December pushed the Tigrayan forces back from Afar for a couple weeks. The Tigrayan troops returned, and they occupied six districts further north in Afar. Fighting continued until the ceasefire was reached by the government.

    “There are explosives everywhere, and when people begin their daily work, accidents are happening,” said Tamer, the nurse in Dubti. We are currently in very challenging times.