Photo: Ingrid Prestetun/NRC

Photo for saving lives in one of the worlds most dangerous countries article
Read caption Ifrah Ahmed works with the Norwegian Refugee Council's shelter projects in Garowe. The area has received a large number of internally displaced people due to extreme weather conditions and conflict. The majority live in temporary camps, but the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) also builds permanent housing for vulnerable groups who are unable to return home. Photo: Ingrid Prestetun/NRC

Saving lives in one of the world's most dangerous countries

Eirik Christophersen|Published 14. Nov 2019
Millions in Somalia need humanitarian aid because of extreme weather conditions and conflict. However, relief work is difficult and dangerous in a country that has been ravaged by armed conflict for almost 30 years.

The UN warns that more than 1.2 million people will experience crisis levels of hunger by the end of the year unless humanitarian aid is dramatically increased. Over six million people, almost half of Somalia's population, may be faced with food shortages.

Sixty percent of Somalia's population depends on agriculture or livestock such as sheep, goats, camels and cattle. They live a pastoralist life where they move their animals across long distances to find pasture and water. These communities are extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change, which has compounded the effects of several drought and flooding-related disasters in recent years.

In 2011, more than a quarter of a million people died from famine caused by severe drought. Armed conflict in the country added to the high number of deaths because aid organisations could not access some areas where people were starving.

When drought hit again in 2017, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and other humanitarian organisations managed to prevent the disaster from becoming as severe as in 2011. However, hundreds of thousands of people have still been forced to give up their traditional way of life to access support available in and around the larger cities. According to figures by the UNHCR and NRC-led Protection Returns and Monitoring Network (PRMN), 273,000 people were displaced by flooding in October alone, the vast majority in the Baladweeyne area due to the flooding of the Shabelle river. This brings the total number of people displaced by a combination of drought, floods and conflict so far this year in Somalia to 575,000, adding to a population of 2.6 million that were already displaced within the country at the beginning of 2019.

Hassan Mohamed Abdi, 45, is a widower who lived as a farmer until recurrent drought over several years made it impossible to sustain his family. Hassan and his four children now live in a small shelter in the Ceel-ilaan displacement camp, outside Baidoa.

“Over the four years this drought has lasted, we have planted on our farms and the harvest has given no result. For a while we survived by working for others. We decided to flee to the city because we couldn’t continue living in the village on account of the drought. That is why we came to the city, to ask for assistance from the humanitarian organisations.”

Like many people displaced to Baidoa, Hassan was forced to flee to assistance because insecurity prevents humanitarian assistance from reaching his home area.

The two children in the photo:
Kulmiyz, 7 years old.
Halima, 5 years old.

Photo: Ingrid Prestetun/NRC
Read caption Hassan Mohamed Abdi, 45, is a widower who lived as a farmer until extreme weather conditions over several years made it impossible to sustain his family. Hassan and his four children now live in a small shelter in the Ceel-ilaan displacement camp. Photo: Ingrid Prestetun/NRC


Taking security seriously

NRC does everything we can to help people where they live so they are not forced to flee across long distances. However, there are major challenges to working in conflict-affected areas, and particularly one of the world’s most dangerous countries.

“It is a great responsibility to make sure all staff know how to deal with the security challenges,” says Stephen Akwabi, NRC’s Safety and Security Adviser in Somalia, “to make it possible to conduct relief work in a country where attacks and explosions occur every day, and where kidnapping of relief workers is always a real danger and possibility.”

By having robust security systems in place, NRC manages to reach people in some of Somalia’s more remote and conflict-affected areas.

Drilling wells to improve water supply

While extremely heavy rains in the latter half of October have subjected hundreds of thousands of Somali people to risk, loss and displacement caused by flooding, we saw some very different realities during our visit just one month prior. Then, we saw a country struggling with the impact of recurrent drought and learned that heavy seasonal rains in recent years have still not been sufficient to overcome the challenges for people needing consistent access to water.  

We visited a village in the Qardho district of Puntland, several hours drive from the provincial capital Garowe. There, NRC has drilled three wells that  provide water for pastoralists and internally displaced persons who have fled to the town.

Photo: Ingrid Prestetun/NRC
saving lives article
Read caption Water is a scarce resource in Somali, and the wells NRC has drilled are vital for both people living in the area and those that are displaced. Photo: Ingrid Prestetun/NRC

Water drilling is important for mitigating the effects of climate change and drought. Even in arid areas there are groundwater reservoirs, but this often requires drilling down 200 to 300 meters. Wherever possible, NRC uses solar energy to pump up the water. The water is used by people living nearby and transported to areas that don’t have an adequate water supply.

- “Before we got this well, we had to walk up to 15 km to get water for the animals. Most of my animals died because of the drought. We didn’t have enough water for ourselves either and often walked 24 hours without anything to drink. We've had a lot of trouble in recent years, but life has gotten a lot better after we got this well,” says Hali Said Jamal.

Photo: Ingrid Prestetun/NRC
Read caption Hali Said Jamal, a 55-year-old woman, has brought her goats to the well that NRC has drilled. Like many Somalis, she herds animals over large areas to find pasture and water. Photo: Ingrid Prestetun/NRC