East Africa crisis: “We share what little we have”
It is part of our culture. I cannot keep my things when someone next to me is dying. We have shared what little we have.
Shukri Mohamud Abdi lives in the village of Haro-Sheeikh, four hours’ drive east on barely passable roads from Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland. Here, as in all of rural Somalia, livestock is the backbone of the village’s economy. Most people are pastoralists depending on their animals for a livelihood, and everyone else depends on pastoralists for their businesses.
Five months ago, after more than two years with barely any rain, animals started dying. As the fourth consecutive rain season appears to be failing, an economic crisis is turning into a human catastrophe.
Shukri is the elected chairwoman of a Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA), through which groups of women put individual savings into a collective box, providing capital for small business investments and a social fund for emergencies. Her group is one of four set up by CARE in Haro-Sheeikh. Shukri explains:
We used the money we had saved to support families who need it.
On the outskirts of the village, a camp has been set up for people who have been displaced by the drought. With more people arriving every day, the total number is approaching 300 families, adding 60 percent to the village’s population. Some have been brought to the village in cars sent by local authorities to pick them up. Jamal Hussain, the deputy mayor, says:
We may come from different places, but we are all Somalis. All we can do is to help each other.
In the nearby village of Ulasan, around 300 pastoralist families have arrived in a camp next to the village seeking food and water. According to Ugaaso Bulaale Warsame, chairwoman of one of the five women’s groups in the village:
Those who have migrated have almost nothing. Some have only two or three animals, and they are very weak. Children and pregnant women are malnourished.
The savings groups have helped the new arrivals, says Ugaaso: “We have given them money, food, water, shelter, and we have donated clothes. All groups contribute. The last time, we helped 15 of the weakest families.”
Without us women, more people would have died. When somebody needs help, they call us.
However, as Ugaaso explains, the help they can provide is coming to an end: “Nobody is buying anything from our shops. We used to trade with animals, but now there are no animals to trade with.”
Before the drought, each group collected 100 dollars in savings every month. We have used these savings to buy food and keep our livestock alive, but now we are running out of money.
It is the same story in the village of Suuqsade, where four groups of women are using their savings to help internally displaced people coming for the village’s relatively plentiful water. This is thanks to a water pump powered by a solar panel installed by CARE last year. So far around 400 displaced families have come from the surrounding highland. Amina Mohamud Abdillahi (aged 62), the chairwoman of one of the groups, says:
We are helping the weakest families coming from other villages, giving them food, water and money.
They estimate they have helped 20 families with gifts of more than 200 US dollars. But now the money is running out. Amina says:
Our livestock was our livelihood. When they are gone, we have no money to save. We used to have shops selling food and soft drinks, but most have now closed.
Back in Haro-Sheeikh, Shukri explains that her community is also running out of resources. The village’s main source of water, a pump and tank constructed by CARE, is drying out. Food is getting scarcer and more expensive. As Shukri says:
It is a dire situation. People have not died here yet, but it is going to happen if we do not get more help soon.
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