Somalia drought response: It’s about saving people now

By CARE Australia April 10, 2017 0 comments

Women wait in line to collect food vouchers during a food aid distribution by CARE in central Somaliland. Image: Georgina Goodwin/CARE.

By Gareth Price Jones, Senior Humanitarian Policy and Advocacy Coordinator, CARE International

During recent travels through Somaliland, a self-declared independent state in the north of Somalia, I heard many stories of drastic loss. One that stuck with me was an elderly woman who had lost over a hundred goats to the drought. I asked what we could do. She replied that ‘nothing can be done for the livestock; it’s about saving the people now’.

The current drought in Somalia cannot be discussed without taking into consideration the lessons learnt from the severe famine in 2011, where over 250,000 people died. Since then, aid organisations and families have worked to build people’s ability to survive drought across the region. Somalia has new leadership and, drought and hunger notwithstanding, a sense of hope that has been long missing. Our resilience programs, such as village savings and loan groups, have already enabled people to survive three failed rains.

The sad fact is that although our programs are working, in the face of a drought this extreme, they still aren’t enough.

Our money and people are stretched thin across the areas for potential famines in South Sudan, Nigeria, Yemen and Somalia. The Syria conflict has entered its seventh year, violence is ongoing in Iraq, and we face numerous neglected crises, such as the ongoing El Nino drought impacts in Southern Africa where CARE alone has reached a million people with food assistance in the last 12 months.

In Somaliland, we drove hundreds of kilometres though barren and parched land, passing dried up river beds and people searching for water and pasture. Carcasses littered the road – the local equivalent of savings accounts wasting away in the blazing sun. People I talked to were exhausted, many not knowing how to feed and provide water for their families over the coming months. The rainy season was supposed to have started – yet I did not see a single drop of water. It is extremely likely that this will be the fourth consecutive rainy season that fails.

We urgently need more funding to respond now and avoid a full blown famine. While livestock has died, we still have time to prevent people from dying on a huge scale. As well as generous donations from the public, these funds will largely need to come from international governments. I know asking for money is a common refrain from aid agencies, yet it’s the only efficient means for us to tackle this crises and to help people in need.

Somalia is one of the toughest working environments in the world. Violence and conflict of the kind Somalia has faced for decades make it difficult to reach people in need. While access is possible, it’s incredibly difficult. It takes time. We often need to negotiate with many different armed groups and work through local partners who can gain access to the most endangered communities. We have to manage a tremendously complicated balance.

Despite the problems, aid is getting through. A lot has already been done. I saw water points built with Diaspora money, and rehabilitated and extended by CARE last year – these are saving lives now. CARE has already reached over 300,000 people with food, water, cash and other relief supplies, but we need to urgently scale up the humanitarian assistance if we are to save more lives.

Please donate now to help families affected by the East Africa Hunger Crisis.

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