10 April 2008

Somalia: Villages Abandoned As Drought Bakes Puntland

Hamure — Squatting in the scorching sun, Adan Hassan Mahamud pointed to the parched landscape around Hamure village, 280km east of Bosasso in the self-declared autonomous Somali republic of Puntland.

"I have seen droughts but nothing like this in 12 years," Mahamud, 80, said. "Many in the community have lost a large number of livestock - their only means of livelihood."

Like most of Puntland, Hamure village is experiencing what locals describe as one of the worst droughts in decades. The last rains fell three years ago.

The drought, Mahamud said, had forced most of the 400 families to abandon the village - some going as far as 100km away.

"Many have moved to the villages of Buq Atato, Eil Gaal and the town of Qandala, because they still have boreholes that have water," Said Waberi, the district commissioner of Qandala, the headquarters of the area, told IRIN.

Hamure is at the epicentre of a drought whose symptoms, according to Amina Mohamed of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), were first noticed last June in the Mudug region of central Somalia.

"By November it was spreading to other areas, including Sanaag, Sool, Nugal and Bari," Mohamed, UNICEF's chief field officer in Puntland, said.

Experts worry that the situation is not improving. The Food Security and Assessment Unit of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, has, for example, forecast that the April to June gu [long] rains are likely to be "normal to below-normal throughout most of Somalia".

"If it does not rain soon we are looking at a major humanitarian emergency," Mohamed said.

Water crisis

Driving through villages near Bosasso, the landscape that used to be dotted with water wells and barkads (water catchments) appears largely deserted as local livestock move away to search for water.

In villages such as Hamure, most of the people left are elderly. "Because of the severe water shortage, families with surviving livestock took them to where they could find water," said Waberi.

The situation is worsened because many boreholes have broken down with age or lack of proper maintenance. "If a borehole broke down, the town or village that depended on it for water would be forced to move," the district commissioner added.

UNICEF has rehabilitated 30 shallow wells in the worst affected areas, targeting locations with displaced populations, but it is not enough.

In Hamure, for example, the 50 or so households left in the village, whose only well has dried up, depend on trucked water. But this is very expensive.

According to Waberi, a 200 litre drum of water that used to cost 30,000 shillings (about US$2) last year is now going for up to 360,000 shillings ($14), which most villagers cannot afford.

The situation has been aggravated by the declining value of the Somali shilling, which is at an all-time low against the dollar, exchanging at 28,000 to the dollar against 15,000 in 2007.

"We are being killed by inflation. Everything costs a lot more than it did a year ago," Mahamud said.

Lost livelihoods

Like Mahamud, most local villages across Puntland worry that their pastoralist livelihoods will be devastated by the drought.

"In some communities between 60 and 80 percent of goats and sheep have already died," said Waberi.

Ainab Nur, a 70-year-old resident of Darjaale village in Skushban district, told IRIN he had lost more than 300 sheep and goats.

Locals said the surviving livestock were mostly camels. But Puntland's deputy minister of interior, Ibrahim Artan, told IRIN that even the camels had been weakened by lack of water and pasture.

"They could start dying if it does not rain soon," Artan said. "These people cope with their livestock and when they lose that, they are in serious danger. If camels start dying, people will be next."

Abdi Shahkur Mire, a former Puntland deputy minister of information, said the drought was likely to get worse before the situation improved.

"The signs do not point to a quick amelioration of the situation," Mire said. "We need to mobilise our people, particularly the business people, to help."

It is a view shared by local aid workers but not by the Puntland government. "We are doing everything we can to mitigate the drought," Artan told IRIN. The government, he added, had already started trucking water to some of the worst affected areas.

Mire, however, said water trucking was a short-term solution. He urged aid agencies and the government to come up with a long-term solution.

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]

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