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IOM: Drought, Conflict Displace 800,000 in Somalia

FILE - Displaced Somali girls who fled the drought in southern Somalia stand in a queue to receive food handouts at a distribution center in a camp in Mogadishu, Somalia, Feb. 25, 2017.

Somalia is suffering from a renewed displacement crisis as people flee drought and conflict, particularly in the country’s southern region.

Gerard Waite, chief of mission for the International Organization for Migration Somalia, told VOA that about 800,000 people have fled their homes in response to the drought over the past seven months. That is in addition to the 1.1 million people who were previously displaced in the country.

“We have a displacement crisis on top of a drought crisis,” Waite said. “The 800,000 new IDPs [internally displaced persons] that have resulted from the drought have put incredible pressure on the existing camps. The formation of new camps has developed, [and] these camps are, by and large, not very well managed. They are normally on private land in very cramped conditions. They do not have the basic services in these camps.”

A side effect of this displacement is people living in squalid conditions and being forced to drink unclean water. This has resulted in over 71,000 cases of cholera or acute watery diarrhea in 2017, resulting in nearly 1,100 deaths.

“The acute water shortages have meant that people are drinking higher-risk water, taking water which they know to be contaminated but they drink it anyway,” Waite said.

Climatologists report that the “Gu” rainy season, which lasts from April to June, was well below average this year. The next rainy season is not expected until October, and analysts are warning about significant crop losses.

Worse still, climate models forecast a 45 percent chance of an El Nino weather event late in 2017, which could have a further negative effect on rain patterns.

Waite said about 6.7 million people in Somalia are either in a situation of food crisis or on the edge of crisis.

FILE - A displaced Somali mother comforts her malnourished child in their makeshift shelter at a camp in the Garasbaley area on the outskirts of Mogadishu, Somalia, March 28, 2017.
FILE - A displaced Somali mother comforts her malnourished child in their makeshift shelter at a camp in the Garasbaley area on the outskirts of Mogadishu, Somalia, March 28, 2017.

Learning from lessons past

IOM and other organizations have learned lessons from Somalia's 2011 drought, he said, which resulted in over 200,000 deaths.

“The need to deliver health systems to these places is extremely pressing, but, at the same time, we are managing and trying to manage the situation and working with the government to establish spaces that are more controlled or more managed," he said.

"We also do this with a view to looking at the post-crisis period because, if we can manage the displacement, then we also have a better opportunity to manage the post-crisis period and to manage the return,” Waite said.

In a May interview with VOA, Somalia’s finance minister, Abdirahman Duale Beyle, said the droughts are frustratingly cyclical in Somalia, and it’s time for a change.

“Other countries, they have addressed the issues of water management, of human and livestock management, resettlements, settlements of people and building schools and infrastructures for them. We have been busy doing something else,” he said.

Beyle said he believes Somalia has become overly reliant on external aid.

“Our issue is always there will be no rain today, there will be the same problem, the international community will come, even feed our people, we would run around a bit, the rains will come, we will forget it and then tomorrow the same thing happens. We have to change that kind of attitude,” Beyle said.

Projects are underway to improve resilience, including an effort by the IOM to introduce drought-resistant potatoes. The U.N. Development Program is helping with several projects, including an effort in Somaliland to install below-surface water tanks, wells and community water storage ponds.

Beyle said now is the time for Somalis themselves to take ownership and solve the problem.

“We have the technology, the intelligence and the know-how to break the link between drought and famine. It’s the fragility of our society,” he said. “It doesn’t rain one year, and people are dying so close to each other. It doesn’t happen elsewhere because we have not made any investment in the rural areas.”