Born into Drought: Somalia 2017
In November 2016, rains failed for the third year in a row; forcing Somalia into a devastating drought. From then until March 2017, over 600,000 people have been displaced within the country.
This number is rising. Forced to abandon their homes and livelihoods in search of food and water, more than 8,000 people are newly displaced each day.
Water is scarce. Animals are dying of thirst and families must travel further and further to find the nearest water source. People’s health conditions are deteriorating due to severe malnourishment and associated illnesses, as well as outbreaks of cholera and measles. As many as 6.2 million of Somalia’s 12.3 million population are in dire need of humanitarian assistance.
The humanitarian community is scaling up its collective response to support people trying to survive the drought. The response covers a variety of critical areas, including food security, health, water and sanitation, shelter, and livelihood support. Without more funding, these life-saving programmes will only reach a small portion of those who need them most. The UN Migration Agency’s (IOM) appeal for the drought in Somalia is currently only funded 40%.
Abdulahi fills up his jerry cans with water he found deep within the soil of the Dawa river. It took over an hour and a half for Abdulahi to dig down to the hole containing the water. A former refugee from the Dadaab camp in Kenya, he explains that while he might experience more freedom being back home in Somalia, life here is far harder than it ever was living in Dadaab.
In Doolow town, South Central Somalia on the border with Ethiopia, six-year-old Nasibo sits at a windowsill in an abandoned building that had once been a community safe space for children to play in. Staring out the window, she thinks about her older brother and father who had starved to death the previous week. Her mother does not think that it has sunk yet for Nasibo that she will never see them again. Hungry, she remembers the sweets her older brother would bring her home from work.
“This drought is affecting everybody. People simply are not buying as many things anymore. Sometimes it is because people are not making as much money because of their businesses affected by the drought. Other times it is because they are saving to help their family in rural areas. My mother and brother came to me for help recently from their farm. They lost everything because of this drought. They had 220 animals that all died because they had no food or water to give them. It is terrible.”
Fathuma, small business owner in Burco
Farhiya waits near a registration point in Doolow, alongside scores of women and children hoping to receive some kind of aid. She traveled 125 kilometers from her rural village of Elbon with three children under the age of six. The journey took six days to complete in temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius. They were a family of eight. Only four managed to reach Doolow. Farhiya had to leave her husband and three weaker children with relatives along the way.
Farhiya is among those who managed to travel from their rural towns. She previously lived in territory under the control of non-state actors.“It was difficult living under their rule. They would not let us run businesses or even allow us to beg for money,” she explained. “They would go around taxing people who had livestock to offer them. For us, we had so few animals that they did not even bother to take anything from us.”
“At least out here, we are safe.”
She is trying to reunite with her husband and other children before deciding where to go next. Having slept under the trees for the past four days, her situation is becoming more desperate as her children become increasingly malnourished. Her five-year-old son, Ali, is barely larger than his little sister Samira, who is only two years old.
Fatma, who is only 15 years old, cradles her seven-month-old daughter Farhiya in Baidoa Regional Hospital. She hopes that the treatment Farhiya is receiving for severe malnutrition will mean that she will get better soon. Fatma and her husband, who is a camel herder, came to Baidoa, South Central Somalia, in search of food and water like many other new arrivals in the town.
In the Kabasa displacement site in Doolow, dozens of people crowd around the water point in an effort to get their daily fill. Not too far away from the water point grows a small garden in the backyard of Amina’s home. She has been a resident of the site since the 2011 drought induced famine.
“We used to have livestock in our village but they had almost all died in the last drought. Just before we lost them all, we sold our remaining few animals off and used the money to get to the camp here in Doolow where we have been living since,” she says.
“The last drought was so bad and we had nothing to survive on. I have no idea how we managed to make it.”
Amina made a plan to prepare herself for any future droughts. She used her farming skills to build a garden and dug a small canal from the nearby UN Migration Agency (IOM) water point. The runoff water flows into a small channel and ends up in her small garden.
The idea worked. Now she is growing sorghum, beans, pumpkin, and other crops. “It has been great, I have been able to grow enough to feed my family and still have some left over to sell for money,” she says with a smile. “As long as nothing changes, God willing, I think I will make it through this drought with no problems!”
As the drought continues throughout the region, the situation in Somalia will continue to deteriorate. People who are already desperate are running out of options as they travel hundreds of kilometres from their home with nothing but hope that they will reach somewhere with food and water. Decades of conflict and insecurity have worn out any type of safety net for Somalis.
Agencies like the UN Migration Agency (IOM) are on the ground in the worse affected areas in Somalia. People are being assisted and lives are being saved but thousands continue to go hungry and flee their towns and villages. As the humanitarian community continues to scale up efforts, more will need to be done in order to help the people of Somalia survive this drought.