UNHCR – Somalis abandon their homes in search of food, water and aid as drought worsens

First the rains failed, then Al-Shabab, an armed group that controls large swaths of south-central Somalia, began imposing heavy taxes on local farmers like Fathi Mohamed Ali.


With the river dry, no food for the children and no money to pay the tax, the 35-year-old mother of seven fled her Lower Shabelle home where she and her husband had once grown fruit and vegetables. vegetables.

“Some people were killed [by Al-Shabab] and others arrested, including my own mother,” she said. “We had to flee to save our lives, I couldn’t even bring all my children. I left four to their grandmother. I just took the three youngest children with me.

Sitting on an empty jerry can outside her makeshift shelter, cobbled together with tree branches and scraps of old clothes, she described the perilous 15-day journey she undertook to reach a camp for displaced people in Dolow, in southern Somalia.

“It was extremely difficult,” she said. “We put the children on donkeys and the adults traveled for miles. Some of the people we came with lost their children along the way.

“Food is our priority. We can think about education and other things when we get food.”

Fathi, her husband and children survived the ordeal and joined thousands of other displaced families living in overcrowded settlements set up by local authorities on the outskirts of Dolow. The site where she moved has no toilets and only one tap.

“We came to an empty land with no shelter, and we had nothing in our possession because we left everything behind,” she said. “Food is our priority. We can think about education and other things when we get food and a roof over our heads.

Somalia, like much of the Horn of Africa, is facing its worst drought in 40 years. Following the failure of four successive rainy seasons, more than 7 million of the country’s 15 million inhabitants suffer from severe hunger. Experts warn that the next rainy season between October and December will also fail, plunging several parts of the country into famine before the end of the year unless aid efforts are urgently stepped up.

Hundreds of thousands of Somalis have abandoned their homes and embarked on perilous journeys in search of food, water and humanitarian aid. Since the onset of the drought in January last year, more than a million people have been forced from their homes, including 857,000 so far this year. Another 366,000 have fled due to conflict and insecurity.

  • Fathi Mohamed Ali walked for 15 days with her husband and three youngest children to escape drought and violence in the Lower Shabelle region of south-central Somalia. © UNHCR/Nabil Narch

  • A lack of funding for the humanitarian response means that sites for displaced people often lack adequate shelter or sanitation facilities.

    A lack of funding for the humanitarian response means that sites for displaced people often lack adequate shelter or sanitation facilities. © UNHCR/Nabil Narch

  • Women and children fill jerrycans with water at a site for displaced people in Dollow.

    Women and children fill jerrycans with water at a site for displaced people in Dollow. © UNHCR/Nabil Narch

  • Experts warn that the next rainy season between October and December will likely fail, plunging several parts of the country into famine.

    Experts warn that the next rainy season between October and December will likely fail, plunging several parts of the country into famine. © UNHCR/Nabil Narch

  • Mohamed Adow Ibrahim, 65, is blind but has cared for his three grandchildren since their father died of starvation.

    Mohamed Adow Ibrahim, 65, is blind but has cared for his three grandchildren since their father died of starvation. “We ran out of savings and people started dying, so we had to flee to this camp in Baidoa to ask for help,” he said. © UNHCR/Nabil Narch

Droughts are not uncommon in Somalia, which is classified as second most vulnerable countries to climate change in the world. There have been recurrent droughts, interspersed with floods, over the past decade, including a devastating famine in 2011 that killed more than 250,000 people. Nomadic pastoralists and farming communities have little time to recover from one disaster before another strikes.

Among those who died in 2011 were four of Issack Hassan’s children. To save the rest of the family, they traveled to the capital, Mogadishu, and returned home a year later to start their lives over. But the rains continued to fail and the few animals that remained in Isaack died due to the current drought.

“I lost 40 cows and 30 goats,” said the 82-year-old from Diinsoor town in Bay region, southwestern Somalia. “Our crops and our livestock have been decimated. Animals starved to death and farms dried up for lack of water.

He fled again in April, but his wife died shortly after reaching a camp in the town of Baidoa.

Hashim Abdirashid, a protection associate with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, based in Baidoa, said people often arrived at the camps with nothing. “UNHCR is on the ground providing life-saving humanitarian aid such as emergency shelter kits, plastic sheeting, blankets, cooking sets and hygiene materials, but we have limited resources to provide large-scale support to all affected communities.

“We are now targeting the most vulnerable, including those in need of protection, such as women and the elderly.”

In June, UNHCR appealed for $9.5 million to help drought-affected displaced communities. So far, only $2.8 million of that amount has been pledged and more funds are urgently needed in the coming weeks to save lives and, in the longer term, to help people recover. adapt to the climate crisis and regain their livelihoods.

“Somalia is on the brink of famine; the ripple effect of the conflict in Ukraine and the economic impact of the pandemic make the situation even more dire. We urgently need funds to continue saving lives before the situation spirals out of control,” Hashim said.

In a country where pastoralism and agriculture support more than half the population, the loss of a few 3 million head of cattle hunger and lack of water is devastating for families.

“We have never seen this kind of drought before.”

At a camp for displaced people in Dolow, animal carcasses and bones are strewn between temporary shelters.

“The drought killed all these animals,” said 70-year-old Osman Ibrahim Mohamed. “The carcasses you see are people’s livelihood.”

“This dead cow was a lifeline for this family here,” he added, pointing to a nearby shelter. “It’s a terrible situation that forced us to flee.”

Osman left his home in Middle Jubba area with his 13 children after losing all his livestock.

“We’ve never seen this kind of drought before,” he said. “I’ve witnessed four droughts, but I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Until more help arrives, Fathi holds a jerry can of water for her all day and cooks only once a day for her children. “The best of us cooks one meal a day. There are people who stay hungry for three to four days [because] they have nothing to cook,” she says. “There are children who died of hunger and diarrhea recently.”

“We need support for everything,” she added. “The most urgent being food, water and toilets.”

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