Asha Abdi Omar, a mother of eight children, has lost many of the goats she depends on for a living to drought and is now struggling with water shortage in a village in southern Somalia’s Bakool region.
She moved to Harhoday village in Rabdhure district desperate to find water, but was disappointed.
“There is nothing worse than thirst. We used to herd our goats in the rural area but the drought forced us to move here to get water, although the pond we came here for is now dry. The nearest safe water well is called Laas Macaan and it’s 15 kilometres from here. We don’t have any transport to get there,” she said.
Asha said they don’t get enough water to drink and her children are suffering. Nearby there is only a salty water well that makes even the livestock sick when they drink from it.
“We are informing the world that we are thirsty and we don’t have safe water to drink. Our top priority is getting safe drinking water.
I am even finding it hard to move my tongue because of thirst!” Asha declared.
No Rain for Years
There has been no rain in the area for a long time and the soil is dusty. About half the residents have donkeys to use to transport water from the well. The rest of them, like Asha, have the option to buy from motorcycles that bring water from the well to sell in Harhoday for $10 per 20 litre jerry can.
Asha, a single parent, cannot afford to buy water at such prices and knows it’s hard for her neighbours to help her as their donkeys can only transport a few jerry cans at a time.
“Lack of water is the toughest situation one can face. I don’t have a motorcycle or a donkey to transport water from the well. If we leave home at dawn on foot, we come back from the well past noon. We are facing a dire situation here and we request assistance from aid agencies, governments, and any other well-wishers who can help,” she appealed.
Food is also a major problem for her family with their depleted resources and lack of income.
“The children don’t get three meals a day. We can’t buy pasta or rice. How can I afford food when I’m unable to even afford drinking water?” she retorted.
Hundreds of kilometres away in central Somalia’s Mudug region, pastoralist Aweis Hassan Awale is experiencing the similar pain and suffering of acute water shortage in Qarsooni village.
This father of a family of nine has lost 50 goats and three camels due to drought. The closest water source is 35 kilometres from his village.
“We have been heavily affected by water shortage in the past five years. We don’t have a generator to pump water for us from underground. During rainy seasons, the shallow man-made water catchments had some water but in drought seasons it’s tough. The situation has forced us to choose ourselves over the livestock, as the little water is not enough for both. People have left the area and moved to places where it rained,” he said.
Aweis is now left with a single camel and 45 goats and fears losing them all as he has no water. He thought of moving in search of water but the animals are too feeble to walk long distances and he can’t afford to rent a vehicle to transport them.
“People have left the village and moved to other areas where it rained. The water shortage has negatively impacted people’s health and children’s education. The few people who have been left behind here are those of us whose livestock couldn’t cover the long distance in search of water,” he said.
Aweis urged aid agencies and the local and federal governments to assist them. They can’t afford to buy water and at times they can’t even cook one daily meal as they barely have enough water just for drinking.
“Water is an essential part of life and if it’s not there, the rest of life is affected. We’ve already witnessed the loss of livestock, so if the situation remains as it is we might witness people dying of thirst. In a day, we might get two to four litres of water, you can understand how little that is,” he said.
Currently, Somalia is experiencing its worst drought in a decade, with millions going hungry and many being forced to leave their homes in search of food and water.
Climate Change Bites
According to Weathering Risk, a global initiative researching the impact of climate change on peace and security, the temperature in Somalia is projected to rise between 1.4–1.9 °C by 2030, and by 1.5–2.3 °C by 2050. The country can expect more heatwaves and the amount of water available per person is likely to be halved by 2080.
Experts say there is evidence that climate change has brought more frequent and severe extreme weather events over the past 30 years. The pastoral livelihoods of people like Asha and Aweis have been particularly affected. Traditional coping mechanisms are being constrained by resource competition, violent conflict, and barriers to pastoralist mobility.
However, in the Somali capital Mogadishu, the dean of the faculty of geoscience and environment at Banadir University, Omar Haji Mohamed, asserts that Somalia would have plenty of water for everybody if only people knew how to access it.
“Somalia has a lot of water, more than even what is needed, but what is lacking is knowledge. The water is stored in different layers under the ground’s surface and our country is blessed with vast water storage layers, some of them going three kilometres deep,” he said.
Somalia receives little overall rainfall, with most falling in areas around the two large rivers, Shabelle and Juba. Most of Somalia’s water comes from the Ethiopian highlands, which receive higher rains and where the land has fewer storage layers so excess water flows into Somalia.
Large bodies of water are stored in layers deep underneath the ground in Somalia, as petroleum exploration teams have discovered when drilling for oil. The problem is that local people are unable to benefit from these water resources as they lack the knowledge and technical capacity.
“The average Somali wells are 100 to 200 metres deep, with the deepest ones found in the east and north that are just 400 metres deep,” the academic explained.
“Since the water used in Somalia comes from these shallow layers, it dries up quickly at the onset of the hot dry season.”
Omar Mohamed’s proposal is that local people be assisted to dig much deeper wells to access the water stored in subterranean layers, avoiding the deposits of salty water that is not potable.
“There is a lot of rock salt and restraint is required when building a well to avoid it becoming salty. Someone who’s studied hydrology knows the different types of water. As Somalia is a coastal land it can’t lack water, but much of the water is salty. As such, the readily available water closer to the surface is undrinkable by both humans and livestock,” he said.
Water free from salt is found especially beneath white sandy areas and near the rivers in any season. Regions such as Puntland, Galmudug, Gedo, and Bakool are furthest from the coast and store water at the deepest ground levels. These regions therefore produce large numbers of people who migrate in search of water and pasture for their animals.
Omar Mohamed’s advice to the Somali government is to establish a water committee to ensure proper planning and mitigation measures before waiting for droughts to occur.
“To avoid drought, there is a need to store water. Likewise, people should save the excess water during the prosperity season and always be mindful of dry seasons ahead,” he warned.
Addressing climate change and its impact in Somalia requires well-thought out participatory solutions that can only be addressed by collective efforts of government, international supporters, and the local population.