Muhammed interrupted me by pounding the ground, laughing out loud and exchanging a few words with the village’s elder sitting next to him.
“Unbelievable. Can you believe this guy came all the way from America to see Somaliland?,” he said in Somali. “All the way just to talk to us. Sorry Mr. Louis, carry on.”
Indeed, Muhammed Yassin Abdel Llahi was right. There aren’t too many people that make the journey to Somaliland these days. The place is sort of the forgotten corner of what used to be a united Somalia. It has a President, a lower house, an upper house, its own money, and more importantly has been relatively stable for over 15 years. If you imagine Somalia as the number seven, Somaliland is at the top left corner, bordering tiny Djibouti and Ethiopia. It’s one of the most underdeveloped regions I have ever seen.
Father of seven, Muhammed is the head of over 450 households, based in Ununley, in the heart of Somaliland. He tells me of “changing weather”, of his seven children being away and of the drought that has hit the region and its people. All of the households are pastoralists, caring for animals and living a nomadic life.
The communities we met in Ununley told us that they’ve seen the climate changing in the last decade but “more drastically in the last four years”. In Eastern Africa this means a lack of rain which affects every aspect of life for pastoralist communities. Little rain means no green pastures from which animals can feed themselves. The lack of water and irregular rains have become a critical problem for tens of thousands of herdsmen in the region
As a result, many animals become weak, sick and simply start dying one by one. The Ununley community lost 40% of its livestock last year as animals in search of green areas crumbled under the heat, including the stronger ones like camels and cows.
“This is new for us. We have never seen so many animals dying so quickly. There is even a new phenomenon when a cow or even a camel just collapses and dies right there. They would usually fight for a day or two. I think it’s an illness they have,” Muhammed tells me.
Faced with recurring poor rainy seasons, loss of livestock, loss of lives even, community leaders are wondering what to do next. They are even considering leaving the arid rural areas for the towns in search of a different life. But they are not there yet.
“The thought of splitting our community to go to cities is hard to imagine. What will we do? Beg? For now, we can only pray for rain. With a few days of rain, everything can be good again,” the 45 year old leader told me, nervously biting his nails.
Oxfam’s partner in the region, Candlelight, recently responded to community requests to coordinate water projects. With the communities, it builds water dams, truck water into villages and improve water basins, called Burkads. In some instances, this has literally saved lives.
“Without water, people and livestock will die, but Oxfam has saved this from happening,” explained Safia Hussein Ibrahim, a local villager. “Now we have cash, we can buy food for the children and fodder for the animals. We only ask those who have something to train those who are strong, educate people, give them healthcare. We are expecting God to change our situation in a good way.”
With a few weeks left of what should be the rainy season, the people of Ununley are still hopeful. Despite having lost so much and seen their way of life threatened in the last decade, one thing that has not gone away is their resilience.
A few rain showers before the end of the year. That’s all they pray for.
Read more about Oxfam's work in Somalia