Sophia Jones-Mwangi is International Rescue Committee’s Horn and East Africa Regional Media and Information Manager, based in Nairobi, Kenya
Coping with cyclical droughts has become a way of life for millions of Somalis. If water is not readily available, families often spend a large portion of their income on purchasing it, taking away from a meager stock of funds that would otherwise have gone for spending on food and other essentials. Of course, water shortages also affect livestock, causing immense problems for Somalia’s pastoralist communities — loss of cattle and income and then displacement, with all its tragic side effects.
The drought in 2011, with its accompanying famine, was the worst in 60 years and affected approximately 12 million people. Many were displaced and trekked into refugee camps across the border in Kenya and Ethiopia. Others moved to camps for the displaced in the capital, Mogadishu.
Communities that have known only a nomadic life for generations now are starting to settle permanently in one place because of drought and conflict. They are learning new ways of harvesting water and preserving it.
Organizations like the International Rescue Committee (IRC) are providing communities with life-saving, long term solutions to address problems that have caused so much stress for so many years.
Eric Okoth is the IRC’s Environmental Health and Disaster Risk Reduction Coordinator in Somalia.
“We have realized that every single rainy season, a lot of water goes to waste. It’s washed off the ground and evaporates and just cannot be not harvested,” he said.
To solve the problem, the IRC has erected three large water basins measuring 15,000 cubic meters in the Mudug region in central Somalia. “They are really huge and have been placed in strategic locations of high water stress during drought and routes animals tend to migrate,” said Okoth.
The pans are empty now, but when the rains start in April they will hopefully fill and provide 30,000 people a much-needed respite during the dry spell from June to September.
In the Mudug and Puntland regions, the IRC has also been repairing boreholes that serve more than 70,000 people. For brothers Mohamud and Ahmed, the hand-dug well they take their 60 goats and 10 camels to every five days is a lifeline. As they pulled the water up in buckets and tended to the cattle camels, Ahmed said, “Water is very important for us to look after our livestock because we depend on our animals. It is the only water source that we have around here.”
Last year Bashir had 500 goats and lost 200 of them to the drought. A repaired borehole nearer to his home means he is able to save the remaining goats and even restock.
“I went to far places that had no water points, but now we are closer to the borehole and I have access to water,” he said. “The reason I am so thin is when I lost my goats I lost my morale. I’m hoping that this year will be better.”
“In the areas where we work, people will be prepared,” says Okoth, noting that disaster preparedness committees are being established in villages throughout the region.
“They will notify us early of any signs of impending drought, such as signs of animals migrating, so that we can respond early. In the past we have been cushioning communities against drought, but now we are providing long-term solutions so that they are more resilient and can cope when and if a drought does occur.”
Droughts will come and go in this region, they are seasonal and cyclical. Communities are being equipped with the tools and skills to respond so that when they do come, residents will be able to cope. Preparing ahead of time and harvesting whatever water comes during the rainy season is the only way forward.
This ia part of GlobalPost's coverage of World Water Day 2013.