Field diary: UNICEF helps provide water to Somalia's drought-hit regions

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Maulid Warfa is an Emergency Officer with UNICEF in Somalia. He recently visited remote locations in central Somalia as part of a UNICEF team on a water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) monitoring mission to assess needs on the ground in the drought-hit zone.

By Maulid Warfa

GALKAYO, Somalia, 20 April 2011 – We set out on a Saturday and headed east from our base in Galkayo toward Hobyo, a coastal town and a haven for some of Somalia’s pirates. After only a few kilometres’ drive we were in a dusty semi-desert, amid scorching earth. The first settlement we came upon was the little village of Bitale, a strategic watering point for livestock. Though the settlement is impoverished it boasts a towering telecommunication mast: a sign of Somalia’s technology boom.

The rest of the landscape is flat and barren. Our driver is warned to strictly follow the tracks of cars ahead to avoid possible landmines in our path. He struggles to manoeuvre the heavy armoured car on the sandy road.

Drilling for water

After a drive of about three and half hours – a 110 km journey – the driver points out a rig. We are in Heeco, where UNICEF is supporting the drilling of a borehole to provide water to the local community. It feels like we are in the middle of nowhere, but according to UNICEF WASH Specialist Abdirahman Issack, some 20,000 pastoralists will benefit from the borehole once it is completed.

Deciding on the location for the borehole took four months of exhaustive consultations with elders from three different clan communities, the local Galmudug authorities and non-governmental partners, Mr. Issack tells us.

The drilling itself has not been easy. “It took us two months to reach where we are today,” says Daniel Kimani, the Kenyan drill-master working on the site, “but we’ve finally hit the water and after casing the borehole, we should be pumping by next week.”

While Douglas Abuuru, another UNICEF WASH Specialist, analysed samples of water and soil collected from different stages of the drilling, Bastien Vigneau, UNICEF Chief Field Officer for South and Central Somalia, remarks: “In this area, where it seemed an impossible task to find water, we have achieved it. Now we really are reaching ‘the last quintile’!”

Source of conflict

UNICEF wants to address recurrent water crises in Somalia with more sustainable solutions, so in addition to the borehole at Heeco, UNICEF has drilled three more strategic boreholes in central Somalia with funding from the Italian Development Cooperation.

Water has been a major source of conflict in this part of Somalia for many years and we saw evidence of this on our return journey to Galkayo. Just 70 km from our destination, our convoy was brought to a sudden halt at the sight of gunmen chasing animals from a water trough.

Our military escort went to investigate and managed to calm things down. It turned out that the gunmen had mistaken us for a rival clan coming to raid their water point. Six months ago, more than 50 people died when two clans fought over a similar water point nearby.

This is why our work is important. The boreholes will not only bring water, but also act as a catalyst for peace, helping to create stability and security.