From livestock wealth to displacement - the fall of Somalia's nomadic pastoralists

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Cawrala oo Ergo ugu warrameysa tuulada Gebi ee Badhan/Faadumo Taxadar/Ergo Photo | Awrala speaking to Radio Ergo in Gebi village, Badhan district/Fadumo Taxdar/Ergo

Muhyadin Ahmed Roble 21 April, 2017 SANAAG


(ERGO) - A year ago, Mohamed Olad Salah was one of the wealthiest people in Badhan and boasted one of the largest herds of animals. His 600 goats and 65 camels would be let out from their enclosures every day to graze. Like most Somali pastoralists, he fed on nutritious meals of meat and milk.

But the drought has hit hard in this part of Sanag region in northern Somalia and Mohamed, 74, has been forced in his old age to leave the rural area south of El-buh village because his livelihood has been destroyed.

Mohamed is now living in Harko-dher village in Badhan district, with his wife and his sons' wives. His herd is all but gone and he has no money left at all. He sent his five sons to take the last 10 camels and 100 goats to Nobir valley in Isku-shuban in Bari region, where some rain fell last year, but the trip turned out to be another disaster. They reached Nobir only to find all the grazing and water had been used up by the thousands of other herders who had flocked there from far and wide with the same idea.

“About the livestock, I can say there is really none that survived,” said Mohamed.

“We could not get vehicles to transport the animals back because I do not have money. I have not even paid the $600 debt for the previous transport to take them there. It was a total failure…the animals are dying, they even became weaker than before and still there is no rain. I am now thinking of how to rescue my sons because I have already given up hope for the animals.”

Mohamed Olad being interviewed by Radio Ergo editor Muhyadin Roble in Harko-dher/Fadumo Taxadar/Ergo

Travelling in rural parts of Bari and Sanag, Radio Ergo’s editor Muhyadin Roble found that the richest pastoralists had fallen into poverty and now face an empty future.

Awrala Mohamed Suleiman, whose family of six share a hut made of plastic bags and sticks with another family in Gebi village, an hour’s walk from Badhan, lost 100 camels and around 500 goats.

“It is just me here with nothing. We came here because we were escaping thirst, so we wanted to be close to the water,” Awrala said.

Awrala’s family is among 150 other families camping in Gebi close to a well dug to irrigate a local tomato farm.

Her last two camels and some 50 goats were moved to coastal areas of Lasqoray district a few months ago, where they continued dying one by one.

“The animals faced a long drought and diseases and became very weak. You can see the land has also turned into a desert, so the animals also died because there is no pasture. When a person becomes malnourished, would he survive?” she said.

Salad Dhuhyar has only three goats left/ Fadumo Taxadar/Ergo

Salad Jama Dhuhyar, 92, has been a pastoralist all his life and used to have more than 700 goats.

“I am an old man as you can see, who cannot tell a lie. I sent two goats and a sheep to Bari region. I had 700 goats and sheep, and 26 camels, but only three survived out of them all,” Salad told Radio Ergo.

Salad’s losses have been accumulating over the past five years, he said, due to repetitive droughts. But this one is the worst drought he has ever known and for the first time he has been reduced to becoming a displaced person.

Siga-ase and Gargaraleyda droughts [droughts in 1950 and 1970] that you heard about had less impact on us because we still had animals remaining. During Siga-ase, we migrated to Howd [on the Ethiopian border] and were still drinking milk. Until today at the age of 92, I have not seen or even heard of such kind of drought in Somalia. It is the worst thing that has ever happened in my life,” Salad said.

None of these traditional nomadic pastoralists owns any other property apart from their animals, and none has saved any money from their livestock, nor diversifed into other sources of income. Planning ahead has not been part of their culture - though that may now have to change.

“Herders do not know how to save,” Salad said, regretfully. “We were drinking milk and eating meat and we were not aware of a drought coming and never thought that we would lose our animals like this. We just used to hear that drought hit some places, or fighting broke out in other places, and we never got bothered. Ours was just to eat and sleep.”

Awrala said: “I have not bought anything from [the money from] our animals. My mind was telling me to get more camels, more goats. Somalis have a saying that if you want to get more, you will lose everything. Now we have lost everything.”

In the rural areas in Sanag animal carcasses are scattered along the roadside/Fadumo Taxadar/Ergo.

It was clear from the interviews Radio Ergo conducted that Somalia’s pastoralists failed to predict the extent of the natural disaster, and have not made plans for any kind of alternative income to their livestock.

Mohamed Olad Salah, however, believes this drought will be a lesson to them all and may provoke some changes in pastoralists' lifestyle.  

“It never crossed our mind that there might be a drought like this and that we needed to have savings,” he said.

“Selling some of my livestock in the prosperous times so as to create other businesses and use the money to keep us during the drought is an idea I never thought about.  This is a lesson for any wise person and those who witnessed this drought will plan and reduce the number of livestock they have in order to invest in other sectors.”

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