There is an elephant in the room

By: Mohamed Ubo

Like the 2011 harsh droughts in the Horn of Africa, the bad news of severe droughts has hit on our emotions day-in day-out for the last three months, largely in all across the Somali territories. According to UN report the droughts seriously-hit in Somaliland and Puntland but have also affected the Somali region of Ethiopia, Djibouti and South-Central Somalia. According to the UN report on Feb 08, 2016, an estimated 4.7 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance in Somalia alone. Correspondingly, 10 million people need food assistance in Ethiopia (UN, 2016). Due to erratic rains and crop-failures the droughts have massively decimated herds which support nomadic-pastoralists livelihood. The worst is that in many parts of South-central Somalia insecurities have frequently compounded the impact of the droughts causing myriads of tragedies and the rising tides of conflict impede the humanitarian assistances as always.

Watching weak people with shaky livestock traveling long distances in the quest for water and grass in the middle of nowhere, people have found dried up pasture with no even water to drink; sitting in tons of dust with despair and misery with nowhere to go and nowhere to stay condition. Definitely there is an elephant in the room, which are the perpetual deforestations in the environment. The UN is calling for $885m in aid and said: “We are deeply concerned … with severe drought conditions intensifying in Puntland and Somaliland, many more people risk relapsing into crisis” These pressing challenges are chronic challenges and come annually taking the livestock and the livelihoods of the people in the Horn of Africa; pushing millions into the edges of chronic crises.

This case elaborates the effect of the droughts: As usual whenever I travel out of the cities, I take bags of candy chocolates for the children in rural areas who keep livestock in the roadsides but on February 5, 2016 it was not the case after I saw a new phenomenon. As I was traveling the road between Hargeisa and the border city of Wajale, I had not seen any child, any animal, and any people even on the far horizon. In the past I would distribute at least two bags of candies. Then I became surprised and asked myself where the communities had gone. In the meantime a very tired woman named Hawa with a weak baby waved her hand for a lift and we stopped then picked her up. After I gave her a bottle of water, I asked where the people in these areas had gone and she notified us that most of the people went to the North in hopes of getting water and trees. And finally she had this to say: “my husband and two other children along with sheep and goats moved to the North and I am now going to the city to live with my relatives as we don’t have either livestock or income to survive in rural areas.”


According to meteorologists, El-Nino takes the responsibilities of the current droughts in the Horn of Africa as El-Nino weather pattern exacerbated the situation. Many other intellectuals accuse these chronic droughts to the governments and administrations of the respective regions as they failed in the provisions of reservoirs, dams, wells and roads in the rural domains. But whatever the case is, to reduce the vulnerabilities of the drought affected communities in the Horn requires building sound livelihood pentagons like human, physical, social, economic and natural capital. NGOs and governments could have played an important role in the livelihoods of these communities if they had pre-planned as erratic rainfalls are all disaster-triggering agents that grounds and exacerbates concurrent extreme droughts in every year in the Horn of Africa.

According to the UN report, 58,000 children will starve to death if not urgently assisted. Despite all the pressing challenges, governments and NGOs ought to be compassionate and sympathetic to relieve the situation and take the life of the needy back on track and take the people out of these emergencies. Peter de Clercq, the UN aid chief for Somalia said, “We estimate that 58,300 children face death if they are not treated.” As scientific models stated that droughts are disproportionately hard-hitting to the Horn of Africa than the rest of the world due to the climate change—though climate change denialists reject this theory—NGOs and governments should be urgently serious and strive to respond in the face of shocks, trends and stresses of the region.

As 950,000 people are struggling for daily food in Somaliland, Puntland and South-central Somalia according to UN report, I am gently appealing for the international community to act now before the situation reaches from an alarming stage to crisis level to a tipping point. NGOs have to scale-up their operations and responses and stop simply using the catch-phrases like building resilience, and coping mechanisms. Governments in different regions in the Horn should also position this case in the international media since compassionate and caring responses are urgently and instantly needed. By definition Somaliland and Puntland currently hold the gold cup trophy of the drought and in the short run the life-saving needs are water, rations and nutrition. And in the medium and long term as there is an elephant in the room, governments should think out of the box, strengthen local capacity to cope and build long term resilience against future possible shocks.