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The Livestock Somalis Rely On To Survive Are Dying - They Worry Their Children Are Next

27/03/2017 17:32 BST | Updated 27/03/2017 17:32 BST

Across East Africa more than 18million people are facing catastrophic drought and food shortages. 

Already in Somalia people have died because of hunger and, as the drought deepens, people are becoming weaker and exhausting all their coping mechanisms to keep themselves and their families alive.

 

Two years of failed rains has wiped out crops and harvests triggering a food and humanitarian crisis.

 

There are signs that this drought is tipping into a famine - with more hunger-reported deaths in the region over the past few weeks.

 

On the drive from Somaliland's capital Hargeisa to the Ethiopia border, rocks, and stones are replacement of roads. The driving and journey is difficult because of the terrain and thick dust which covers everything. The landscape is mostly flat - all around are the signs of the devastating drought that has taken hold in the self declared independent region of Somaliland.

 

The cactus are shrivelled up and limp.

From the bush, hungry camels emerge, because of hunger, they look confused and disorientated, their frames are thin, their legs are wasted, the animals are struggling to stand up and walk. 

Animal carcasses litter the landscape. One camel that died forty eight hours earlier, because of the drought, has been devoured clean by hyenas. 

All that is left is the white skeleton which stands out against the brown orange dust and sand.

ifrah

 

The ground where where livestock dies turns into a symbolic funeral gathering. Old men stand with their heads bowed and their hands behind their backs to mourn their loss, children and women huddle together. 

 

Women point to the carcasses and say they are scared their children will die next.

 

In Somaliland, livestock are more than animals, they are the backbone of a families livelihood and identity.

Exporting livestock is also what Somaliland's economy depends on.

 

According to government figures,  of the 18million livestock the country exports, at least 10million have perished in the drought so far.

 

"For our people their livestock is their identity and pride. When a woman is married her groom brings livestock for his bride's  dowry. When there is a feud in the community, traditionally it was settled and peace was agreed though the exchange of livestock. When someone is sick, livestock is traded and sold. The money is used to treat them. Of course the livestock also provides a source of nutrition to families and is their source of income. This is why why it is so devastating to see so much of Somaliland's livestock wiped out - it is a deep loss for our people," explains Sadia Abdi Alin, ActionAid Somaliland's Country Director. 

 

somalia

In a Bali Cabane, village on the Somaliland, Ethiopia border, Ifrah Mohamed, 30 and and her eight children mingle close to their make shift home - a tent made out of fabric, wood, tin and rope.

 

Ifrah is cradling her baby daughter Nima, who is one month old, she strokes her daughters head lovingly. Her baby is mesmerised by her mother. Ifrah says she is hungry, her body is weak and exhausted and she can not produce breast milk to feed her baby.

 

"We arrived here four month ago because there was no food or water. We had fifty camels but all our camels died. We cried when the camels died - they are our responsibility - they belonged to us and they died. It was very hard.

 

"My husband is out with the rest of the livestock looking for food and water.

 

"The children are getting weaker. In the morning I feed the children flour and porridge. This is all the food we have. We do not have much. I am scared my children will die. First our animals died. I am afraid the children will die next."

 

This story is repeated across the communities where ActionAid works dotted along the eastern side of the Somaliland, Ethiopia border.

 

I meet women, old and young who have the same story to tell.

The men in the families, their husbands, sons and brothers have left to find food, water and pasture for their remaining livestock - trying to keep the animals alive. The men are migrating, they're traveling vast distances. The women say they feel vulnerable to violence and sexual abuse because there are no men in their communities.

In Somaliland sexual harassment and violence is not something that women talk about openly. The women are clear to explain that nothing has happened to them but they live in fear of being attacked. "At night we are scared and we make sure that women are kept together and we sleep in big groups in our small tents. We know that anything can happen and there are also wild and hungry animals outside too that are dangerous for us," says one woman. 

 

These pastoralists and nomadic communities are facing huge forced changes to their way of life which has been turned upside down because of the drought. 

Generations of families have been separated and family structures altered as women take on the role of the head of the household. The burden of responsibility women carry for their families has become even heavier during the drought.

Children as young as 14 are also taking on the responsibility of heading up their families, left to take care of their younger siblings as their parents search for food and water for their livestock.

 

In the communities I visit,  generations of women are left to fend for themselves and have nothing more than handfuls of food to feed heir children.

Fatima Noor, 90, squats on the ground. She has her arms firmly around her grandson Umer, 4, she clings on to the boy with all the strength in her body. Umer's parents left three moths ago with their livestock, they took their three eldest children with them and left Umer with his grandmother because they're the weakest members of the family, the eldest and youngest, the family members decided they were not strong enough to make the journey. 

Fatima says "I take care of my grandson. There is no food or milk or water. We make do with rice and flour. I do not know when my family will return. Everyday we pray for rain so that they can return home."

For more information or to donate to the DEC East Africa Crisis Appeal, click here