Desperation in Somaliland: No food, only dust

March 21, 2017
Written by Kieran McConville
Photo by Kieran McConville

Time is running out for goat and sheep farmers in Somaliland, who have livestock to save, but no way to do so.

Awil* stands in the wind and dust and searing heat, staring at his feet, reluctant to make eye contact. It’s as if he’s somehow ashamed of what has happened here. But it’s not his fault.

Scattered around us are dozens of carcasses of dead sheep and goats. “I came here with 150 animals,” he says. “Now I have 30.” Behind him, beneath a flimsy shelter in a corral of thorny branches, lies the latest victim of the drought here — curled up as if sleeping.

A fruitless journey

Awil came here from the Togdher region of Somaliland, desperate to find pasture and water for his animals. For a herder like Liban, livestock are everything. They’re the difference between life and death. “The conditions forced us to leave,” he says.

Awil Raage and his two sons are camped out in Ilkaweyne, Somaliland

Awil and two of his sons, aged 8, and 11, are camped out in Somaliland. This area, normally one of the more fertile in the country, is now bone dry. Photo: Kieran McConville

He borrowed $400 to transport his flock the more than 300 miles here to the Gabiley region, about 37 miles from the Somaliland. This area, normally one of the most fertile regions of the country, has been struck hard by the drought. Now all of the grazing is gone.

He is in an impossible position — stranded far from home and deeply worried for his family’s survival.

Awil arrived in October 2016 with his two sons, 11-year-old Thalil* and eight-year-old Rooble*. His wife and four other children stayed behind. By November, already weakened by hunger and stress, the animals started to die.

The temporary camp of Liban and his sons in Somaliland

Awil and his sons have a few meager possessions at their temporary camp in Somaliland, over 300 miles from their home. Photo: Kieran McConville

Now, deep in debt, and with his assets literally disappearing around him, Awil and the two boys are entirely reliant on the generosity of local people for food. He is in an impossible position — stranded far from home and deeply worried for his family’s survival.

One of many

Awil is not alone in this predicament. All across this region, thousands of displaced families huddle in small shelters, watching their livelihoods slowly melt away. Ibraahin*, his face weathered and creased from 78 years of herding and hustling, has lost more than half of his flock. “This is the worst I’ve ever seen,” he says.

Bilan*, a young mother of three, tells us she has only five “shoat” — the local phrase for sheep and goats — surviving. “What can I do?” she says. “I will stay until the last one is gone.” The family is due to receive an emergency cash payment by mobile phone tomorrow, enough to keep them going for maybe another month.

“We are waiting on nobody, except maybe Allah.”

For others, though, the tragedy has struck even deeper. Hani is a 47-year-old mother of seven. She and her husband left Togdher with 459 animals — less than 60 have survived. Devastated by his situation, Hani’s husband hung himself from a tree three weeks ago, leaving the family completely dependent on the charity of others.

Bilan, a mother of three, who left her home in Somalia in search of pasture for her livestock

Bilan in Somalia’s Gabiley region. She is now receiving an emergency cash transfer and water supplies from Concern. Photo: Kieran McConville

Dozens of families continue to arrive in Gabiley every day, in the hope of salvation. All they find is dust, hunger, and failure. Awil surveys the devastation drought has brought to his flock. “We have nowhere else to go,” he says. “We are waiting on nobody, except maybe Allah.”

Concern’s emergency response

Concern Worldwide is providing water trucking services and mobile phone cash transfers to displaced families in Gabiley, Somaliland. At latest count there are 20,000 displaced people scattered across the region.

*Names changed for security.

Help us reach families with nowhere else to turn.