“There is no water and no harvest,” says Amina Mukhtar as she loads water onto her donkey cart with the help of her son. This is the same story you will hear from nearly every villager in Hudur, Somalia, and its surrounding communities. The effects of the drought are increasingly life-threatening: Across Somalia, more than one million children are likely to face acute malnutrition within the next year according to the latest data.
In Somalia, there are two rainy seasons: the long, monsoon-like rains from April to June are called the Gu and the short rains from October to December are known as the Deyr season. In many communities, rainfall during the Gu and the Deyr is collected and stored in man-made structures known as berkads – enabling families to save the water for use during the dry seasons.
The rains nourish crops and enrich harvests, giving farmers, herders, and other Somali families enough to eat. When the rains fail, families struggle. That’s the situation right now: the last two rainy seasons fell well below expectations, causing a drought and failed harvests.
“We expected the Gu rains to compensate for the low rainfall from last year’s Deyr season. But the situation has been the same this year: we have seen low and inconsistent rains across Hudur and the surrounding villages. It’s been difficult,” explains Amina. “The only water source in my village is empty, so we have to make a trip to Hudur, more than 11 miles away.”
When Amina and other women travel the long distance to get to this water point, one of their primary concerns is security. They live near areas controlled by armed groups, and each time those groups threaten to move closer, the women migrate to keep their families safe.
“In the next two months, the situation is expected to worsen, and families in the rural areas will be migrating to urban areas in search of food, water and other needs.” says Abdullahi Gedi, Action Against Hunger’s Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Program Manager in Hudur. With support from the Canadian Government, our teams are trucking water into six settlements for displaced families. These truckloads will relieve 800 households affected by drought and conflict by in desperate need of safe drinking water.
“Communities living in rural areas are migrating because of water shortages and low harvests. There was not enough rain to plant crops last season and farmers are left with no option but to move to urban areas,” says Hassan Mohamed, Nutrition Officer in Hudur, who treats children with malnutrition.
Children with straight-forward cases of acute malnutrition are treated in outpatient programs in both permanent and mobile health posts. For more complicated severe acute malnutrition, sick children are referred to the Action Against Hunger Stabilization Center in Hudur.
On average, the Stabilization Center admits about 65 children for treatment each month, but in recent months, staff have reported an increase in patients with severe acute malnutrition, driven largely by displacement and the drought. 183 severely malnourished children with medical complications were admitted in June and July, and 89 children with complicated cases of severe acute malnutrition came to be treated at the center in August. Most of the children admitted come from displaced families, who migrated from rural areas because of food shortages.
“We have put in place measures to ensure that we are in control of the situation,” says Hassan, who vividly remembers Somalia’s last severe drought in 2017, which left millions of families a step away from famine.
Action Against Hunger is ensuring that families have access to clean water by treating water points in communities and in households, which helps to reduce outbreaks of disease. Inadequate water and sanitation are deeply intertwined with malnutrition: globally, 50 percent of child malnutrition is related to unsafe and inadequate water, sanitation, and hygiene.
Our health workers also teach families about good nutrition and hygiene practices. In health centers and outposts, we provide routine health education to parents to curb malnutrition. Mothers learn breastfeeding tips to improve their children’s chances not just to survive but to develop and grow.