We often hear the platitude “water is precious” while we carry around bottles of water we can drink anytime. We bathe with it several times a day, wash our cars with it, flood our lawns and gardens with gallons of it, and waste it in every conceivable way. On rare occasions, when we wake up in the morning and we don’t find readily available water in the faucet we go crazy, frantic that we can’t brush our teeth, wash our faces, or flush our toilets for a single morning. Now, imagine, just a sip, stands between you and death, and there isn’t any to be found.
This is exactly what is happening now in Somalia where according to the United Nations more than 6.2 million people face famine and starvation due to food insecurity caused by poor rainfall and lack of clean water. “Somalia is in the grip of an intense drought, induced by two consecutive seasons of poor rainfall. In the worst-affected areas, inadequate rainfall and lack of water has wiped out crops and killed livestock, while communities are being forced to sell their assets, and borrow food and money to survive,” says the report.
In a country where more than 48 per cent of the population are nomads and farmers in rural areas, rain is a life giver. No wonder that Somalis measure prosperity by ‘Biyo iyo Baad’ (water and green pasture). And when there is a shortage of rain for more than two consecutive years, as preceded the current situation, the result is famine, starvation, and even the death of people and livestock. It was in 2010-2011 when the country was hit by its last, and one of the most devastating droughts in its history, which developed into a famine that killed approximately 258,000 according to the UN and its agencies. And presently Unicef lists Somalia as one of the countries of heightened concern where acute malnutrition could kill tens of thousands of children if a quick international response does not arrive.
Large numbers of people have already been uprooted from their nomadic areas and moved to either urban places or other rural areas less affected by the dry conditions. The worst hit areas are in the eastern regions of the otherwise peaceful and self-declared state of Somaliland and the northern and central regions of Somalia proper. The people have lost all their livestock which is also the main income earner of the country, contributing 40 per cent of the country’s GDP. In 2015 alone Somalia exported 5.3 million heads of livestock to Middle Eastern markets, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). This explains why drought puts not only the pastoral life of people at risk but it also hinders the economic recovery of the country which is already hampered by a civil war and other major geopolitical, socioeconomic and ecological challenges.