Ali oversees deadly drought

Ali Hugur
Born in Somaliland.
Living in Somaliland.

“Even all the camels are dying,” says Ali Hugur, the mayor of Bali-Shireh, a district about a 3-hour drive south of Somaliland’s capital, Hargeisa, on the border with Ethiopia. “We’ve lost 70% of the camels, with the 30% remaining in terrible condition.”  He adds that, in all his 59 years, he’s never seen such a horrific drought.

Drought-stricken Somaliland is little known to most people. It is a self-declared republic, independent of Somalia, but recognized by no other state, including Somalia.

“Most families end up here once their last animal is dead. Then they pick up and come here, and hope—and wait for help.”

According to the United Nations, 6.2 million people—more than half the country, and a number equal to the state of Massachusetts—are going hungry. Some 185,000 children could die of starvation if they don’t receive urgent medical attention within weeks. Meanwhile, there hasn’t been a good rain in over 2 years. And there are few aid agencies present.

Normally, families would be dispersed across the region, herding their animals toward good pasture and water, and pitching their homes of makeshift tents wherever they drove their animals. Now they are climate migrants, with camps springing up at an elementary school with a well, the only water for miles.

Generations of Somalis have survived entirely on raising sheep, goats and highly prized camels. The animals provide meat and milk, and when people need to buy something, they sell animals for cash. “Most families end up here once their last animal is dead,” says Hugur. “Then, they pick up and come here, and hope—and wait for help,” he says.

Amid the desolation, people share what little they have. “Water trucks and trucks bringing food supplies are sent out from Hargeisa, because some people here have family in the capital,” Hugur says. “But some people don’t have any other support. In the end, anything that does arrive here is shared equally among everyone,” he says. “How can we let someone die while others eat?”

While it seems unsustainable, what the people will need once they come through this disaster—probably having lost loved ones, including children—is livestock to replenish their herds.

Although Hugur says the young may be able to find another vocation with education, “For the rest of us, we are a simple people, and this is our way of life.We don’t know any other way,” he says.
Mohamed Dahir, a program manager with Catholic Relief Services in Somalia, says raising livestock can be a sustainable enterprise here, with stronger veterinary systems and fodder production.

“If pastoralists can adapt, for example, by shifting toward fodder production instead of just leaving it to the whims of nature, then pastoralists will be better able to withstand the uncertainties with the weather and climate change,” he says.

“There is a huge market for animals to be sold to Saudi Arabia and the wider Persian Gulf area,” he says. But that market has been interrupted by the war in Yemen. Both Somalia and Yemen are expected to face famine as refugees pour in and international humanitarian groups remain underfunded and overwhelmed.

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