“In my native Somaliland a disaster is unfolding in slow motion” | ActionAid UK

Mustafa Ahmed Mohammed

Local Rights Programme Coordinator, ActionAid Somaliland

Mustafa Ahmed Mohammed is part of ActionAid Somaliland's team who are delivering emergency food to families on the brink of survival. He blogs about the communities he works with, who are enduring a terrible drought because of the devastating effects of El Niño

Children like 11-year-old Amina and her siblings are at risk of malnutrition in Somaliland.
Children like 11-year-old Amina and her siblings are at risk of malnutrition in Somaliland.

In my native Somaliland a disaster is unfolding in slow motion.

A relentless drought is tightening its stranglehold on communities, slowly but surely. More than two years of failed rains have meant farming, livestock rearing and trade are grinding to a halt. 

I see villagers who are being pushed to starvation.

Taysa village in Somaliland is suffering from the drought.

Reports of children dying of hunger

First the crops failed and then the cattle perished. Now reports of children dying are trickling in. At least 12 malnutrition-related deaths in the western Awdal region have been reported. I have heard from local sources that five children were among the dead.

How must those parents feel?

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I am a father and I can only imagine their anguish. There is something so primal about the human race's desire to keep the young alive. When we see heart-breaking images of emaciated babies we, naturally, want to act.

But what about the suffering that precedes these dreadful scenes?

My seven years working in international development have shown me that starvation - and suffering – can have many faces. It can also be the mother who shares her meagre meals with her cow to ensure the family’s last lifeline is not lost. It can also be the child getting sicker by the day as she battles unending bouts of diarrhoea because clean water sources have disappeared.

It can also be the woman who was so malnourished during pregnancy that her baby died just days after birth, unable to get the nutrients he needed in the womb.

Nimah, 28, was severely malnourished during her pregnancy. Her baby boy died three days after he was born. Here, she holds her two-year-old son Abdul Salam.

 28-year-old Nimah told me:

I didn’t get enough vitamins or food when I was pregnant. The baby died soon. He was alive for two days and passed away on the third.

I have met many pregnant and breastfeeding women who are suffering like this. Many have been reduced to eating one meal a day, or less. With livestock dying in droves, meat and milk is scarce. 

The worst drought

I’ve lived in Somaliland all my life and this is the worst drought I've ever seen. 

As this drought enters its third year and spreads to many parts of the country, it has stirred painful memories. Older Somalis tell me it has echoes of the Dabo-dheer drought of 1974 which caused widespread starvation.

A dried-up well in Huluq, a drought-affected village in Somaliland.

Delivering emergency food and water

As the local rights coordinator for ActionAid Somaliland I am part of a team that has been delivering aid to families in the worst affected areas. We have distributed sacks of rice, wheat flour, dried milk, sugar, dates, cooking oil and barrels of water to more than 2,100 households. We also run schemes to improve irrigation and water management.

Doing this work makes me feel immensely proud, but we need to reach many more families.  

It's not just about giving people the things they need. I also like to spend time sitting with them, sharing stories, letting them know they are not alone - and certainly not forgotten.

Mustafa stands next to Hodan Mohamed, the Director of planning at the Ministry of Agriculture, at a food distribution conducted by ActionAid.

Helping family and friends in need

The drought has not spared my own kith and kin. As someone who lives and works in the capital, Hargesia, I am relatively better off. So as conditions worsened my uncles and aunts have asked me for assistance. 

That is the social support network we have in Somaliland. We are resilient people and we try to help each other.

When a mother in the village cannot feed her child, the first person she will turn to for help is her neighbour - often another mother. But bonds of community can only go so far when drought conditions bite deep and everyone faces destitution.

In the past, Shugri could always turn to her neighbours for help to feed her children.  But now, as resources dwindle, none of them are able to help her.

Yet not a single person I have met has said; 'Why me? Why us?' Instead, they adopt age old coping strategies. Mothers don't eat so their children and husbands can. Women, who shoulder the greatest burden during drought, walk further and further in search of water - risking violence.  

Although people are without food and water they are not without hope.

Like many Somalis I hope and pray for rain. For when it rains the land is rich and green and beautiful. It is a far cry from the arid dusty landscape that now dominates the horizon and stings the eyes. 

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As this crisis deepens, I also have faith in the international community. I urge them to support us. When there is crisis, the world has responded.

Because whether it's a child in Somaliland, or another part of this planet, our common humanity will not allow us to stand by and do nothing.

Let's act before more lives are lost.

Please donate to our urgent hunger appeal

Photo credits: Jennifer Huxta/ActionAid