Reporting from drought-hit Somaliland, Hannah Wilkinson, the British Red Cross’ senior media manager, discovers a proud people struggling to survive.
Soon after stepping off the plane in the city of Hargeisa, I learnt that my visit coincided with the President declaring a national day of prayer. People here have actually been asked to pray for rain.
Driving towards Sool, one of the worst drought affected areas in eastern Somaliland, you can see why.
The riverbeds look like roads. The rains are now over three weeks late and the people are desperate.
We bump into colleagues from a Somali Red Crescent team, on their way to an emergency outbreak of sickness.
Before long, we arrive at a school – now an emergency clinic.
Women and children comprise 90 per cent of the sick here. It’s true what they say about drought hitting them hardest.
Saynab, from the Somali Red Crescent, was told about the outbreak here and arrived as quickly as she could.
Parents arrive at the makeshift clinic cradling their listless children in their arms. Many are malnourished and have now been consumed by sickness and diarrhoea.
The lack of sanitation means illness is ripping through this community.
“I’ve recorded 56 patients, another 14 arrived today,” she says. “The cases we’re seeing are an emergency.”
Between the stricken children who lie on the shaded floor I speak to one worried mother.
Ayan has brought her daughter and niece to the health clinic.
“People are dying because of hunger,” she says.
I speak to one health worker who uses a day planner to record the deaths at the clinic. There were three here yesterday.
Patients at the clinic are given oral rehydration salts and glucose. It takes as little as ten hours without treatment for children to die from the effects of acute watery diarrhoea.
Worst drought in living memory
We travel to an informal camp nearby. Around 600 families arrived here two months ago. People arrive here every day, leaving their homes when water dries up and their livestock die.
As they travel people ask: “Where is the water?” The news spreads like wildfire.
“We all came from different areas to be here. We have lost everything,” said village elder Abdi Daud Farah.
Mother-of-nine, Asia Hussein, is also worried.
“This drought is the worst I can remember and the worst I have heard about from our forefathers,” she says.
“Water is part of life. If you miss it, you miss everything.”
At the side of the road we meet Khalif. He is thankful for small mercies.
“Another two days and they’d be dead,” he says, feeding his skinny camels with maize imported from Ethiopia.
As in much of the region, livestock are a central part of life here.
According to Mohamoud Omar, from the Somali Red Crescent, around half the livestock in the region have already perished.
Like many other places in East Africa, livestock are a lifeline here. The people have a deep connection with their animals. When they die, their whole lives fall apart.
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