Somalia: A way of life lost

In Burcao, Somaliland we visited a village called Ununley. Here, in houses spread on either side of the road, live pastoralist families. When the village gathers to meet us, providing an occasion to drink tea and chew khaat, there is a distinct majority of elderly and women. Indeed, many men have gone with their sheep and goats to search for water. The latest information, a village elder tells us, is that it has rained by the Ethiopian border.

It will be busy, as many herders have heard the same. Having missed several seasonal rains, the herders have to go further and further in search of water and vegetation for their animals. Along the way, many livestock will be lost to the drought.

SalebanYussuf Noor is 75. He is one of the oldest in the village and was one of its founding members at age ten. In his younger years, his family was wealthy. “When I was young, my family was most generous. I ran a tea shop and to feed people I slaughtered my goats,” he says.

Then, the village was growing. Saleban himself owned 500 sheep and goats. Now his family of 11 own just 30. In the last ten years, climate change has endangered the pastoralist way of life that has existed for centuries in Somalia. The last four years the drought has intensified, with the most recent summer the worst. “Every place they [the herders] go they lose some [cattle].”

Saleban is very concerned about what the future holds for the younger generation of the village: “The young people who are supposed to continue to build the village are leaving to places such as Libya, the Sahara and Europe to find work and build a family. This changing weather is very bad. The people living here used to be wealthy, now they are very poor.”

He doesn’t quite know how to deal with the impact it has had on himself and his village. “We are proud. We used to live lavishly, we don’t know how to help, it sounds like begging,” Saleban said.

Saleban’s grandson has been sitting nearby throughout our conversation, drawing patterns in the sand. I ask him what he wants to be when he grows up. “Teacher” he says shyly. Then I ask his friends who are sitting around us, “Teacher.” “Doctor.” “Teacher.” “Teacher.” “Big man who can work in the factory.” Not one of them wants to be a herder like their fathers. That outlook is too bleak.

Abstract: Climate change is destroying a centuries-old way of life. Semi-nomadic herders have to go further and further in search of water for their livestock, losing many on the way. With each generation, the outlook for pastorialists diminishes.

Read more about Oxfam's work in Somalia

Oxfam's report People-Centered Resilience: Working with vulnerable farmers towards climate change adaptation and food security


Share this page: