In drought-stricken Somaliland, climate change threatens pastoralists



22 December 2015

By Jeff Tyson

Ayan and her family traveled to Gargara, Awdal region, Somaliland, five years ago, and have been living in a temporary settlement in the village ever since. Her family used to own livestock, but lost most of them during the recent droughts. Photo by: Felicity McCabe / Save the Children

Somaliland, a self-declared state and autonomous region of Somalia, is in the midst of the harshest drought in decades. Dead animals litter the earth, and pastoralists in the region have lost their livelihoods and have been forced into desperate situations. Many attribute this natural crisis to climate change and fear it will continue to get worse.

Devex connected with Save the Children’s area representative from Somaliland, Mukhtar Mohumed Hassan — who is from the region and is a veteran development professional — to ask him about the drought, the most pressing needs, lessons learned and the impacts of climate change. Here are the highlights of our conversation:

What does the harshest drought in decades mean for the people of Somaliland and their livelihoods?

This simply means large numbers of Somaliland pastoralists will be in [a] destitute situation.  Already thousands of pastoralists lost their livestock and they now have no means to feed themselves or their families since their life was fully dependent on livestock. Many others have very few survived animals, but still not marketable. Many nomadic pastoralists in Somaliland are deciding to move and many families have already moved to urban areas to escape the drought. Though the drought affects everyone, children and women are the ones who are severely affected. Many children are not going to school since their families moved with them in search of food.

Faced with this drought, how has your team at Save the Children responded? What have been your priorities?

Save the Children was one of the first international organizations that has responded to the drought. The very first initial response was water tracking to some of the worst affected villages … Particularly for this year’s drought, we received telephone calls from some of the communities affected and they informed us that due to the failed rains, they are in dire situation. We sent a team to do an immediate assessment and they confirmed the situation. We immediately responded with water tracking and we also lobbied the government to do similar response. We did some other lifesaving programs including providing [water] to the poorest families, building and repairing water points — shallow wells, [water tanks], etc. — and the provision of mobile health services.

A photo series by Save the Children.

Right now, what is the greatest need for the people of Somaliland?

Food, whether provided in cash or kind, is the immediate need. Restocking of livestock is another immediate need for the pastoralists. Construction of boreholes, shallow wells and other water points is another need. Health and nutrition [are] also the top needs of the drought-stricken communities.

As a development professional, what has been the biggest lesson you have learned as a result of your experiences in Somaliland?

I have learned that being poor doesn’t mean you don’t have a life. I have seen communities who don’t have food for their children, but [are] still living in hope. I have seen how things are getting tough for the nomadic populations with less rain every year. I have seen how the environment is degrading and the harsh conditions the poor people are living with on daily basis.

If you were to give a message to your colleagues — other development professionals working around the globe — what would it be?

My message would be: Be prepared to be there for the poor communities around the world. With more concurrent natural and manmade disasters, it is inevitable that you will be required to work in harsh and stressful situations to save lives. Create a message of hope and be an advocate that all people around the world get food, shelter, health, education and protection.

How will the effects of climate change impact the development sector more broadly in years to come?

Climate change has not been a topic that was given much attention before and apart from responding to emerging crisis of drought, floods etc, nothing much has been done. I am hoping that the international community and the donors will pledge more funds to help the suffering of poor people in many parts of the world as a result of climate change. With this, I believe young development workers will be able to get opportunities to start their careers.

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