Drought in Somaliland a battle between communities and nature

April 21, 2020
Written by Kieran McConville
Photo by Kieran McConville

Goat and sheep farmers in Somaliland have livestock to save, but, through nearly half a decade of drought, have no way to do so.

Drought in Somaliland: Fast facts

  • Somalis are facing their second drought in 3 years, with vulnerable communities being hit the hardest
  • The 2019 rainy season produced only two rainy days in 4 months 
  • Approximately 70% of capital city Hargeisa’s water is trucked in due to drought, with plans to build a water supply system
  • Some of Somaliland’s 600,000 citizens have been living in IDP camps for nearly 10 years due to climate change and disasters — as of August, 2019, 3 camps near Hargeisa housed over 13,000 people
  • Livestock farming, which has suffered due to drought, accounts for 70% of the country’s economic activity
  • The Horn of Africa has dried faster in the 20th Century than at any other time in the past 2,000 years
  • 13 million people in this region are suffering from drought- and climate-change–related food shortages

A fruitless journey

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. Of course, the drought in Somaliland is 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.

Amid severe drought across the Horn of Africa region, Awil came here from the Togdher region of Somaliland, desperate to find pasture and water for his animals. For herders, livestock are everything. They’re the difference between life and death. “The conditions forced us to leave,” he says. 

Awil borrowed $400 to transport his flock the more than 300 miles here to the Gabiley district, about 37 miles from the Somaliland. He 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. 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. By November, already weakened by hunger and stress, the animals started to die.

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.

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

One of many

This isn’t unique to Somaliland, which has struggled with drought for the last two decades (and with greater intensity since the rains began to consecutively fail 2015). The Horn of Africa (a region that includes Somaliland/Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Djibouti, as well as parts of Sudan and Kenya) has, according to a US study, dried up faster in the 20th Century than at any other time in the past 2,000 years. It’s left an estimated 13 million people suffering from climate-change–related food shortages. 

While Somalia borders the Indian Ocean, its coastal areas — including Togdheer as well as the Sool and Sanaag regions — are being hit hardest by the below-average rainfalls combined with 2018’s Cyclone Sagar (which killed approximately 80% of livestock in the area where it made landfall). Malnutrition is an especially high risk here, especially for families living in displacement camps who are at a higher risk for diarrhoea and other waterborne diseases. 

“The impact of the drought and cyclone means we do not have enough milk and the remaining livestock are not good enough to be sold,” said Osman Alele, chairman of the Village Relief Committee. 

Tragedy beyond hunger

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, giving them enough to keep going for perhaps another month.

For others, though, the tragedy has struck even deeper: Hani is a 47-year-old mother of 7. She and her husband left Togdhrer with 459 animals — less than 60 have survived. Devastated by his situation, Hani’s husband hanged himself from a tree in 2017, leaving the family completely dependent on the charity of others.

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.”

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

Drought in Somaliland: Concern’s Emergency Response

Concern Worldwide is providing water trucking services and mobile phone cash transfers to displaced families in Gabiley, Somaliland. 

The Somali Cash Consortium distributed over $17 million in payments to over 300,000 people in 2018. These payments are made by electronic transfer, using SIM cards and mobile phones. Much of the funds are used for food, as well as water, medicine, fuel, and education. Providing cash directly to the families empowers them to choose the items that will make the biggest difference to their situation. 

We are also working with communities to build their capacity to deal with climate change. For example, near the village of Shirwac, we developed an underground water tank that can hold up to 310,000 liters of rain water for when the flash floods come. 

With funding from Irish Aid, our agricultural experts are working with local farmers to diversify the crops they grow and introduce quicker maturing and drought-resistant plants.  This involves training farmers to use ‘climate smart’ conservation agriculture techniques to maximize the rain that does fall, irrigate the land and protect the soil. 

In some cases, families can be left with no choice but to move to urban areas as a result. To respond to this, we are targeting women and teenagers to train and assist them in establishing businesses that will provide them with an income. 

The skills being shared with these farming communities, women and teenagers will be vital in the difficult months and years to come.

*Names changed for security. 

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