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Somalia: providing emergency water supplies for nomads

06-12-2004 Feature

The lack of rainfall is a perennial problem for thousands of Somali nomads who sometimes struggle to feed and water their livestock. This was a particularly difficult year and the ICRC decided to step in to tide these pastoralists over the crisis.

Under a scorching sun and following several seasons of meagre rainfall, Somali nomads had been reduced to scraping the bark from trees to feed their goats. These people are pastoralists whose livelihood is totally dependent on their livestock for trade, food and transportation. Those most affected by the drought occupy an area that spans 110,000 km2, from southern Puntland in the north to the frontier of the central Hiran region. They lead their herds from various water points and pastures, often competing for limited resources that may cause tensions between rival clans.

These cyclical droughts affect around 75,000 households. As the water dries up and nearby grazing areas are depleted, animals are forced to travel longer distances to seek out new pastures. Many of the weakened animals do not survive and the harsh conditions mean many die on the journey.


 The ICRC assessment  

Limited resources may cause tensions between rival clans.©ICRC/A. Kar 
In September 2004, an ICRC evaluation showed that herds had been reduced by around 25%, with some nomads having lost up to 70% of their animals. Many had exhausted the usual mechanism of borrowing against their livestock, which normally bridges these periods until herds can be restocked through breeding. Thus, their economic survival was threatened.

Some of the nomads had already hired local businessmen to transport water supplies to between 5% and 10% of the affected areas. But only the better off could afford this solution.


In mid-September, the ICRC launched a major water trucking operation with a fleet of 200 privately owned tankers with the aim of providing 480 litres of water to each of the most vulnerable families for a one-month period. It was hoped that this would be sufficient until the October rains arrived.

Prior to the operation starting, people were sceptical. " The country is huge, the problem is can an international organization help us " , asked one villager. 

At the end of the operation, however, 57,000 affected households (85%) had benefited.

Water supplies were delivered at the same time in each region and the ICRC made use of the existing infrastructure of boreholes (most of which had been repaired by the ICRC), hand-dug wells and berkets. This avoided there being too much competition for the water.

The operation concluded successfully and, for once, heavy rainfall arrived on schedule in October.