Fears of Famine as East Africa Drought Leaves Thousands of Animals Dead

Photo By: Islamic Relief Worldwide
As dead animals line the road, the Muslim Charities Forum is calling for urgent action before East Africa’s severe drought becomes a famine.

The goats were first to die, followed by the cows. Now even the bodies of drought-resistant camels lie by the side of the road.

The fear in Somaliland is that people will be next. Two years of below-average rainfall has pushed this self-declared independent state to the brink of famine and, after walking hundreds of miles and finding no water, nomadic pastoralists have watched their livestock die in droves.

With no other option but to sit and wait, they have settled in sprawling camps of makeshift tents, consisting of no more than frames of branches covered with sheets.

In north-western Awdal region, near the Ethiopian border, mom-of-three, Nimo Mohamed Abdi, has joined 1,200 others at Quljeed camp.

Nimo, 32, has not yet found any sheets so she and her children are sleeping on the dry earth beneath bare branches, entirely exposed.

She said, “Three months ago we had 150 goats, 20 cows, 10 camels and three donkeys. Now nothing remains. Everything died. We were living by the coast then and the animals died so quickly, one after another, that we could do nothing with their corpses but throw them into the sea. I’ve been here for 25 days. I don’t know what the future holds for us.”

It’s estimated the people here have lost more than 5,000 animals between them, the bodies buried in mass graves beside the patchwork of tents.

Since the camp first appeared a month ago, its inhabitants have had two basic government-led food distributions and just three liters of water per person per day for all their washing, drinking, and hygiene needs.

Already malnourished mothers are unable to breastfeed their babies and government and humanitarian agencies are reporting an increase in drought-related deaths.

"Most deaths we've seen have been in women,” said Adan Shariff Gabow, area manager for Islamic Relief. “The women are left behind with the children while the men move forward with the animals. There were some cases where women were eaten by hyenas. They fell down, malnourished, and we understand they were then set on by the animals.”

Islamic Relief is pushing for investment in long-term solutions, leading a borehole project to provide a series of sustainable water supplies across the region and installing underground tanks to store rainwater.

But in Somalia, where recurring droughts are linked to the El Nino phenomenon, the situation feels hauntingly familiar.

Gabow said, “Right now rainwater runs from the hills out into the Red Sea. It’s wasted while people go thirsty. We also need dams to capture that excess water and manage it properly. That would really change things. It would be marvelous, but it’s just beyond the financial reach of Somaliland.”

So far the government has managed to raise just $1.5 million to help 10,000 of those whose livestock have been wiped out.

The UN has launched a $105 million appeal estimating 4.7 million people (nearly 40 per cent of the Somali population) are now in need of humanitarian assistance.

But in Somalia, where recurring droughts are linked to the El Nino phenomenon, the situation feels hauntingly familiar.

In 2011, following a similar two-year drought in southern Somalia, warnings of an impending famine went unheard. The resulting crisis claimed some 250,000 lives.

Dr Hany El-Banna, visiting Somaliland as chairman of the Muslim Charities Forum, fears history is repeating itself.

“We cannot wait like we did in 2011 when we acted too late,” he said. “Animals die and we don’t care. We have to see a big number of people die before we act. Maybe after 100 or 200,000 people die we can then cry, but that’s too late. We need to deal with this today - if we don’t this drought will turn into a famine.”

Mary Griffin is a writer and Islamic Relief’s editorial coordinator. Mary has spent 10 years in print and online journalism, specializing in politics and environment, and reporting from Burkina Faso, Bangladesh, Kenya, Malawi, Pakistan and Bosnia. She was a finalist in the Guardian International Development Journalism Competition and won the Felix Dearden Reporting on Race prize at the UK Regional Press Awards.