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.

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Abdikhayr Mohamed Hussein
Bertha Fellow 2022

Somalia is facing the worst drought following the failure of three consecutive rainy seasons since October 2020. The worsening drought conditions devastated the vulnerable population’s access to water both in terms of quantity and quality particularly the rural people who make up 60% of the country’s 15.8 million (2020) people.

Somalia is a water scarce country with approximately 411 m3 of renewable fresh water per capita as of 2017 (World Bank, 2020). This is a staggering decline over time from 2 087 m3 in 1962 (ibid) which is far below the UN recommended threshold of 1 000 m3 per capita per year. The continuous decline of freshwater availability and repeated droughts as result of the climate change has resulted in fierce competition over water resources and increased water prices, which pastoral people meet through increased debt accumulation and/or livestock sales.

Pastoralists who typically breed cattle, camels, goats, and sheep depend on water trucking or water from boreholes and Berkads (Reservoirs) which are sold for higher prices. Less 20% of them receive from rivers, streams, and shallow wells for pastoralists for free but they mostly dry up in the time of drought. Pastoralists have to sell their livestock to buy water, but in this devastating drought, they run out of saleable livestock due to lack of water and pasture that impacted negatively to the animal conditions with livestock deaths increasing in many areas and an increasing proportion of the surviving ones being in very weak conditions. The pastoralists in Jariiban district under Mudug region of Puntland, one of the hardest hit regions share water scarcity and associated debts as their biggest problem in the face of the devastating drought.

 “In this area (Jariiban) is a water scarce, and water is bought from water truckers for human and animal consumption as there are no free water (streams or surface water) as other regions. The livestock condition are poor and not fit for sale, and no one can afford to pay water in this condition” says Mohamed Said, a traditional elder in Jariiban district of Mudug region in Puntland, Somalia.

Pastoralists in Jariiban receive water through water trucking from the strategic boreholes that exhausted by dropdown of water levels and constant breakdown of boreholes due to long hours of pumping, fuel shortage and limited spare parts. Somali Water and Land Information Management (SWALIM) indicates that water trucking is on the rise with some boreholes pumping for more than 12 hours in a day and serving more than 15 trucks per day.

“In the rural, lack of water exists, lack of money exists. Lack of saleable livestock exists, lack of food exists. All exist. Livestock receive water with water trucking, and the water trucking is not enough for livestock. The nearest place, we are charged with $250. The remote areas, it is more than that; $300 and more…. And no one can afford it” says Madina Nor, a pastoralist woman in Jariiban district of Mudug region in Puntland, Somalia.

Most of the boreholes use fuel-powered generators to pump out water, and the recent fuel prices that jumped to $1.1 per liter makes the situation even worse, sending a 200-liter barrel of water to more than $7 in some areas being the highest prices ever recorded in the area. The increasing water and food prices will send poor pastoralists into deep crisis and unpayable debts while they are still owed debts incurred in previous years.

 “We have to pay back the heavy water debts incurred during the drought in the time of prosperity (rain season). I still pay back the water debts incurred previous droughts let alone of those incurred now and recent droughts” says Haji Farah, a pastoralist in Jariiban district of Mudug region in Puntland, Somalia.

“The vulnerability of the people using the borehole who cannot pay the fuel ..and the worsening situation of the drought and impact on livestock and the people, so we are calling for the concerned entities.. either of the government, the district of Jariiban, the regional administration, the state government and other generous individuals who give, to assist these people with whatever they can. We are asking Allah for blessed rain and take these people out of this situation” says Said Karshe, a member of Jariiban local council of Mudug region in Puntland, Somalia.

Water scarcity and drought conditions will get worse if this rainfall that expected to start in April fails, given that likelihood of below average rainfall in March – May 2022 as forecasted by IGAD Climate Prediction and Application Center (ICPAC) on March 24, 2022.

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Abdikhayr Mohamed Hussein
Bertha Fellow 2022

It is unfortunate the use of excessive force and forcefully dispersing peaceful gathering organized by distressed parents on May 16, 2021 at Daljir Dahsoon in Mogadishu Somalia, demanding the government on whereabouts of their young men who were sent to Eritrea for military training. Parents and relatives have been continuously addressing their complaints through the local media and social media networks, demanding that the government give an explanation on their whereabouts, but government turns a deaf ear to their pleas and remained silent about the matter.

It is also unfortunate that journalists covering protests were also attacked by the security forces, beating a female radio journalist and confiscated her equipment, according to a statement released by the Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS).

Under the constitution of Federal Government of Somalia, people have a right to organize and participate in meetings, and to demonstrate and protest peacefully, without requiring prior authorization. These freedoms are suppressed; journalists are threatened, harassed, beaten, subjected to arbitrary arrests continuously.

We call on the Federal Government of Somalia to respect, protect and fulfill the right of demonstrators to peacefully protest, in line with the country’s constitution and International laws. We also call on the government to answer and convince the parents, relatives and friends whose loved ones are missing for years and have not heard of them since they were taken to Eritrea.

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Journalists depend on the Internet and digital communications for research, interaction and news distribution. The widespread use of Internet and social media for news distribution, interaction with audiences without basic digital safeguards has facilitated harassment against journalists in online settings by a variety of means, including by disseminating threats and disinformation, stalking and broadcasting private or personally identifiable information.

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Somalia is the world’s most dangerous country for reporters, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. On a day-to-day-basis, the online harassment and censorship against journalists and social rights activists in Somalia is on the rise in a time most of the Journalists depend on the Internet and digital communications for research, interaction and news distribution.

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