‘Dying one by one:’ Somalia drought crushes herders’ lives

'Dying one by one:' Somalia drought crushes herders' lives

BANDAR BEYLA, Somalia — Ahmed Haji turns from his visibly dehydrated animals and whispers: “I am lost.”

Trying to flee the worsening drought, he trekked thousands of kilometres with a herd that once numbered 1,200. But hundreds perished during the arduous trip to Puntland, in northern Somalia, in search of greener pasture.

The land here dried up not long after he arrived, leaving his animals weak from hunger and thirst. “They are now dying one by one,” the 30-year-old said, shading his face from the scorching sun. His goats drank water from a plastic barrel and picked dry leaves from plants nearby.

“I don’t even think these remaining ones will survive in the next two months,” Haji said. He left his wife and five children behind on his eight-day trek, fearing they wouldn’t survive. Now he wonders about himself.

Somalia has declared this drought a national disaster, part of what the United Nations calls the largest humanitarian crisis since the world body was founded in 1945.

An estimated 6 million people in this Horn of Africa nation, or about half the population, need aid amid warnings of a full-blown famine. Two consecutive seasons of poor rainfall, longer in some areas, have caused large-scale crop failures, the U.N. humanitarian agency says.

It is not clear how many people, or animals, have died so far.

Animals are central to many in Somalia. The United Nations says more than half the population is engaged in the livestock industry. The drought threatens their main sources of nutrition and survival.

Many wells have dried up, forcing herders to risk long treks to remote areas. Water prices have spiked, with a single water tanker now going for $150.

The hot wind blows across the vast, barren land and carcasses of animals.

“The sad reality of the drought this severe, this long, this enduring is we’re starting to see these massive livestock deaths, livestock losses. Fifty, 60, 70 per cent of livestock herds dying, which is an enormous hit for these pastoral families,” said Richard Trenchard, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization representative in Somalia.

The mass animal deaths, from hunger and thirst as well as disease, have caused herders to lose “just about everything,” Trenchard said, standing beside the carcass of a camel.

Even though rains are expected in mid-April, there are fears that effects of a heavy downpour could kill already weakened animals.

With their livestock gone, herders are ending up in camps with shortages of food, medicine and safe drinking water.

“Our journey here was so rough. There was no transport or water. We left behind everything. We are here now and we don’t have any proper shelter or transport,” said Dahiya Ahmed, a 48-year-old mother of eight at a camp in Qardho town.

She once herded 200 goats but now has just six. “The few of them that are still alive are too weak and cannot provide us with milk and meat,” she said. “They are just still alive but cannot benefit us at all.”

With the rise of disease-related deaths among the remaining animals, the United Nations is planning a major animal vaccination intervention. Some herders are being given basic training on vaccinating their animals and giving oral medications on their own.

“Hungry animals, starving animals are very vulnerable, very prone to disease,” Trenchard said.

Around two million animals are targeted for treatment against parasites, infectious disease and wounds, said Khalid Saeed, the FAO livestock sector co-ordinator, as he gave medicine to sick and weakened animals.

Somalia is part of a massive $4 billion aid appeal launched last month for four nations suffering from conflict and hunger. The others are Nigeria, Yemen and South Sudan, where famine already has been declared in two counties.

Abdi Guled, The Associated Press

Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A sign indicating a COVID-19 testing site is displayed inside a parking garage in West Nyack, N.Y., Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. The site was only open to students and staff of Rockland County schools in an effort to test enough people to keep the schools open for in-person learning. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
4 more deaths, 54 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

This brings the total to 66 deaths in the region

11 more cases of COVID-19 have been linked to a cluster on Big White Mountain. Pictured above is TELUS park at Big White Ski Resort, Jan. 26. (Big White Ski Resort)
11 more cases of COVID-19 linked to Big White cluster

This brings the total case count to 225, according to health authorities in a Tuesday update

Okanagan Clinical Trials is looking at gut bacteria as a way of slowing down the development of Alzheimer’s. (Alzheimer Society of B.C. photo)
Okanagan study looking for volunteers of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s

The study is looking at how gut bacteria may help slow the disease

Kevin Lee Barrett pleaded guilty to the aggravated assault of his mother Eleanor Holmes on Tuesday, Jan. 26. (File)
UPDATE: West Kelowna man who beat his mom could be sentenced up to 9 years

Kevin Barrett entered a surprise guilty plea to the lesser charge of aggravated assault on Tuesday morning

A bus at downtown Kelowna’s Queensway Transit Exchange. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
Kelowna transit system poised for recovery: transit manager

2021 numbers already show ridership levels at or higher than the projected recovery

Dr. Penny Ballem, a former deputy health minister, discusses her role in leading B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccination program, at the B.C. legislature, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. holds steady with 407 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday

14 deaths, no new outbreaks in the health care system

Vernon Fire Rescue Services responded to reports of a structure fire on Valleyview Place Jan. 26, 2021. (Brendan Shykora - Vernon Morning Star)
Fire snuffed in Vernon home

No visible smoke, flames from area of reported structure fire

A Cessna 170 airplane similar to the one pictured above is reported to be missing off the waters between Victoria and Washington State. Twitter photo/USCG
Canadian, American rescue crews searching for missing aircraft in waters near Victoria

The search is centered around the waters northeast of Port Angeles

Interior Health reported two more COVID-19 deaths at Sunnybank Retirement Center in Oliver Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. (File photo)
COVID-19 claims lives of two more South Okanagan care home residents

Five residents of the Oliver care home have died since the outbreak was first declared

Vernon now has an approved 13 cannabis shops in town. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Vernon, the ‘Pot capital of B.C.’ greenlights two new stores downtown

Two more shops, within 240 metres, approved, despite neighbouring businesses opposition

Jonathon Muzychka and Dean Reber are wanted on Canada-wide warrants. (Courtesy of Victoria Police Department)
Convicted killer, robber at large after failing to return to facility: Victoria police

Dean Reber, 60, and Jonathon Muzychka, 43, may be together

Oliver Elementary School
Former Oliver PAC treasurer charged with fraud returns to court

Belinda Yorke will be in court to fix a date for trial in February

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Two fibreglass bees were stolen from Vernon’s Planet Bee Honey Farm Nov. 22, 2020. (Facebook)
Stolen bee returned to Vernon honey farm

Two months after thieves buzzed off with two bee sculptures, public tips led police one of them

Most Read