Save The Children media manager Devendra Singh Tak finds that in drought-hit Somaliland even when the rains come they arrive too little and too late, and sometimes seem to only exacerbate the problems faced by a beleaguered population.
Driving through the picturesque hilly region in the western part of the Somaliland (which is a self-declared region from Somalia) called Qodaal, one can be mistaken in believing that the worst drought that the Earth has seen in living memory has come to an end. It’s a Friday and the only traffic stoppers on the Highway are the turtles. Somalis say that when you see turtles, it’s the lucky sign for rain. So indeed it has rained in these parts last night. And the Earth is visibly soaked in many parts, with the occasional ponds making an appearance. Some of the river beds too show signs of revival.
But in the mostly barren landscape that stretches between Hargeisa and the western-most town of Borama, with the hills rolling into Ethiopia on one side of the road, there are the occasional hamlets. These have sprung up in just the last few months – when families have migrated in sheer desperation from the worst-hit eastern parts along the Gulf of Aden. Qodaal means farming areas and there are several along the way – and a few have been hastily ploughed with the surprise rain appearing for the first time halfway through the Gu rainy season.
At one of these spots along the highway are makeshift homes for two families who have come from a distance of over 400 kms, from a village called Xaaxi in Togdheer region, about six months ago. As one approaches this settlement, there is the strong smell of animal carcasses and one can spot dead livestock. Just outside the entrance to the settlement, however, are the bodies of sheep that have died just last night.
40-year-old Asha Abdillahi is moving around with her 10-month-old son Subeer Abdikadir, who is pleased to see the visitors from Save the Children. “My children hate this place,” she says. “They tell me every day that they want to go back home. And last night was so cold and wet with the rain that they were all miserable.”
She has nine children, three of which are girls. Her husband has gone to fetch water from a bore well nearby. “The children are most scared of the hyenas, who come about here searching for food every night.”
Her family came over here in truck with their livestock, a total of over 150 sheep, six months ago. Now only 40 survive. It was 55 till yesterday but the rain and the cold water has killed another 15 sheep who had any way been weakened without adequate food and water for many months now. Next to her hut lies a sheep. It’s not moving and so it’s hard to make out if it’s alive. Suddenly it starts to shiver and so she scrambles to it and picks it up and takes it into the small hut they have assembled from tarpaulin and sticks.
“We have no livestock, so we have no money to go back. In any case what will we go back to?” It’s only in the Qodaal that there are farms in Somaliland, on the vast eastern side there are only pastoralists.
“Since I have been born, we have never seen a drought like this and my parents too have not witnessed anything as severe as this. Only once before had we moved away from our home but that was not so far.”
Apart from the loss of livestock and livelihood, her family has also run out of the bare necessities. “We have hardly any clothes left or shoes. We have no sheets to sleep on.”
Three of her children were at school but they will miss out on school this year. In terms of medical assistance, they rely on traditional remedies. Regular vaccination for her small children has been omitted.
Jimale Magan, Emergency Response Coordinator for Save the Children, adds, “While rains are required to end the drought and replenish the water reserves, obviously there are negative consequences when the rain arrives so late. The dead carcasses surrounding these huts, the contamination of water resources can lead to disease outbreaks. If there is a lot of rain in the next few weeks left of the rainy season, then this settlement which is located within a water catchment area would be drowned.”
Families like her will be forced to move, sooner than later, but they have nowhere to go.