This is one of the most tragic moments in Somalia’s history as more than 500 people and unaccountable livestock animals have lost their lives due to severe droughts that hit the horn of Africa region. According to UN reports, half of Somalia’s population, that is around 6 million people, have been affected by the worsening droughts which has left them without food, water and healthcare services.
The drought has also affected other countries in the region including Yemen, South Sudan and on the western side of the continent, Nigeria.
Our society are agro pastoralists and nomads thus heavily depends on the rain. Unfortunately both of 2016 rainy seasons were below normal and the April to June 2017 Gu rains are predicted to be poor, this is according to U.S.-based Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET).
I have been following the news of the famine on social media, on TVs and on local newspapers but i was so shocked after I met with survivors of this deadly famine. I was on my way out of the city heading Afgoye corridor on a family visit where I saw hordes of people including sixty years old women, malnourished children and thinned-skin men. To my surprise, these people had nothing but the two pieces of clothes they were wearing and the children were walking on a barefoot under 32 degree temperature. Upon their arrival in the area, locals (who are also IDPs) rushed toward them, gave them water and food. They were terrified and beleaguered, utterly unware of what comes next. I asked our driver to stop the car so that I could observe the situation of these long-suffering people.
“We had nothing to eat for two days, not even water” said one mother putting her thinned right and left hands on her head. “The river dried, then the trees dried, then the goats started to die and then the water…” she stopped there with tears coming from eyes. “Some of our family are already dead” she continued.
Personally, I have never seen anything like this before in my life that I would one day meet with my people starving to death because of scarcity of food and water while in our houses the leftovers are thrown away outside the doors and added to wastes. I never believed we could reach a point where one Somalia politician spend as much as $1.3 million on securing parliament seat while his fellow brothers and sisters have no access to basic human needs, food and water.
Somalia has the longest coastline in Africa and perhaps even in Middle East with two rivers combined with 90% fertile land. The soil we have is so precious that if one throws a seed of tomato it will automatically grow and God knows the other untapped resources we have. However, with all these gifts of resources bestowed upon us the Almighty God, our people are still suffering and keep suffering. Last time famine struck in Somalia was 2011, killing 260,000 people. It was caused by drought, conflict and a ban on food aid areas under the control of al Shabaab. Obviously we did not learn a single lesson from that catastrophic famine.
The question that is keep coming to mind is why this is frequently happening?
Most of the people might think that this is just one of the natural disasters but to me it is different. This is crisis we have created with our hands and unfortunately we are not on the right way to handle it.
Allah says in the holy Quran “Whatever misfortune happens to you, is because on the things your hands have wrought, and for many (of them) He grants forgiveness.” (30) Surat Ash-Shuraa.
Somalis have created all these crisis with their own hand and it all started with overthrowing the former central government. Many of the lead revolutionists who ousted Siyad Barred in 1991 are today regretting about making that move against a president that handled more crisis than any other leader in the history of Somalia. My aunt told me how the former government handled the famine that hit in the northern regions of Somalia in 1974.
“People were evacuated with airplanes from Sool, Sanaag, Mudug and other regions affected by the droughts” She said. “They were all relocated to Kuntwaarey, Jajuuma and Sablaale.” She added. These are small towns that are located in Lower Shabelle; one of Somalia’s richest region.
On top of that auntie said “And each of the families were given a hamlet and piece of land so that they sustain their lives with farming”.
The late iconic Somali poet Abshir Ba’adle said in his poem after he saw the large-scale magnitude of post-Siyad Barre chaos and mayhem that the country went in.
“Duqi haloo yeero ducana ugu dara waad na dubateenee”
Meaning “bring back the old man and keep him in your prayers. You caused a lot of suffering on us”
It goes without saying that the former government had well-structured eerily warning system with well-equipped metrological system at national level. The former government had also post-crisis response strategies and effective mitigation mechanisms which saved millions of lives by then. However, today after almost two and half decade of conflict our public institutions are not yet functioning properly to address a natural disaster. We destroyed all those institutions in the name of “resisting the regime”. We did it because we chose violence over peace, blood over brotherhood and unfortunately we are still following the path built by our notorious warlords whom we defended unconditionally, whom we supported wholeheartedly for no objective reasons which led this country to disastrous failure.
The noble work
It is worth praising that one of the most magnificent and successful benevolent work I have witnessed recently is the #CaawiWalaal initiative loosely translated to #HelpBrother/Sister. This is a campaign started by group of young Somalis aimed at supporting drought-affected people through online and offline fundraising platforms. Since the beginning of this campaign thousands of US dollars were collected locally and internationally and the team were able to swiftly respond to the crisis through distribution of food, water and other necessary materials across all the regions of the country.
“It is all about do it for your brother, for your sister, for your mother and for your father” said one of the volunteers. “We just can’t sit back, drink our coffee while our people are dying because of hunger and thirsty. It is a responsibility that we need to take on our shoulders. They have no one else to turn to except the Almighty God and us.” He added.
This campaign has opened new chapter of showing the world that Somalia’s self-reliance is possible and can even be a solution for its own problems. It is also worth mentioning similar campaigns such SomaliFaces, Abaaraha and many other platforms have been collecting donations and did remarkable humanitarian assistance in the country.
Turkish Airline which is the only international airline serving in Somalia has delivered 60 tons of humanitarian assistance after it has received calls from Somalis and other popular celebrities on twitter with the hashtag #TurksihAilineHelpSomalia. “just landed for the good cause” said the airline company on twitter.
Averting the famine the Somali way
As a believer of droughts not being natural disaster but rather as a consequence of human activities I am outlining few recommendations that I believe can avert the famine our country in the future.
1- Find solution for the elongated political pandemonium in the country first. I personally believe a politically stable country can manage national disasters.
2- Establish national aid coordination platforms dedicated to address such disasters beforehand and aftermath
3- Early famine warning system should be in place so that public are aware of the crisis and with the help of the government and international agencies, alternative plans can be put into place.
4- Somalis are culturally known to be generous people. Now is the time to put this culture into practice, every family should host or at least provide support to one family of the affected people with food, water and everything else they can.
5- Local fundraising platforms are excellent when addressing national disasters, mass donations from major business companies, foundations, learning institutions and other well-wishers can make difference and can even save lives.
6- This might sound too early but long term measures to improve food security which include having strategic national and community level food storage systems should be in place and this should be a priority for the government and the international aid agencies.
7- Charcoal burning and deforestation have major impact on the environment and hence can cause severe droughts. This should be stopped with implementation of national ban policies
8- Develop agricultural systems and provide agricultural input to small farming communities.
9- Rehabilitation water structures and building water reservoir that prevents the wastage of river into Ocean.
10- Diversion of river water to neighboring rain-fed regions through establishment of water diversion systems
By Abdifatah Hassan Ali