Somalia’s rainy seasons are growing shorter and more erratic. In a country where most people make a living from livestock or farming, either too much or too little rainfall can destroy livelihoods and push families into destitution. The ongoing El Niño has led to floods in south and central Somalia, and intensified the dry conditions in other parts of the country, leading to a severe drought in Somaliland, where many people’s coping mechanisms are stretched to a breaking point. The generous support from DFID, USAID, Germany and Sweden means WFP is able to support drought affected people in Somaliland in ways that are appropriate to each location.
Wajale, Somaliland– “I have lived here for over 35 years and I’ve never experienced a drought like this,” said Asha Mohammed Jama, looking at the dry tawny land that used to produce enough food to support her family. Once, she was able to sell half her harvest to earn money, and keep the other half to meet her family’s food needs.
“For the past five years we have received too little rain. People used to have large herds, land was green, and there was plenty to share, but not anymore. Nothing grows and the animals are dying.”
This year, Asha’s small farm is not the only one with withered brown stumps of maize that failed to grow. All around Wajale and Gabiley, Somaliland’s breadbasket regions, fields lay empty, and lethargic, emaciated cows wander in search of pasture.
The rains have failed. Again. For the agropastrolist in Somaliland, rainwater is the ultimate lifeline. When the rains fail, people’s livelihoods often fail, too, and their lives are at risk.
The young men who used to work on the farms have left, some seeking more promising opportunities in Somaliland’s capital, Hargeisa, and some heading further to Libya, seeking entry into Europe.
Migration is an option open only to young people, and mostly men, explained Asha. As a widowed mother of 15 children, many of whom are still young, she is tied to her village, hoping that soon the rains will return.
Searching For Pasture
Rather than watching their remaining animals die, some of Asha’s neighbors have crossed the border into Ethiopia in search of pasture, but Ethiopia is struggling with its own drought, the worst in decades, and pastoralists arriving from Somaliland find no respite there.
Mohammed Abdi* is one of those who trekked to Degehbur, the Somali regions of Ethiopia. He left Somaliland with 20 of his remaining cows, only to lose ten of them along the way due lack of water. An affable man, he is quick to flash smiles as he reminisces about better times, in the not-too-distant past when he was considered one of the richest men in his village due to his large herd of cows and camels. Those times are gone.
He stayed in Degehbur for a month, and describes it as insufferably hot and dry. He says the climate forced him to return to Somaliland, and he considers himself lucky to return with even a few animals. On the way back home, he encountered many people who had lost all their livestock, he said.
“Now, I am back here. I leave it to god,” he said, raising his eyes to sky.
With no other safety net, vulnerable people have resorted to selling their possessions and borrowing money in order to provide food for their families. Unfortunately, that can push families into destitution and lifetime of debt. But support from WFP means that people like Asha and Mohammed no longer have to resort to such means in order to feed their children. Both are receiving electronic cash-based transfers using a smartcard. The cards issued by WFP enable vulnerable people to purchase food from local shops, which they would not otherwise be able to afford.
In rural settings, where markets are not functioning, regular rations of food assistance are invaluable in meeting people’s food needs.
The United Kingdom, USA, Germany and Sweden have provided critical support for WFP’s El Nino emergency response in Somalia, which has facilitated early action and emergency preparedness. This has allowed WFP to engage traders, and to pre-position food and logistical assets, including boats and a helicopter to reach people in locations in south and central Somalia where road access was compromised due to floods.
As part of the El Nino response, WFP has provided food and nutrition support to 46,000 people affected by floods in Middle Shabelle, Hiran, and Lower Juba. WFP is also assisting 60,000 people affected by the drought in Somaliland.
WFP and its partners are monitoring the humanitarian situation in Somaliland and the rest of the country, and are ready to provide further assistance where needed.
*name has been changed.