Somalia’s vicious cycle of drought and death

Somalia’s vicious cycle of drought and death

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“This is the worst drought I’ve ever experienced in my entire lifetime”, says 50-year-old Asha, who left her home three months ago. Back in her village in Wadamagoo up in the mountains of Somaliland, she used to live happily with her husband, six children, 200 sheep and goats and 10 camels. But after losing 90 percent of her livestock due to the drought and using up all available food stocks and water resources, she was forced to leave her children behind in the hopes of finding a job closer to the city.

Asha is among the one in every two Somalis currently in need of humanitarian assistance and one of the 2,000 displaced people who ended up Somalia's Ainabo camp for internally displaced people. Their situation is dire. Although humanitarian agencies provide an initial supply of water, food is scarce and people are still hungry. The provisional huts hardly provide any shelter in the blazing afternoon sun.

“We also have a major problem with the unavailability of latrines,” says Ainabo mayor Ahmedkhani Abdi Au-Mohamud. “Women especially are suffering as they condition themselves to wait until after dark to relieve themselves." Open defecation puts women’s dignity and security at risk, and poses a serious health hazard. Almost 50,000 suspected cholera cases (acute watery diarrhea) have been reported since the beginning of the year. More than 600 people have died.

The death of livestock, the main source of income for most of the country, affects people in every aspect of their lives. The drought-related loss of Asha’s livelihood meant not only that she had to leave her house and family behind, but that her children also cannot go to school anymore since she cannot afford to pay the fees. More than 40,000 children in Somalia are currently out of school.

Life in a displacement camp puts Asha’s health and safety considerably at risk. “We are in the midst of a vicious cycle in which people move closer to urban centers, forming a new peri-urban poor, as they lose their livelihoods due to the drought, in search of food and water. Over 700,000 have ended up in displacement camps with very poor hygiene standards and contaminated water sources, reinforcing the existing risk of contracting acute watery diarrhea or cholera,” says Raheel Chaudhary, CARE Somalia Country Director. 

But Asha is one of the luckier ones. Together with many other women, she is participating in CARE's cash-for-work project in Ainabo. Participants receive $100 for flexible hours per 18 days cleaning a waterhole so that rainwater can be preserved. CARE has helped more than 100,000 drought-affected people with its cash program. “When I first came to the camp there was nothing – no water, no food, no work. I’m really glad that I can participate in the Cash for Work program now and earn enough to even send it back to my family," Asha says

"This is the worst drought I’ve ever experienced in my entire lifetime”, says 50-year-old Asha. Credit: Jennifer Bose/CARE