As famine looms across East Africa, clean water is critical – but drought has seen the price of water in Somaliland reportedly rocket by up to 3,000%.
Three years of little rain has left 16 million people facing a threat of starvation that aid agencies say is unprecedented, with grave concerns that thousands of lives could be lost.
Many rely on charities to provide for them, but in places where water can be bought the shortage has led to spiralling prices.
In parts of Somaliland, a peaceful, self-proclaimed independent state to the north of Somalia on the Horn of Africa, a 200-litre barrel of water would normally cost 50 cents, according to Sabdow Bashir, from the charity Care International.
But he said over the last six months prices have soared to up to 15 US dollars a barrel.
Mr Bashir, an emergency worker with Care in Somaliland, said: “From late last year up to the second or third week of April, water prices have gone as far as 10 or 15 dollars, depending on how far you are from the nearest water point.
“The last week of April we received some rains. It was patchy, it was scanty but somehow it reduced the water threat level and water prices have gone down.
“But we still see some places where there is no rain going up to nine dollars per 200-litre barrel of water.”
While the sparse rains have eased prices, the rainfall has also left many facing a precarious health situation.
Mr Bashir said: “There were lots of dead animals and carcasses everywhere but after the rains, all that washed into the water reservoirs, underground storage tanks and earth pans.
“So people are fearing that could lead to outbreak of diseases, that the water could become contaminated.
“They are not seeing cholera but there is an outbreak of acute water diarrhoea, mainly in the east of Hargeisa. Now with this increased water contamination we might experience more diarrhoea.
“People have no alternative, they are taking that water which we feel is contaminated, but they have no choice.”
But in a shallow valley just outside Borama, a town in the west of Somaliland near the border with Ethiopia, clean water springs forth.
Late last year Care International began revamping the infrastructure around a deep borehole in the Afraaga community, rejuvenating the lives of thousands.
Where the borehole once fed a simple, small tin trough, pipework now takes water to a huge elevated tank.
The tank feeds a series of taps – where women and children cluster to gather fresh, clean water in containers to take back to their homes.
More water is pumped back to a huge trough for animals, keeping supplies for humans and livestock separate to reduce disease, and a toilet block has helped improve sanitation.
This oasis in a land all too rapidly becoming desert unsurprisingly attracts people and animals from miles around.
Mr Bashir said: “The farthest will be a day’s travel of walking. At the vicinity of the hills we see quite a number of small villages, all of them dependent on this bore.
“But the pastoralists will come from as far as a day’s walk.”
In the height of drought, when the need for water is greatest, the borehole can attract thousands of people, with up to 5,000 camels, cattle, sheep and goats spread out across the plain to sate their thirst.
Among those benefiting from the project is Fosia Momum Ali, a mother of three who lives in the Afraaga area.
Ms Ali has an hour-long walk of three miles to reach the new water tower and its shining taps, but it is a vast improvement on what she faced before.
Speaking through an interpreter, she said: “There is no other place apart from here. We all people around here will come to get water from this source.
“Before, life was very difficult and we had to go a very long distance, about six hours walking to get water.
“Now life is changing because it’s very close to us, not far from where we live, and also the source is continuous so we can get water.
“Sometimes there (the previous source) you might not find water, sometimes you find, so it was like that – life was sorry.
“Things have changed – the distance and time, and also the cleanness of the water. This one is much cleaner compared to where we went to get water before.”
Mohamed Omar, water co-ordinator for the Awdal region at Somaliland’s Ministry of Water, says boreholes in the Afraaga area are enough to help support the growing town of Borama.
But he warned: “The region is large and still we need more boreholes and mini water systems.”
The Afraaga borehole is one of scores of projects Care International is involved in across Somaliland and Somalia, including providing fuel to subsidise four boreholes that will ensure access to clean water for 20,000 people, while a similar number will receive chlorinated water from water trucks.
The charity has already helped more than 140,000 people across Somaliland with life-saving aid and plans to increase its work in the next six months.
But with many in East Africa facing starvation, the battle against the spectre of famine is far from won.
:: To help the Disasters Emergency Committee’s East Africa Crisis Appeal, visit www.dec.org.uk or call 0370 60 60 610; to support Care, go to www.careinternational.org.uk or www.care.org.