Somalia is experiencing its worst drought crisis in a decade as result of failure of three consecutive rainy seasons since October 2020. There were also disastrous droughts between 2000 and 2011; resulting in famine, food insecurity, water scarcity and loss of livelihoods. Somali rural population who make up 60% of the country’s people are heavily affected by depleting water resources, as a result of rising demand and increasing drought frequency. This has resulted in fierce competition and conflict over water resources, something remained widespread among the rural communities in Puntland and Galmudug states in Somalia.
More than 91 water-related conflicts were recorded in Puntland and Galmudug states in Somalia for the year of 2021 alone, some of these conflicts have been deadly and destructive. Two clan conflicts that broke out in 2021 in Sool region of Puntland left death of more than 70 lives, and more than that number also died in successive clan conflicts that has been taking place in Balanbale and Ethiopian-border areas in Galmudug state in Somalia. These conflicts have had severe effects including loss of lives, massive displacements, inequitable access of water resources, expensive prices and vulnerable groups to fetch water from far and from unsafe open sources. Women and girls who mostly have responsibility of collecting water, face risk of physical or sexual assault at water points, and there have been even several women died in these incidents in Galmudug.
According to the communities, the local grievances and community tensions are mainly triggered by whenever one clan-group seeks to take the control of communal water sources without consent of other clan-groups. For example, a violent inter-clan conflict broke out in Dhabar Dalool, a remote village in the arid plains of northern Puntland’s Sool region in April 16, 2021 after one clan-group in the area claimed control of a shallow well sparking refusal and anger from other group, and finally dragged them into deadly confrontation that left death of more than 30 lives.
Another mentionable cause is disruption or violation of queues at shallows wells, surface water and water distribution points. There have been 31 cases of disputes over water distribution in Xingod in Galmudug state in Somalia where vulnerable rural families disputed over distribution of water trucking donated by charity organizations. In such situations, unequal distribution and access to water is common and also further escalation into conflict is highly possible.
The water conflicts and lack of sustainable water management contributed to water scarcity, degradation and loss of freshwater as well as increased vulnerability to the climate affects in the face of worst drought conditions. For example, 4 shallow wells and water sources located in Gumasoor rural area in Galmudug where rural communities have been getting water for centuries, destroyed and dried up as result of the conflicts and lack of maintenance.
Role of third parties in water conflicts
The water conflicts destroy inter-clan cohesions and divide a community already fractured by a number of internal conflicts, sometimes transforming into broader conflict when exploited by political groups, and this is even highlighted as a key driver of ongoing conflict and state fragility in Somalia according to the Global Risk In Sights. For instance, the self-declared region of Somaliland and autonomous Puntland State in Somalia who have been fighting over control of Sool region, are accused to have had role in two deadly inter-clan conflicts that broke out in that region in 2021.
Furthermore, the traditional elders of Bitaale rural village under South Galkacyo district in Galmudug as well as other external sources both indicated that Al-Shabab, a terrorist organization that controls much of southern and central Somalia has been taking advantage of climate impacts, fueling clan conflicts in Mudug and Galgaduud regions of Galmudug State and other regions in Somalia. Global Risk in Sights highlights that Al-Shabab exploits inter-clan tensions to fuel their jihadist insurgency in a manner which ominously foreshadows the future climate wars of the twenty-first century.
How rural communities are going to overcome water conflicts
The rural communities of Jariiban in Puntland and Bitaale in Galmudug states of Somalia discussed water conflicts openly in series consultation sessions conducted for the rural traditional elders, women and minority groups in April 2022. They have come up some appealing solutions that can be even replicated in other rural communities in Somalia. For instance, they come up set of procedures or guidelines to use for establishment of their own water management and governance structures through fair and inclusive process with participation of all groups such as elders, women and minority groups to reduce the risk of conflict and ensure equitable access to water in the face of climate crisis.
The water governance structures and terms of references identified by the rural communities in Puntland and Galmudug states may vary, but the main work of the suggested rural water management committee is to manage and be responsible for shared water sources and communal water-related activities in benefit of all. They will manage all key water sources in the rural areas such as boreholes, shallow wells, streams or surface water, water tubes or water trucking meant for the communal uses. They will also facilitate fair distribution of water donated for vulnerable rural people in the time of droughts, and also mediation of water-related conflicts.
As this is an immediate relief to the water conflicts as well as fair management and use of water sources, both communities addressed that water scarcity will remain and needs to be effectively addressed under the national and local climate strategies in Somalia to overcome water scarcity as droughts are becoming more frequent and more prolonged, linked to the global climate crisis. Furthermore, the rural communities in Galmudug particularly highlighted the importance of addressing climate-related violence, and preventing Al-Shabaab and other armed groups from taking advantage of climate impacts.
Abdikhayr Mohamed Hussein
Bertha Fellow 2022