The Last Drop

Aapo Huhta
Aapo Huhta

Water distributed by the Red Crescent saves lives in drought-stricken Somaliland.

It is very early in the morning when the water transport wagon arrives in the village of Hara-Adad in western Somaliland and empties its load into a deep basin dug into the earth. In an area that has for several years been suffering from severe drought, the water distributed by the Somali Red Crescent Society is a lifeline.

– I could not survive without this help, says Adar Aden, who has come to fetch water.

– All my children live elsewhere. I am all alone.

Adar Aden does not know how old she is, but she smiles and asks me to look at her face for her age. The deep lines and wrinkles bear witness to a long and hard life.

The past three years have been particularly hard here because the rains have become erratic. It has rained at the wrong time, for the wrong length of time, or not rained at all.

Now the earth is barren and dusty and cannot provide food for man nor beast. The El Niño weather phenomenon strengthened by climate change has hit the area hard.

Drought destroys the harvest and kills cattle

– Only rain could make me smile, sighs 34-year-old Deik Ibrahim Hassan, who has eight children to feed.

Before the drought Deik, like many others here, grew corn, durra, soybeans and vegetables. Twenty cows along with 20 goats and sheep provided meat and milk, and the livestock grazed near the village.

Now, the only four goats they have left are so emaciated they give no milk. Some of the cattle have died, and the other animals had to be sold.

– Even if it rained now, we could not till the soil and plant seeds because we have no animals to help with the work. We have never had tractors here, says Deik.

There used to be some 600 families in the village of Hara-Adad, which the older generation remembers as being in a green and fruitful land.

– When I was a child, there were lions here, and other jungle animals, says Muhammed Abdi Urfa, 65, smiling at distant memories.

Drought drives people away

Village chief Abdi Jama Ismail says that more than half the people of the village have left for Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland, or other towns, looking for food and water. Many of the traditional huts, still covered in bright textiles, are empty.

– I have sent some of my children to relatives in the city. We are dependent on the help of family and aid organisations, says Osob Dahir, 30, while making tea in a kitchen hut.

In the morning she serves her children tea and a thin, traditional, sour-dough bread. For lunch they eat rice and in the evening some bread.

Increased tension

The village of Hara-Adad is a typical example of what drought does in East Africa. In addition to human suffering, there are also other danger signs.

– These are a result of climate change and of the loss of forest, a change that has taken decades. What is worrying is that when this area becomes uninhabitable, more and more of the people will crowd into other parts of the country, says Terhi Heinäsmäki, the Finnish Red Cross representative in East Africa.

– With that comes a number of problems. When places become overcrowded, there is always the risk of conflict.

When the water wagon leaves, the water basin in Hara-Adad comes alive. Women in colourful clothes come to get water and carry it home in yellow cans.

The cows, the sheep and the goats also get their share before they move on into the hot desert to gnaw at the dry bushes. There is nothing green and edible to be seen.