Dirie Mohamed is a pastoralist and walked hundreds of kilometres with his 150 goats and 12 camels from northern Ethiopia to northern Somaliland. He left his wife and children at home with just a small number of animals due to the extended drought and fodder shortage. Both humans and animals are suffering from one of the worst droughts in recent years. Dirie hoped that he would find some green feed for his animals in Somaliland, but his hopes were dashed. The landscape in Somaliland is also barren and desolate. Here and there, there is still some greenery, but it is mostly an invasive thorny tree called mesquite that is beginning to overrun thousands of hectares of land.
Almost all of the livestock have starved and those remaining are weakened by hunger. Of Dirie’s herd, only 2 female camels and 25 goats remain.
But these animals are too weak to walk all the way back to Ethiopia. Dirie either has to continue searching for pasture in Somaliland or to go to one of the assembly stations which have been established for nomadic herdsmen by the government. Like many Ethiopians, Dirie migrated to Somaliland in search of better pastures and now find himself trapped along with animals that are too weak to return. The government has organized transport from assembly centres for anybody who wants to be taken back to the border along with their livestock.
When the animals die, people start dying.
About four million people live in Somaliland, which considers itself as an independent state, but is not recognized by the international community. This is a problem, because Somaliland cannot apply for financial aid as an independent nation. About 2/3 of the population are nomadic pastoralists. Their constant movement makes it difficult to determine exactly how many people are affected by the drought. In the west and northwest of the country, an estimated 20,000 families are affected. Each family consists of an average of 6-8 members meaning that up to 160,000, or around one in five people, could be affected in this part of the country alone.
For six days the Somaliland Health and Interior ministers and the Vice-President travelled in Awdal region, northwest Somaliland to assess the situation. It is clear that unless there is rain in the next few days, the situation will deteriorate rapidly.
In Awdal region, hunger related deaths of the first children and adults have been recorded. In the Garissa hospital, operated by World Vision, a young woman and her severly undernourished son, Roobleh (17 months), lay listlessly on the bed next to his mother. His arms and legs were extremely skinny and he weighed only 4.7 kg and is just 70 cm tall. In the last four weeks Roobleh was fed tea, water and a little oatmeal. Finally, he could only take water. He was too weak to cry. However, at the clinic he is now receiving the care he needs and doctors are hopeful for a quick recovery.
Many people say that this is the worst drought they have ever experienced in their country.
World Vision is working in the west and northwest of Somaliland in 10 different districts and supports two ambulances, which bring sick and malnourished people to the Hospital. Several World Vision teams drive through the areas where pastoralists live with their families. The teams are trying to find families where malnourished children and adults are living. For the children they distribute special food that is enriched with vitamins and micronutrients. They also distribute cash to the families, so that they can buy food and water for the rest of the family on the market. In pastoralist societies custom dictates that the existing food is shared amongst the whole family. Therefore it is important that all members of a family receive food assistance otherwise they would be obliged to share the special food needed by children with the whole family.
But even for a dry region like Somaliland there is hope for a better life and as bad as the drought is, it is also an opportunity for people to think of alternate livelihood strategies. Many pastoralists are now ready to settle down and grow fruits and vegetables. World Vision supports this new thinking and has developed a regenerative reforestation method called Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR). Some communities now support this method and despite the drought and barren soil, there are astonishing results. An FMNR pilot project closer to the Somali coast was fenced to protect regenerating trees from livestock. The head of the community, Haybe Ismail Buni said that many trees have now grown well - from 90 cm in 2014 to now 1.90 cm. The trees - mostly indigenous acacias – provide shade, fuel wood and fodder. They help to build soil fertility and to prevent erosion. Meanwhile, because of the emerging forest, the community has started bee keeping. Harvests have already earnt USD1450 for the community. Because of the success of this pilot, neighbours are beginning to copy it, and current group members are practicing FMNR outside of the pilot area.
Knowledge can fight hunger
Ibrahim owns a small field, where he is practicing agroforestry – growing a mix of trees and crops on the same land. Trees lower temperatures and wind speeds which helps keep soils moist for longer. Different tree species provide edible fruit, fodder, traditional medicines and fuel wood. Ibrahim has even planted fruit trees, including a date palm. In the shade of trees, soil temperatures can be 35 degrees Celsius lower than in soils in full sun, where temperatures may reach as high as 70 degrees C. High temperatures make it extremely difficult for many crops and vegetable varieties to grow.
Despite the drought, Ibrahim and his family are doing well. In his shade house, Ibrahim and his son Saleban maintain a tree nursery and grow tomatoes and peppers as well.The family income has increased by selling fruit and vegetables at the nearby market. The additional income means that all their children attend school and eat three meals per day. The extra income also enabled Saleban to get married and start a family.