Life without water in Somalia

In my travels, I experience all kinds of environments, from tropical jungles to barren deserts. Yet no other place has left such a deep impact on me as northern Somalia (also known as Somaliland).

We traversed an elevated plateau, ringed by mountains, known locally as the Ogo. Were it not for the intense heat, I would have believed we were on the moon. Wind whipped up the sand, filling my teeth with constant grit. The air sucked all moisture from my body. My throat was sore and my tongue was swollen.

There are no roads, and the landscape is littered with rocks and small shrubs. We drove for hours hardly passing anyone, only seeing a few people leading a herd of camels into the horizon. It’s a lonely place.

A nomadic Somali family herding their livestock.
A nomadic Somali family herding their livestock.

Most people in Somaliland are nomads. Livestock (camels, goats and sheep) are the only way of life in a place with so little water. These animals walk hundreds of miles each week across the Ogo, traveling from one waterhole to the next, and whole families move with them, carrying their homes on their backs. The last few years have been especially hard, as rains have come less and less frequently, and wells dry up.

Years of drought and desertification, coupled with conflict, are making the nomadic way of life much more risky. Rains are fewer and far between. I’ve visited places that get rain two or three days per year. Ironically, so much rain falls in one day that it causes walls of water 15 feet high to roar down dry river beds, washing away whole families. Between the constant wind and these flash floods, soil is eroded away and the high central plains are mostly bare rock, with a few inedible shrubs.

In Huluul, we met a widowed mother. The scar on her face and the weariness in her eyes are deceiving. She is not even 25, her four children under 7. After her husband died, she couldn’t manage raising her young children and taking care of his herds. As the animals died off, one by one, all hope of a future for her children died with them.

A widowed mother and her sons in Huluul, Somalia
A widowed mother and her sons in Huluul, Somalia

Like so many others, she moved to towns like Huluul to start over. Unfortunately, this has put a heavy burden on the meagre water supply in town, and threatens the health and lives of many more.

Since 2008, World Concern has been crisscrossing the Ogo plateau, working in small villages and towns to turn the tide on water shortages. Through introducing rainwater tanks in schools, clinics and public buildings, repairing and protecting wells, and teaching schoolchildren about public health, a crisis is being averted.

In Huluul, increased water supply has meant economic growth. The town social committee is providing food, shelter and water to this young mother and many others. Her children have access to food and water at school, and the health clinic has fresh water as well. For one woman—and many more with your support—water means life, and new hope.