Somalia Diaries: “We came to teach, but instead learned so much”

04 May 2016

Somalia Image copyright: UN Photo / Tobin Jones

Bilan Awdal Organization from Somaliland is one of the three winners of the OFID-UNDP Cross Regional Grants Competition.

In December 2015, they committed to transforming the lives of people in the Baki District of Somaliland by implementing a water solution. In the context of the sever drought that hit the region recently, their work became essential to the survival of their community. Yet their road to success hasn’t been without its challenges.

Below, Suad Osman, one of the five members of the team, tells their story.

Nov 7th, 2015

Things have been difficult. Yet our hardships are temporary considering the grave struggles of many in this region.

Where we are staying, winter used to be the only dry season. Nowadays, the climate has changed so drastically that the dry season seems to last forever: it only rains four months per year and some years even less.

The community we are visiting has seen its share of problems brought on by climate change. The farmers went from living in productive, self-sustained communities to being poor and desperate.

A lot of young adults have run away to cities in search of better lives where a majority of them end up homeless.

People tell us that most of the wildlife despair with the depletion of the forest. Some remain: we have spotted hyenas, foxes and some deer. There is also a variety of birds: some of the large ones are still here, but the ostriches are gone.

Nov 20th, 2015

The people living here use the forest for building their houses, and fencing their homes, live-stock and crops. They cut the trees by the thousands. That’s not necessarily different from previous generations — but the population used to be much smaller.

The old forest grounds are protected and have a good chance of coming back but we need to find alternatives for fencing and firewood.

Dec 3rd, 2015

These are some of the heads of the families living here. They are all women, but not necessarily by custom. Two of them are widowers. The other two have elderly husbands who cannot participate in any of the farm activities.

These women are symbols of the hard work done by the majority of women in Somalia.

Dec 15th, 2015

The average family here consists of 12-18 family members.

In this harsh landscape, they are overwhelmed by the lack of water. We had to learn to live with maximum allowances of 20 litres of water every five days for the entire team. That’s a very humbling experience.

Consumption is rapid, and the rapid destruction of the forests is making the problem worse every year.

Our hope is to be able to make the lives of families here a little easier, by finding a way to store water for the next winter and the ones after that.

So we have developed a new idea on how to harvest rainwater and sun energy and introduce solar cookers to lighten the dependence on firewood. The work has started: we already bought the water tank and cleaned the reservoir!

Jan 7th, 2016

Previously, water was stored in an open ground dugout with catchment places inside.

During the time we spent here, we have witnessed situations where families bought water with their hard-earned money and, within weeks, that water seeped into the ground because an object had pierced the catchment.

In other cases, the water slowly evaporated, or got dirty from the heavy winds blowing in all kinds of substances, and became unusable.

All these problems highlight the urgency of having a large clean and safe water storage system. Its significance becomes even more overpowering, when we acknowledge that, due to climate change and increased deforestation, among others, rain will be less and less common in the region.

Jan 26th, 2016

Yesterday the water tanks arrived. I wish I could say we faced no challenges, but that would be untrue. We went to the border-crossing the day before and explained the situation to the border patrol. They said there would be no problems, and asked us to come back the next day. When we returned, however, we found out that the original truck had to be unloaded and could not cross for security reasons. We had to pay for a second transport, including additional unloading and reloading expenses.

We had been told NGOs are exempt from paying taxes but we didn’t know we had to travel 70km to Hargeisa to get the exemption. We chose to pay the taxes because it would have cost the same amount to store the tanks at the border and travel to get the exemptions, which itself would have taken three days.

Jan 28th, 2016

These children, women and men have lived like this for years, some of them for all of their lives. We know water is a necessity but it’s a fact that is forgotten until one has to go without it.

The area they live in is a dry, arid land. In the winter months it’s very cold at night and some weeks the temperature dips below zero: in the early morning hours ice crystals form on objects.

About thirty years ago this was a thriving forest, complete with the vibrant wildlife of Eastern Africa: lions, hyenas, kudus, giraffes, small deer, elephants and many more.

The region traditionally has four seasons: winter, summer, spring and fall. The most difficult part of the year used to be between December and mid-March.

But now it’s January, and there hasn’t been any rain for the past four months and almost all the water has dried up.

Every year there is less rain. In the winter months, the muddy soil turns to red dust. When the winds come in from the north, dust storms are born.

Feb 5th, 2016

Things are now much worse than a few weeks ago. The water is gone.

Almost everyone walks their donkeys carrying containers to wherever else water is available.

We started the construction of the funnel and the water tanks are now standing. We are working against time to get things moving.

April 1st, 2016

The seasonal rains in March have not come. The situation is quite desperate for all the farming communities and their livestock.

As of March, 40 barrels of water cost $50 at $1.25 per barrel. To put that into perspective, consider that most farmers make $2 a day from selling milk during the dry months in the city markets 11 km away.

By installing the storing tanks in this community, we wanted to do our part for a long-term solution to prevent water scarcity. From our end, just having tanks on site has been a lifeline for most farmers in this community.

Whether we raise the funds for water or the farmers raise their own money, they now have a way of storing it.

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