Millions of people seek shelter in over-burdened urban centers as the African nation battles ravages of climate change
Just over a month ago, as global leaders gathered in Glasgow to discuss and strike a deal that could curb increasing global warming, Somali pastoralist Ebla Hassan was making her way towards Garbaharey, a town in southern Somalia, in search of a better life, away from the debilitating drought ravaging the Horn of Africa nation.
Between October and November this year, Ebla, a mother of four, lost 80 percent of her goats, the family’s main source of income. “I arrived here two weeks ago. I had about 60 goats and lived in the countryside,” Ebla told TRT World, shading herself from the sun behind her makeshift tent at the Internally Displaced Camp, the official term used to describe places where millions of Somalis are living in makeshift tents across the country. The tent was donated to her by the community in Garbaharey.
Ebla said she and her daughters walked 48 hours to reach the camp which is now home to seven hundred families who have fled from their rural habitats. Community members say they are struggling to accommodate families arriving in the IDP camp.
“Every day, we see mothers and their children arriving here. Some of them join their relatives in the town, while the rest stay in this camp,” said a local community elder.
The UN estimates 2.8 million Somalis to have been affected by drought in recent years, forcing tens and thousands of herders and farmers to leave their rural homes to escape the climate extremes in a nation already crippled by years of war. The internal migration has seen the ill-equipped urban centers flooded with refugees seeking food and water, and pasture for their remaining livestock.
The Somali federal government has declared a state of emergency to respond to the fresh crisis, but by the time of this interview, Ebla and other newly-displaced families had not received any assistance from the government.
Impact of the climate crisis
The UN says about 2.8 million people – close to 22 percent of the population in 66 out of 74 districts across the country are affected by drought. Nearly 113,000 people are displaced by drought across the country. While about 5.9 million people need humanitarian assistance, this figure will likely increase to 7.7 million early next year.
As recently as last month, the UN said Somalia was “on the verge of a fourth consecutive failed rainfall season”, which would only exacerbate the crisis.
Muse Ahmed Muse, a climate change project manager who is working for Kaalo, a local charity in Somalia, believes recurring droughts and flooding across the country are due to climate change.
"In every two years, we now have a drought. The frequency has increased compared to previous drought cycles. For example, in the history of Somali pastoralism, we have had several droughts that have hit the region. The frequency of these droughts used to be every ten years, and then it became every five years. And now it is every two years." Muse said.
Eblas story agrees with Muse's assessment of the climate crisis in Somalia. In 2017, she had about 300 goats. She said she lost almost 200 of them during a severe drought that hit the country in 2017.
However, it is not only Ebla who lost livestock due to the crisis but also her relatives. This has led to an influx of displacement to towns in Somalia; about 2.9 million Somalis live in IDP camps due to conflicts and climate crisis. In 1974, about 74 per cent of the Somali population lived in rural areas. However, this figure has reduced to 54 percent as many families like Ebla's family were displaced by droughts.
"I grew up living with my relatives as neighbours in the countryside. I was born in the countryside and met my husband while a pastoralist. We married happily, but things started to change, and now many of our relatives have fled to towns to find alternative livelihoods. Many of them settled in IDP camps," Ebla said.
Climate change adaptation
There have been efforts to mitigate the impact of the climate crisis in Somalia. In 2013, the government drafted the National Adaptation Programme of Action on Climate Change. The plan identifies management of rangeland, water, and establishment of early warning systems as key measures to reduce the impact of climate change.
Ahmed Mohamud is a camel herder in northeastern Somalia, where the government and humanitarian organisations are implementing these interventions, including building water conservation plants to reduce the water crisis. Ahmed gives water to his camels at an earth dam built recently, and he says the dam improved his family's access to water and reduced long distances that he used to travel to find water and pasture for his camels.
"For me, water is life. Without water, humans and animals cannot survive. I had travelled a long distance to find water. Sometimes, I used to travel days and nights to find water for my camels, and I used to pay money. For example, I used to pay two dollars to give water to one camel. But now, I only pay 0.25 cents for all my camels," Ahmed said.
Government agencies are also working with local communities to establish early warning systems that can raise the alarm to crisis.
“Early warning systems help community prepare for disasters like droughts, cyclones, and floodings,’’ Muse said. “This includes sending alerts about the weather, predictions about rain seasons and potential floods so communities can move to safer areas when it floods.
Despite efforts from the government and charities to invest in climate change adaptation programmes, many pastoralists are bearing the brunt of the climate crisis. Millions across the country do not know if the next rainy season will come. Some of them wonder if they will join one of the IDP camps in the country or return to their life in the countryside, herding goats, camels or cattle.
But Ebla does not wish to return to her pastoralist rural setting. She believes life in the countryside is no longer viable for her family.
"Where should I return? I do not have food, water. I have already lost all my goats, and I have nothing to take care of in the countryside," she said.