Somaliland:This is what drought in East Africa has to do with Wales

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Men dig with shovels and women take away the earth to build a dam earlier this month so that if rains does come to east Africa water can be stored
Men dig with shovels and women take away the earth to build a dam earlier this month so that if rains does come to east Africa water can be stored
Men dig with shovels and women take away the earth to build a dam earlier this month so that if rains does come to east Africa water can be stored
Men dig with shovels and women take away the earth to build a dam earlier this month so that if rains does come to east Africa water can be stored

Something terrible is happening in East Africa. Drought that threatens to create famine is ravaging Somaliland and Somalia killing livestock and robbing communities of their livelihood. Famine has not yet come, but it is stalking. If no rain falls and yet more crops fail it is only a matter of time.

You may think this has nothing to do with us thousands of miles away in Wales where the rain falls all too often. But it does. Apart from the fact that Somaliland, an unrecognised, but peaceful, country neighbouring Somalia has historic ties with Wales going back more than 100 years, the cause of the drought appears to be climate change – an issue that is coming for us all, unless we take greater steps to address it.

A graveyard at the Dagahaley refugee camp on the Kenyan/Somali border

Somaliland, a self declared republic, is not recognised by the international community and although Britain has provided some developmental aid over the years, it is, as an unofficial place, unable to get the international trade and aid it requires to move forward. Now the worst drought in 60 years is ravaging the region.

Thousands of Welsh Somalis live in and around Cardiff and small numbers are scattered around Wales. A few years ago Cardiff Council, after lobbying from the city’s large diaspora Somali community, recognised Somaliland as a country. But if its precarious future is to be guaranteed it needs governments, not just councils, to recognise it.

A few weeks ago I had a call from a Welsh Somali visiting Hargeisa, Somaliland’s capital. Eid Ali Ahmed asked me if I would highlight the devastating drought and its effects. I knew little about it, I confessed. It had not had as much news coverage as some other disasters.

He told me the country of around four million people relies for 70% of its income on livestock exports, but many of those animals are dying because there is no water.

in the countryside millions of goats and other livestock are dead or dying. He had seen the carcasses lying on the parched earth. Crops are failing owing to lack of rain and the old and very young are getting sick, he told me.

Thirsty farming communities, no longer able to sustain themselves, are arriving in Hargeisa where there is little or no work for them. A crisis is looming but no one seemed to care, Eid warned.

Celebrations after Cardiff Council recognises Somaliland

Perhaps because Somaliland is not officially a country, the drought, which threatens to become a humanitarian disaster, has not had the coverage it might have done, although the Somali community in Wales has tried to highlight it locally and is raising money to help.

Neighbouring Somalia has declared the drought a national disaster, part of what the United Nations calls the largest humanitarian crisis since the world body was founded in 1945.

Some of the Somali community in Wales are descendants of Somali sailors who came here in the 19th century while others came in the 1980s and 1990s fleeing civil war. The war in Somalia eventually led to one half, now Somaliland, breaking off and declaring itself independent from the war-torn north in 1991. Now both are united by the horror of the same drought.

Somaliland has become a peaceful enclave in a dangerous region. It has its own police, army, universities and government. Many Welsh Somalis visit and some have gone there to live after generations, including at least one who has become a government minister.

Children in Somaliland, north Somalia, wearing Cardiff City shirts

Because of these connections the Welsh-Somali community in Cardiff is well aware of the looming disaster and drought. But much of the wider world is not aware, as Eid pointed out desperately as he contacted me from Hargeisa.

“I appeal to Welsh people to help address the savage drought,” he messaged me.

“There are strong historic and contemporary links between Somaliland and Wales, Every member of the Welsh Somali community has friends and relatives suffering. Every little helps. Whatever people can do.”

Drought has always been a reality in the region, but now it has taken grip as temperatures rise. Until three years ago drought happened around once a year every decade and the communities had mechanisms to cope with this. But since around 2014 there has been little or no rain and the main rains have not come. Many believe this is a direct result of climate change.

Children’s graves outside Garowe in drought-stricken Somalia

There are charities and relief agencies doing some work to help, but it is not enough, says Eid. A larger international effort is needed.

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