Self-declared state wants to shift much of its population to the coast as grazing land fails
By:Tom Wilson in Hargeisa
It is often said that climate change will hurt the world’s poorest people first. Nowhere is that potentially truer than in Somaliland, an unrecognised state in the Horn of Africa sandwiched between an expanding desert and the Red Sea.
A prolonged drought has killed 70 per cent of the area’s livestock in the past three years, devastating the region’s pastoralist economy and forcing tens of thousands of families to flee their grazing land for urban camps, according to authorities.
“We used to have droughts before, we used to name the droughts, but they would be 10 or 15 years apart,” says Shukri Ismail Bandare, minister for environment and rural development. “Now it is so frequent that people cannot cope with it.”
Somaliland has endured regular cycles of drought for the past 20 years that have intensified since 2015 as consecutive rains have failed.
The impact has been catastrophic for the nation of 3.5m people, where livestock farming accounts for about 70 per cent of economic activity. According to the UN, 4.2m people in Somaliland and neighbouring Somalia will require food assistance next year.
“Four consecutive years of emergency hit Somaliland so hard and it’s all about climate change,” Ms Bandare says. “You can touch it [climate change] in Somaliland — it is real, it is here.”
Somaliland is not alone. Across the Horn of Africa — a region that includes Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and parts of Sudan and Kenya — drought has become the new normal. According to US scientists, the region dried faster in the 20th century than at any other time in the past 2,000 years.
Changes in temperature in the Indian Ocean over the past decade, similar to the El Niño phenomenon in the Pacific, have directed winds eastward, pushing moist air that normally brings rains to east Africa away from the continent. As a result, some 13m people across the region are suffering from food shortages, according to EU agencies.
“There has been tremendous change in one lifetime,” Saad Ali Shire, Somaliland’s foreign minister, tells the Financial Times. “Fifty years ago, we were a land of grass and wildlife, like the prairies of Kenya and America.”