Somalia’s vicious cycle of drought and hunger

“This is the worst drought I’ve ever experienced in my entire lifetime,” says 50 year-old Asha, who moved to a camp for internally displaced people three months ago.

Back in her village in Wadamagoo up in the mountains of Somaliland, she used to live happily with her husband, six children, sheep, goats and camels. But after losing 90 per cent of her livestock due to the drought and using up all available food and water supplies, Asha was forced to leave her children behind in the hopes of finding a job closer to the city.

Asha is one in every two Somalis currently in need of humanitarian assistance and one of the 2,000 displaced people who ended up in Ainabo camp. Her situation, like many, is dire. Although humanitarian agencies provide initial supplies of water, food is scarce and people are still hungry. The provisional huts hardly provide any shelter in the blazing afternoon sun.

“Latrines are also often unavailable,” says Ahmedkhani Abdi Au-Mohamud, the mayor of Ainabo. “Women are suffering the most as they wait until after dark to relieve themselves,” he adds.

Open defecation not just only puts women’s dignity and security at risk, it also poses a serious health hazard. Almost 50,000 cases of suspected cholera cases were reported at the beginning of the year. More than 600 people have died.

The death of livestock, the main source of income for most Somalis, affects every aspect of people’s lives. The loss of Asha’s livelihood not only means that she was forced to leave her home and family behind, but her children are now unable to go to school anymore since she cannot afford to pay the school fees. In total, more than 40,000 children in Somalia are currently out of school.

“We are in the midst of a vicious cycle in which people move closer to urban centers, forming a new group of urban poor, as they lose their source of income due to the drought and in search of food and water. Over 700,000 have ended up in displacement camps with very poor hygiene standards and contaminated water sources, reinforcing the existing risk of contracting cholera or other illnesses,” says Raheel Chaudhary, CARE Somalia Country Director.

Asha is one of the luckier ones. Together with many other women, she is participating in CARE’s Cash or Work project in Ainabo. Participants receive $100 for flexible hours cleaning a waterhole so that rainwater can be preserved.

“When I first came to the camp there was nothing – no water, no food, no work. I’m really glad that I can participate in the Cash for Work program now and earn enough money to send it back to my family,” Asha says.

Since the beginning of the crisis, CARE has helped more than 100,000 drought-affected people with its cash program.

Learn more about how CARE is responding to the current hunger crisis facing millions in parts of Africa and Yemen.