‘No sign of rain’: Citizens despair as drought devastates Somalia

The UN says nearly 7.1 million Somalis, almost half of the country’s population, face acute levels of food insecurity.

More than 805,000 people have been displaced, according the UN [Hamza Mohamed/Al Jazeera]

Dayniile, Somalia – Faduma Hassan Mohamed has never witnessed a time like this.

When rains failed to fall as in previous years, she thought the river near her village of Buulo Warbo in Somalia’s southern Kuntunwarey district would not run dry.

First, the skies above became cloudless, she said, then the air hot and dry. Then the fertile soil below her feet that used to provide for her family turned into dark brown dust. Then the river dried up.

“We were farmers. We tended the land. We had a river and we used to water our crops with its water. We grew crops like maize and beans. Now, we [have] lost all of that,” the mother-of-six told Al Jazeera.

“There was no sign of rain in the sky and no water in the river. I can’t even remember the last time we harvested anything from the farm,” Faduma, who does not know her age, added.

Buulo Warbo, more than 140km (87 miles) southeast of the capital, Mogadishu, is in the Lower Shabelle region, one of the country’s breadbasket areas. The region used to produce food for Mogadishu. But after four failed rainy seasons, its people are on the move, trekking by foot towards the seaside capital.

Some have died on the way. Others, like Faduma, survived and sought refuge in a new IDP camp in the Dayniile area on the outskirts of Mogadishu. Two of her children are with her but the rest are with their grandmother.

The Horn of Africa country is experiencing its worst drought in four decades, according to the government and United Nations, with nearly a quarter of a million people facing starvation.

Most Somalis are pastoralists, relying on their livestock for food. But according to the UN, about three million livestock animals have perished due to the continuing drought and more than 805,000 people have been displaced. Nearly 7.1 million Somalis, almost half of the country’s population, face acute levels of food insecurity.

‘No one is here to help us’

The displaced say help is hard to come by, even in the camps.

“I’m here for 10 days [and] we have not received any help,” Faduma said about the plight of new arrivals at the Dayniile camp. “No one is here to help us. There is only a water tap. Can water be food? We are just drinking water.”

Somalia drought
Faduma Hassan Mohamed walked from Buulo Warbo, more than 140km southeast of the capital, Mogadishu [Hamza Mohamed/Al Jazeera]

Most have no shelter to escape the scorching sun and strong winds. Faduma is among the lucky few that have received a tarpaulin from volunteers. With a handful of sticks and twigs, she managed to build a small shack barely able to fit more than one person.

“They [the IDPs] have nothing [and] every day more of them are arriving,” Deeqo Ahmed, a volunteer leader, told Al Jazeera. “We gather whatever we can from good Samaritans and distribute to them. Their health is not good, especially the young ones.

“Camps like these are forming everywhere because of the drought. In this camp, there are more than 500 families. It is not known to any agency. They came here looking for help but there is no help,” Deeqo added.

Children appear the worst affected as many are malnourished and have precarious health conditions. According to the UN, at least 200 children have died of undernutrition and disease in centres across the East African country since January.

When Al Jazeera visited the camp, several babies were on the brink of death with their mothers looking on helplessly.

‘Everything has become expensive’

The East African country has witnessed several droughts in the past, with the frequency and severity increasing in recent years.

“We are not among those that cause climate change but we are victims of it,” Abdirahman Abdishakur Warsame, Somalia’s special presidential envoy for drought response, told Al Jazeera. “In the last 30 years, due to climate change and insecurity, there have been 12 droughts and 16 floods. The Somali people are between floods and droughts.”

Most of those escaping the droughts have moved to the big cities amid rising inflation caused by the continuing conflict in Ukraine and the pandemic. More than 90 percent of Somalia’s wheat used to come from Ukraine and Russia. With Ukrainian ports shuttered, the price of wheat has skyrocketed, pushing more people into poverty.

Somalia drought
The UN says nearly 7.1 million Somalis, almost half of the country’s population, face acute levels of food insecurity [Hamza Mohamed/Al Jazeera]

According to the UN, the country’s poverty rate – measured as those living on less than $2 a day – stands at 73 percent.

“Before a kilo of rice used to be 18,000 shillings [$0.72], a kilo of flour used to be 18,000 shillings, a kilo of pasta was 18,000 shillings and a litre of oil used to be 16,000 shillings [$0.64]. Now everything has become expensive. A litre of oil is 45,000 shillings [$1.80], a kilo of rice is 37,500 shillings [$1.50], a kilo of rice is $1 [25,000 shillings],” Omar Mohamud Abdi, a labourer, told Al Jazeera.

Traders across the country say their hands are tied and have run out of options when it comes to helping hard-pressed customers.

“Some of the customers are shocked how expensive goods have become. We explain to them how things have become expensive. Where we used to import things from, things have also become expensive. Some understand the situation and others walk away,” Abdiweli Issa Ali, a shopkeeper at the country’s largest market, Bakara, told Al Jazeera.

‘No dignity in that’

According to the USAID’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) and the UN’s Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU) the 2022 Deyr (rainy season) from October to December is forecast to be below average. So conditions are unlikely to improve until mid-2023, at the earliest, the forecast adds.

“The drought is affecting all parts of Somalia,” Abdirahman told Al Jazeera. “Every province has a pocket where the situation is severe. We need about $1.4bn to respond to the drought situation.”

A few shacks away from Faduma, Aden Ali Hassan is cuddling his young son and squinting because of the blazing sun.

“All our animals have died,” Aden, a 42-year-old widower with five children, said. “Our farms disappeared because we haven’t received any rain. I walked for four days to Afgoye town [30km (19 miles) from Mogadishu] then took a car here.”

“We have received only tarpaulin but no food. Two hundred and fifty families from my village [Buulo Warbo] are here. We haven’t had any harvest from our farms for the last three years,” he added.

For other displaced people languishing at IDP camps with no help, their best hope of making it through the drought is for the skies above to open up and send down rain.

“We pray to God we get good rains. No one wants to live in this place and beg for food. There is no dignity in that,” Faduma, the mother-of-six, said.

Follow Hamza Mohamed on Twitter: @Hamza_Africa

Source: Al Jazeera