(ERGO) – Mohamed Abdi Ali and nine other men wade out every day into the middle of the flowing river Dawa in southern Somalia’s Gedo region to collect sand from the riverbed.
Despite the dangers, these internally displaced men living in Beled Hawo work all day in the water in unison with other teams on the riverbank. Eight hours of hard labour usually fills one truck with sand and sells for $30, so Mohamed and each member of his 10-men team nets $3 each.
“There are no jobs in Beled Hawo,” Mohamed, a father of 10, told Radio Ergo. He and his family are living in Liidan IDP camp.s
“When the river floods, there is a risk of drowning. My cousin, Ahmed Mohamed Ali, who was working as a sand harvester drowned in the river sometime back, and I myself nearly drowned recently.”
Mohamed supports his own and his deceased cousin’s family on his earnings, although they still struggle to make ends meet.
Mohamed’s family settled in Liidan camp on the outskirts of Beled Hawa town in 2018, after 120 of their goats perished in drought at their home to the west of Elwak district in Gedo.
Ahmed Yusuf Mohamed is the chairman of the sand labourers’ association. He said 150 men are involved in the work, which began this year in sections of the river where the water was low. They use cut-off jerrycans to collect the sand, which is bought by local traders for construction purposes.
“We have no income and our children have no food to eat. There is no work, not even small wage jobs for the day. Construction workers are the skilled men, making concrete r doing masonry. But the economic difficulties and our lack of skills forced us to make a living out of this,” he said.
“It is better than waiting for humanitarian aid or begging,” he added.
The families of these labourers were displaced from Bay, Bakool and other parts of Gedo region, as a result of recurrent drought and conflict.
Mohamud Mohamed, a trader, said he buys around five truckloads of sand a day from the river harvesting teams. The nearest alternative place to buy sand is 80 kms away, but the IDP teams sell at a much lower price as well as being nearer town.
The environmental impact of such sand harvesting from the river is not clear.