What drought does to families

By Divya Amladi
Fatuma Jama, 60, is settled in Fadigaab, a village in Somaliland that has taken in hundreds of internally displaced families. Photo: Petterik Wiggers/Oxfam

In Somaliland, the threat of famine looms large. Drought has forced hundreds of thousands out of their homes in search of food, water, and medicine. These are their stories.

Sabaad Mohammud Mussa portions out a meal of injera bread, rice, and tea to her three young children, all under the age of eight. This will be the only meal they eat all day, so they will have to make it last. Mussa, who is raising her children on her own at the moment, has enough food to sustain them for four days. After that, she says, she’s not sure what they will do.

Mussa is one of more than 11 million people across the Horn of Africa who are severely hungry following a devastating drought that is underway in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia. Unfortunately, the hunger crisis doesn’t end there. Famine has also hit parts of South Sudan and threatens Nigeria and Yemen, which means there are about 20 million people at risk of starvation and tens of millions more in urgent need of food.  

Sabaad Mohammud Mussa, 23, with eight-year-old Saeeda, five-year-old Nasra, and three-year-old Mohammad at her temporary home in the Barbayaal Ciyou Settlement in the Sanaag region of Somaliland. Photo: Petterik Wiggers/Oxfam

In the village of Wandabeley, she and her husband once raised 30 camels and 800 goats, which they traded for food and money. However, in the last three months, starvation and illness have whittled their livestock down to three camels and 15 goats.

“When we needed money, we used to sell one camel and buy the things we needed,” she says. “Now we have almost no camels and therefore, no savings, no income, and nothing to eat.”

For the sake of her children, she was forced to make a hard decision. While her husband ventured off in search of fresh water and grass to keep their remaining animals alive, Mussa brought her children to the Garadag district in the Sanaag region of Somaliland. Mussa hasn’t seen her husband in eight months and because she has no phone, she has not been able to get in touch with him.

Families like hers who are settled in Garadag are luckier than most as they have access to a school and a clinic for women and children. Oxfam partners Candlelight and Havoyoco are providing people with clean water, sanitation, and cash transfers for food and medicine. And because of that, the district, which had a population of 12,200 in 2014, has seen an influx of 1,000 families since the drought began.

Awad Ali, a wiry 87-year-old with a henna-flecked beard, stays in the same Barbayaal Ciyou Settlement as Mussa. “I have seen many droughts in my lifetime,” he says. “This is the worst one.”

Awad Ali, 87, left his home in Scalid Sigoter for the Barbayaal Ciyou Settlement. Photo: Petterik Wiggers/Oxfam

In Fadigaab, a village nine miles from Garadag, the water is becoming undrinkable. Fatuma Jama, 60, says the salty water has afflicted her family with flu and diarrhea. She is not alone; many people in the village are sick and the nearest hospital is in Burao, which is more than 120 miles away.

Jama comes from a family of herders who used to own 300 sheep. Between July and August 2016, their sheep start dying off due to lack of pastures, until they were left with only two. “We have never seen such drought,” she says. “The richest man is now poor, and the poor have become poorer.”

Before the drought, Jama’s grandchildren were able to attend school. Now, there’s no money for food, let alone education. She says there is nothing for them to do besides help with chores, like fetching water. Her 11-year-old granddaughter, Fardhuz Mohammed, hasn’t been to school in six months and she says she misses reading and seeing her friends.

Jama’s eyesight has recently worsened to the point where she has trouble seeing. “I don’t know what is going to happen if the rains don’t come,” she says.

For now, they pray for rain.

Some of the names in this story have been changed to protect the security of the individuals. 

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