Years of poor rains have ravaged parts of the self-declared republic of Somaliland. IRIN spoke to the territory’s vice president, Abdi-Rahman Abdillahi Saylici, about the effects of the drought, aspirations for international recognition and the Al-Shabab insurgency.
Q: What is the current drought situation in Somaliland?
A: Actually, the drought has been going on for the last three years particularly in areas along the coast; the situation there is really bad. Animals have died, including camels that are known for their resilience, and people are so malnourished that you cannot look at them. It seems that, God forbid, if the usual rains don’t come in the next three months, these people will get very weak and the remaining animals will die. So we are requesting urgent support from the international community.
Q: What are the main livelihoods of those affected by the drought?
A: The drought has affected all kinds of people. In all the areas we visited, there was no sign of cultivation, as is the case during this time of the year. You will find that the soil is dry. The livestock keepers are facing very difficult times too; they have not had rain for three years. Those suffering the most are the vulnerable ones like women, children and the elderly.
Q: How many regions have been affected?
A: Generally, areas along the coastal regions including Awdal, Sahil, Sanaag and Salel. The main problem is in the west, where several thousand families have been displaced from the rural areas to villages in search [of a] livelihood.
Q: Which are some of the areas the displaced have fled to?
A: We went to over 30 places where the affected people were, but the most populated were Gargaara Bari, Ali-Haydh, Garba-Dadar and El-Helay.
Q: How many people have been affected by the drought?
A: They are around 20,000 families.
Q: What interventions have been put in place since the drought started?
A: First of all, the government of Somaliland is responsible to the people as a whole, and it is our duty to be the first to respond. [But] as you know, Somaliland is not internationally recognized, and we do not have enough funds for such a disaster. So we have tried to seek outside help; some of our partners have responded, like Djiboutian President Ismail Omar Gelle. We are very grateful to him. We recently provided foodstuffs to almost 1,000 families.
Q: What future plans do you have to deal with these recurrent droughts?
A: We would like to work hard to build water reserves since the ground water level has halved due to the limited rains. For example, if people used to pump water from a depth of 10 metres, now they need to dig 10 metres deeper. The government of [the self-declared republic of Somaliland] is now planning to establish dams in the valleys to catch rain water, so come next year we would like to embark on water reserve projects with the help of the African Development Bank, the government and its people including the Somaliland diaspora.
Q: How many people would you say have been displaced by the drought in the last two years?
A: As I said earlier, generally we have around 20,000 families affected, and almost a half of them displaced.
Q: What kind of challenges are these people bringing to the areas they have fled to?
A: They [have] brought a lot of changes to the environment and resources in the areas they have gone to. Resources like water, health and schools are overstretched. We request humanitarian aid agencies to double their services, including health, water and schools.
Q: Your government made basic primary education free, and this led to a significant increase in enrolment. What are you doing to adjust to these changes?
A: Yes, there has been a significant increase in enrolment, and we are working on a strategic plan to cope with these changes in terms of more classrooms, teachers and other learning facilities.
Recognition and threats
Q: The people of Somaliland are highly anticipating the self-declared country’s recognition. What are you doing to achieve that?
A: We will never stop seeking for the independence of Somaliland, and we are working hard to get international recognition. That is why we are participating in the international conferences held for the Somali people to please our brothers in Somalia so that we can become two peaceful neighbouring states in the future, as we were before the union… and we are on our way to gaining the recognition.
Q: Is the Al-Shabab insurgent group a threat to Somaliland?
A: They are being pushed out of southern Somalia and as always we expect [to be affected] so we are highly prepared to prevent any infiltration. Our people are working with the government agencies, the police and the intelligence to protect the country with the help of countries like the UK and the USA.
Q: Tell us about the issue of the eastern breakaway group.
A: We are very careful [not] to be violent with them, and we always try to settle our disputes on the table. As part of our efforts to solve the issue, the President [of the self-declared republic of Somaliland Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud (Silanyo) ] met with their [Cayn, Sool and Sanag (SSC) ] leader in Dubai during his visit [in July]. Negotiations are getting better, and it will be fine soon, God willing.