"We made from water every living thing" Quran (21:30). I have read this verse from the Holy Qur'an hundreds of times, although it may have few words, it has always felt so powerful. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I will come to see the depth of its meaning and the verse in action - human, animals, plants all depending on the existence of water. Simply put, water is life.
The impact of a drought on food security for millions of people such things sadly are not new in the Horn of Africa. Every few years a severe drought hits the region and leads to a major famine. We become sensitised by watching events on our televisions, become emotional and donate.
Our mission as part of a Muslim Charities Forum delegation was to explore and assess the effects of the drought and the damage it is causing in order to mobilise our network. It was also an opportunity to learn about good practices from fellow international NGOs, UN agencies and most importantly local communities and organisations.
Two years of poor rain is showing its toll on local communities, and the passing Nomad communities. We were told that the most affected areas are in the west of the country, bordering Ethiopia. We drove for four and half hours in roads that they look like anything but roads, a continuous bumpy ride on a track that looks like a rally route where yellow or blue painted stones on the side of the road try to keep you away from danger - clear evidence of the absence of any infrastructure.
The smell of life and death is clear. We passed through areas that are so dry; you can smell it in the air. I didn't expect to see the most resilient plants and animals suffering in the extreme weather. Cactuses were dead on the roadside and camels are dying in such heat. Our route included crossing six rivers, a couple around 150 metres wide, all of them completely dry, devoid of any sign that water ever existed in them.
We stopped halfway in an area where Nomads from Ethiopia stopped on their way searching for the signs of life, water and greenery to feed their livestock. They came from Ethiopia chasing clouds, walked for 20 days, crossing 700 km with young children, the elderly and lifesaving livestock moving from one area to another without luck. We met 79 year old Mohammed Omar. Of his 70 cows only one remains, and of 150 sheep and goats there are now only ten. His wife was too ill to make the journey with him, so he left her at home with their youngest son, aged six. His older son, 15, has left for Boroma to try to find food. We also met with a lady who had started her journey with eight children, but only four had survived. Mothers are breastfeeding their young children but have no milk to feed their babies, due to lack of food, but they breastfeed just to keep them calm and quiet.
I was moved to see a 13 year old girl Halima holding a little goat between her arms like a baby. I asked a colleague who speaks Somali to ask her why? She replied it is weak and cannot stand or walk, I was even more surprised to discover that her mum is carrying two baby goats under her garment for the same reason. The livestock they own is as precious as their own children and their survival depends on them.
Every person there has a story, a story about struggling to survive you can clearly read on their faces and in their eyes. I felt shame asking them to recount their story for fear of them suffering again. The current situation is very real and dire. As an international community we must explore and implement long term solutions and tackle droughts early on - not ignore them until the situation becomes an even bigger tragedy than it already is.
I asked a colleague from Islamic Relief Somalia what the possible ways were to reduce the risk of drought. His answer was improved water collecting solutions such as local dams to collect rain water and a mixture of shallow and borehole wells. If this region can collect the rain water it does receive, it will be the first step on the road to long term recovery, supporting livestock and agriculture.
During this trip I truly learnt to appreciate the many blessings we have, from the birds singing and flying around, to the green grass and pastures, to the feel and look of fresh water and the sound of rain dropping, even the dark clouds that comes full of rain, which the people of the Horn of Africa are now praying for that will bring them a renewed hope of life. We have to remember that water is indeed life.