Somaliland is a self-declared state on the Horn of Africa. Diplomatically isolated, it is now facing famine as livestock have perished after three years of poor pasture. A ShelterBox team is in Hargeisa, talking to aid colleagues about what, if anything, can prevent a humanitarian disaster.
The people of Somaliland are looking anxiously to the skies. In the next few weeks, seasonal rains known locally as ‘Gu’ might just save them from impending famine. But if the rains fail they will almost certainly lose their remaining livestock, on which they rely entirely for food and income.
The Gu rainy season in April is the main crop season in Somaliland. In the usual cycle, it brings three quarters of the area’s annual rainfall. But for the last three years, this corner of Africa has experienced the worst growing seasons on record. No rain means no pasture for the flocks and herds, which means nothing for people to eat or sell. Already the dehydrated carcasses of cattle, sheep and goats litter the landscape.
Those still alive are being driven by their owners ever further off the usual routes in a desperate search for water and pasture. Somaliland has a population of 3 million, half of whom are nomads. Nomad life depends on livestock, and the continual search for grazing land. Already, up to 70% of livestock have perished in some areas.
Now, with thirst and malnutrition a daily threat, families are becoming even more widely displaced. Complicating the matter further, men and older sons usually head off first into the desert to seek pasture, sometimes by foot, sometimes in livestock trucks. This leaves women and children behind in households facing dire conditions.
International emergency shelter experts ShelterBox are in the city of Hargeisa talking to the aid community and government officials about the scale of the problem. The people of Somaliland will need a mix of aid in the form of water, food, medicines and shelter.
Team leader James Luxton says, ‘Somaliland is distinctive in many ways. It has the advantage of being relatively peaceful, with no ongoing conflict as seen in neighbouring territories. And family and community really matters here. Displacement patterns are driven by clan, tribe and sub-tribe affiliations, so nomads displaced from one area will go to fellow clan or tribe members in another area.’
‘So, many communities are hosting the displaced, and in this extreme situation are becoming overwhelmed. There are some government-run camps, but they are little more than basic hubs providing water, food and hygiene items. We are visiting one such camp today.’
But it is the widely and thinly scattered nomadic population, constantly on the move, that brings the greatest challenges. Simply finding those in greatest need amid this vast open territory will be a task. We are talking to all the relevant players, aid agencies and government, and will then decide what help ShelterBox is able to offer, and where.
The families in peril are a mix of internally displaced Somalilanders, and those fleeing famine and conflict from Yemen, Djibouti and Ethiopia. The ShelterBox team has so far met with the Somaliland Government’s Ministry of Resettlement, Rehabilitation & Reconstruction, with shelter and refugee aid agencies, and with various United Nations organizations.