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A Reportage from Somaliland by Jörg Arnold (text) and Fabian Biasio (photos)
When Abdullahi Hashi Yusuf tells of the great drought, even the desert seems to be listening in shame. His voice carries no reproach, no anger at the hard stroke of fate. Word by word, Abdullahi gathers his thoughts together; to understand for himself what has happened to him and his family. "We lacked nothing," says the 52-year-old. "We lived well from our 450 animals. We were proud people. Today we have three animals left. The drought has turned us into beggars."
In Somali's Lamodheere, where Abdullahi, with his two wives and children, has found refuge, climate change is not a subject for political arguments. The group of men standing just off the village square is not busy asking the question whether the temperature will maybe rise by two or six more degrees in the next thirty years. They are trying to organize their naked survival. Here and now.
Lamodheere is just one of the countless makeshift settlements that have sprung up in Somaliland over the past three years. In the language of the Government and the helpers, these are IDP camps. IDP stands for "Internally Displaced People". These are the new villages of nomads displaced from their lives, the villages of the climate refugees. They settle wherever there is water, a well, a reservoir. Over the past three years, tens of thousands of nomadic families have lost their economic base to the drought. In Lamodheere, livestock breeders complain about the loss of 95 percent of their livestock. Not only for individual families, but for the whole state of Somaliland, whose economy depends essentially on livestock, the drought of recent years is an unprecedented drama.
"Before the drought, I had 450 sheep and goats, ten camels and two cows", says Abdullahi Hashi. "We lived very well. The children had milk and meat to eat. They kept watch over the animals and played with them. Then, for three years the rain stopped. The government organized water and filled the wells. And we always hoped that the rain would still come. But it stayed dry. The animals had nothing to drink and nothing to eat. They were so weakened that they couldn't walk anymore. At the market, we got nothing for them. The value of a scrawny goat fell from fifty to four dollars."
And then began the great dying. Abdullahi leads us out into the bush, to where they have carried the animal carcasses and stacked them in heaps. Sometimes, Abdullahi says, the smell of the decomposing carcasses is so penetrating that for fear that the children would become ill from the smell they soak the carcasse heaps in expensive diesel oil and set them on fire.
The children are ill for another reason. With the dying of the animals came the hunger. It is a truly dreadful feeling to speak of the hundreds of thousands in Somaliland, whose livelihoods have been taken away by the climate change that we in the North have caused; to stand in front of people who have nothing left to eat and cannot buy food, because as a result they no longer have an income. How the shame rises in me, when in the hunger clinic of the port city of Berbera, five-month-old Hikuma reaches out for my finger! The severely malnourished little girl was admitted to the clinic unconscious, suffering from severe diarrhoea and tuberculosis. She survived. Thanks partly to the help of Caritas Switzerland, which finances the ambulance transport and makes it possible the parents to stay at the hospital.
The hungry are not left alone. Aid comes from the government, which distributes drinking water. Aid comes too from the solidarity funds of the clans, who are doing everything they can to help stricken families make ends meet; from relatives abroad, who send some money home; from relief organizations like Caritas Switzerland, which distribute food and reinforce medical care. But above all, people provide aid themselves, uniting their own inventiveness with their will to survive. They put themselves in debt to buy food, and they make some charcoal to sell in the town.
At first sight, the assistance that Abdullahi's family receives from Caritas Switzerland rather surprises. "Cash-Based Intervention" is the technical term for this new kind of support. It works like this: Sahra, the wife of Abdullahi, receives around 80 Swiss francs per month, paid into a special account via her mobile phone. With this, she can buy what she needs on the market: rice, vegetables, flour, meat, oil, soap. Using her mobile phone, she pays securely and simply via SMS. The main benefits of this type of direct help are obvious. The enormously expensive logistics needed for purchasing and transport are eliminated, the money remains in circulation within the local economy and the needy are given a choice: "With the money I get on my phone, I can now decide for myself what I need and what I would like to buy."
The climate refugees in Somaliland will need emergency relief for a long time to come. The problem is too complex to be solved with quick solutions. It will take more than one rainfall for the suffering to be forgotten.
The people in Lamodheere have no detailed plan as to how to proceed further. "But we do have some ideas on how to get back on our feet", says Abdullahi. "Maybe our livestock will recover. Maybe we need to acquire other skills so that we can secure our livelihood and get jobs. Maybe we shall have to learn how to work the soil and store water, or learn to work as a bricklayer or tailor. Then we shall have a chance."
Not for anything in the world does Sahra want to go to the city, because she is unfamiliar with life there, and knows that everyday city life costs a lot more. Sahra does not believe that life will go back to what it was before: "I grew up in the bush and I have never been to school. For my children's sake, I hope that they can go to school and learn a trade. If you have money, you can live your life; without money, you are nothing. I believe that in the future we shall live in the city."
These people have only one hope left: that until then, God will help them to get over this bad time. And until then, they need our help too.