Climate change continues to uproot families: personal reflections from the Baidoa IDP camps, Somalia

Thursday 19 August 2021

 

By Mowlid Mudan, Deputy Head of Advocacy, Campaigns, Commnications and Media

“I used to worry that we might starve to death when all our livestock died. Inadequate rains and droughts caused our farms to dry. There was no longer green pasture for our goats and all of them have died as a result.” – Shamsa*, 14, from Baidoa, Somalia.

For generations, areas around the town of Baidoa and the Bay region in general were the main food basket for Somalia - growing maize, sorghum and livestock. In fact, Baidoa town is better known as “Baidoa-Jaanay” which roughly translates to ‘Baidoa, the paradise’. This was in reference to the green scenery, agricultural produce and rich vegetation that once covered the entire region of Bay, and Baidoa town in particular. Up until the 90s, a large percentage of local food produce in Somalia came from this region. The region also had the best climatic conditions for goat farming, the main driver of the Somali economy.

However, sadly, like many parts of Somalia, Baidoa has now become synonymous with drought and displacements. More than 300,000 families are now displaced in Baidoa town alone, according to the United Nations, making it one of the largest IDP settlements in the region. The displaced people are former farmers and pastoralists who lost their assets to successive severe droughts that affected the region over the years.

The living conditions for the displaced families are far below humanitarian standards. Mothers and their children live in small, overcrowded makeshift houses, in congested, unhygienic and dusty or muddy camps, prone to all forms of risks and not knowing where to go or what the future holds for them.  Many do not even afford to get three meals a day, making them weakened, under malnourished and susceptible to illnesses like COVID-19, malaria and cholera.

 

Children are paying the highest price, with nearly a million children in Somalia facing the most acute form of malnutrition, while 1.4 million school-aged children, more than half of them girls, need humanitarian assistance to go to school. But even many more, of those lucky enough to survive through the crisis, do not get opportunity to learn with over 3.5 million Somali children estimated to be out of school[1]. Instead of learning, many of these children have to take on harmful jobs to earn food for their families.

 In one of the health facilities supported by Save the Children, severely malnourished, children under the age of five, are brought for treatment every day. Sometimes, their situation is so severe that they cannot be saved. Some have been brought from very remote areas of Bay region, where drought has reduced access to food for families. Mothers desperately walk for kilometres carrying their sick children on their backs in search of assistance. By the time they arrive in Baidoa, that child is on the edge of death.

It is so traumatizing to see how wasted these children are once they are brought in health facilities for assistance. I applaud the frontline health workers who are doing all they can to save these children.

In Somalia, prolonged droughts and inadequate rains keep on coming at an alarming rate, faster than ever seen before. An 80-year-old grandmother, told me that “Somalia used to see dry spells once in every five or ten years. However, now there’s a drought in every other year.”   The interchange of severe droughts, and flooding (if it rains) have not only eroded the resilience of families and children to cope, but have also forced them to move to towns like Baidoa in search of a better life- changing their way of life forever. The move to the city can often pose still more challenges for families are used to a farming lifestyle.

Today, the UN estimates that 5.9 million people in Somalia, the majority of whom are children, have been deprived off the opportunity to live in prosperous and joyous live. We need to work together to ensure that the root causes of the climate crisis are dealt with, while supporting families to adapt in the short term to the climate shocks they experience on a daily basis. Without the strong cooperation of governments, donors and world leaders, the future for children in Somalia is uncertain.

[1] according to the Joint Multi-Cluster needs assessment (JMCNA) conducted across Somalia/Somaliland in 2020