The way people in Somaliland talk about the current drought tells a story in itself. For me, adjectives like arid, dry, hot and bleak come to mind. But when Tearfund’s Andy Morgan recently visited nomadic pastoralists in the Togdheer region, he heard this current drought referred to in Somali as ‘the drought where nobody can help one another’. This is because everybody is affected, and no one has livestock to spare for their neighbours.
It is the third rainy season in a row where there has been little or no rain in Somaliland. In light of this, describing a drought in those terms makes sense. It truly is a desperate situation.
As a self-proclaimed state, Somaliland has a working political system, government institutions, a police force and its own currency, however it is not recognised internationally as being separate from Somalia. Mostly people in Somaliland are semi-nomadic pastoralists who herd goats and camels across the arid landscape. Sitting in the Eastern Horn of Africa, it’s included within the Tearfund and DEC East Africa Crisis Appeal.
Andy is Deputy Head of the East and Southern African Team. I caught up with him on his return from Somaliland to find out more about what’s happening there, and what we can do to help.
Can you describe what you saw on your visit?
‘It was a shock to see the depth of the crisis. We went to quite a lot of communities, and every single person we spoke to said something like, "I've lost everything because of the drought”. One lady, Kahalidi, told me: "I used to have 100 camels, and now I have four. I used to have 300 goats, and now I have 50." And then you talk to the next person and they give you the exact same story. The UN estimates that 80-90 per cent of all livestock has died during the drought.’
‘In this part of the world, everything revolves around livestock. Families are dependent on selling their goats and camels on a regular basis to be able to then buy the food they need to feed themselves. So if you now only have four camels, you don’t have anything to sell, therefore you have no livelihood, no income, and no food. Goats take two or three years to get to the age where you can sell them, so it's going to take a long time for these families to recover, if ever.’
‘Livestock are used almost like bank accounts – exported, sold, and the money used to buy imported staple foods like rice and spaghetti. With no livestock, livelihoods – even lives themselves fall apart.’
And that’s the story across the whole country?
‘Yes. Across the whole country, goats and camels are the only animals that usually survive in this environment because there's no grass. There are just scrubby bushes, and sparse trees from which the camels and goats eat leaves. But when we were driving around this time, we could see very little vegetation.’
‘Even the trees seemed to be dying off. They had no leaves on, so you can understand why the livestock are dying.’
So why isn’t it raining?
‘From a scientific perspective there is no doubt this is due to climate change. Over the last year there have been very strong El Niño effects in the Horn of Africa, with below average levels of rainfall. This is a symptom of climate change. With the drought, Somaliland has actually become a desert for the last two years, so that's why goats and camels haven't been able to survive.’
‘In previous droughts, I was told that the drought affected either the highlands or the lowlands, or the east or the west. To cope, communities split their herds, with one herd surviving and one herd failing, and the average is seen as a positive. But during this drought, all livestock across all regions have been affected.’
What is happening to the people in Somaliland? They must be under so much pressure now?
‘We stayed in a town called Garadag, where we came across a new village of 450 families (around 3,000 people). This village hadn't existed two months ago. They were all nomadic, but were now living in small round houses which appeared to be randomly placed along the side of a dry river bed. Because they’ve lost all their livestock, they are compelled to congregate. When we were there, the local mayor was doing an assessment to try and lobby agencies to come and help, but you know what, 3,000 people, a new town of 3000 people that's sprung up in two months – it's just huge.’
‘As they are nomadic – usually out on their own – the fact that they’re now all in one place brings its own problems. For example, if you’re nomadic you don't need toilets. This lack of experience and knowledge is causing diarrhoea, which contributes to malnutrition because of lack of utilisation of food, with children being most affected.’
Tell me how Tearfund and its partners are responding to this growing crisis?
‘We've got three partners. Our main partner is World Concern and I spent most of my time with them, and we visited a number of their communities where cash distribution was taking place. Beneficiaries are receiving around $150 dollars per family to help them to buy food.’
‘Because it's not a conflict area, the markets are working, so if people have money in their hand they can buy food, or at least traders can go and get food relatively easily. This is why we do cash distribution. It also allows families to buy what they need, whether that is food or medical supplies.’
‘We’re also setting up water points and trucking clean water in, sometimes from 100 miles away, on a regular basis.’
‘We really need to scale up this work given the severity of the drought, and are very thankful for the £4 million raised by Tearfund supporters so far in the East Africa Crisis Appeal. As you’ve heard from me, the need is still great and we will continue to go there, to the places where Jesus would go.’
Pray that we can continue and expand our work to reach those in most need in Somaliland and across East Africa.
Rain is desperately needed, please pray that it will fall.
Thank God for the generous gifts and prayers of Tearfund supporters so far in response to the East Africa Crisis Appeal.