Somalia: With drought everywhere, there is nowhere to go

Nura Abdi Nuur, a mother of seven children aged eight months to thirty years, looks worn but determined. She holds her youngest child in one arm, using her other hand to shield him from the blasting sun.

Until four months ago, the family lived as pastoralists keeping more than 200 goats and other livestock in a remote mountainous area of Somaliland.

Then in late 2015, when the usual dry season was supposed to end, the rain never came. Nor was there any rain in 2016 during the main rainy season usually staring in late March and lasting until June. The next rainy season also failed. By the end of 2016, the family was facing starvation.

“Our problems started more than a year ago. For a while we had a little to drink, but then we had nothing. In the mountains, there was no water, food or any help, so we wanted to get closer to a road. Most of our livestock had died”, she recounts.

“This is the worst drought we have ever experienced. Before, we have always been able to go somewhere to get food and water, but now the whole country is affected.”

At the road, they managed to get transport for the children to an impromptu camp with other drought-stricken families set up by a water source where assistance was available. The adults had to walk the 90 kilometers on foot.

While the camp offers basic relief to people who have lost everything, life is still a struggle. Families live in small huts made of sticks and whatever sheeting they can find. Due to malnutrition, unhygienic living conditions, and the increasing amount of salt in the water from the drying well, diseases such as influenza and stomach problems are common. Nura tells us that several of her children have coughs and diarrhea.

“You can see how it is: No food, no water, no income – but now we have started receiving cash for work from CARE, which we will use to buy food and soft water. Before CARE arrived one month ago, there was no help, and we ate only one meal a day, in the evening,” Nura explains.

With CARE’s cash-for-work project, participants earn $100 for 20 days of flexible work hours to clean a water stream of trash and animal excrement so that it can provide water clean enough for livestock to drink. Some 13,000 people are employed by similar CARE projects across Sanaag and Sool, two of the regions hardest hit by the drought in Somaliland.

Most of those working to clean the water stream are women, as their husbands have either stayed to look after remaining livestock or they have migrated further away in search of work. Nura’s husband stayed behind in the mountains.

“Life is more difficult without my husband and I feel sad that we are separated, but he had to look after what little we had left,” she explains.

Obviously, Nura is hoping that the seasonal April rain will come, but she is also worried: “If it rains, the water will come right through our shelter. We have no plastic sheeting.”

For the last three years, Somalia has had little or no rain. For people accustomed to severe drought, this one is still the worst they have ever experienced. It is said to be the worst for perhaps two centuries. At least 6.2 million people – more than half the population – need assistance.

In 2011, when last a drought brought famine, more than 260,000 people died. Then, only parts of the country were affected. This time, the rains have failed everywhere in Somalia, as well as in neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya. People have nowhere to go. There is little time to avoid another deadly famine.

The regions of Sool and Sanaag in Somaliland, a self-proclaimed independent state in the north of Somalia, are among the worst affected by the drought. When the first signs of an impending crisis appeared in October 2016, CARE started supporting vulnerable communities with cash to purchase increasingly expensive food and water. As the situation has kept deteriorating, CARE has expanded the delivery of life-saving assistance and more resources are urgently needed.

So far CARE has assisted more than 303,000 people with food, water, cash and equipment to cope with the drought. CARE is also working with communities to protect displaced women and girls from gender-based violence and provide support for survivors of sexual assault. In the coming months, CARE plans to assist a further 1.2 million people. Learn more >>

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