“The situation here is unbearable.”

Dead animals in Arib.Saskia Hotwin statue

When the westerly winds blow, you can smell the traces of drought in Arib. In a field adjacent to the village are dozens of corpses: giraffes, cows and goats, all died of thirst. Amid this horrific scene, Youssef Aden (33 years old) wanders with the remainder of his flock. “I lost two-thirds of my cattle,” he said, leaning on his shepherd’s stick. He still has 250 goats, 50 of which are seriously weak. “I hope the rest survive, but then you’ll have to rain.”

Little chance: the sky is cloudless again today. Except for a few occasional showers in December, it doesn’t rain here anymore. Wajir state is usually green at this time of year. Buffer zone to survive the upcoming drought. But now that the third rainy season in a row has almost not occurred, the color of the acacia is gray.

According to the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA), the state is in the “alert phase”. They fear that it will be a lime on the eve of the water crisis. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is also concerned: If this continues, it warned this week that more than 25 million people could suffer from acute food insecurity in the Horn of Africa.

It depends on the benefactors

“Our livestock is our life, what should we do now?” asks Habiba Abdi (28). With the loss of her livestock – fifty camels and a hundred cows – all her savings evaporated. For food, it now relies on benefactors and neighbors who are not yet completely bankrupt. “This is not enough,” she said, shaking her head. The pairing of Habiba’s son (seven months) begins with sobbing. Breastfeeding is no longer possible.

The cattle that stayed here hardly had any meat on their bones. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, milk production is 80 percent lower than average. One surprising gain: Thanks to the December rains, the water is still there in Arib. But for how long? People from all over the area flock to the village to fetch water. The rumble of filled jars as children roll from the well to their homes fill the dusty streets.


A little further, in the town of Habsawi, not a single drop fell. The source is dry bone. Cracks appear in the sand. “I don’t know how long we can stay here,” said village chief Abdi Abdel Nour, 55. “It’s unbearable here anymore.” Until recently, he and his fellow residents could order a water truck for the equivalent of 300 euros. But now that there are no more animals for sale, the village is increasingly empty. “Most people have already left.”

Mahat Rashid, a state parliamentarian, says those so-called ‘drought dropouts’ have given up on a Bedouin life. “They have moved to the city or to relatives in other villages.” As a representative of the Hubsoy region, he is very concerned about the well-being of his community. We were hoping to get more help from the government. But the little water and food rations they sent are long gone.”

In an interview with Swiss public radio, State Commissioner Jacob Naringo reacted bleak: “There is no doubt about the failure of the government,” he said. “The government is responsible and takes care of its people.” According to Naringo, the most vulnerable families in Wajir, totaling around 200,000, were supported by microfinance.

“A man cannot live on tea alone.”

Some live in Balat al-Amin, a settlement built by the government for climate refugees. In cooperation with NGOs, they provide drinking water and dry rations: cornmeal, beans and rice.

With each drought, as in 2011 and 2017, new spills are added. Abidiya Bello, 55, arrived today, left behind by her children and grandchildren. “In the end, we just drank tea,” Bello says of the grass hut. “Nobody can live on that.”

The capital of the region, Gir, is not far away. Bello hopes her children can build a new life there. “There they can go to school and learn the Qur’an.” But this means that her family’s ancient herding tradition ends here. She is clearly emotional: “I have no words for that.”

Robay Abdali, 40, has been living in Balat al-Amin for ten years. “I can’t help it,” she says. Her 17-year-old son, Mawlid, chewed on a twig and spewed shrapnel into the sand. He still remembers how his parents lost all their livestock: “They were very sad.” By collecting firewood, he contributes to his family’s income. He says he’s ashamed that he can’t be a shepherd because of the drought – as he should be.

drought in Africa

Long dry periods are increasingly common on the African continent. According to the World Bank, the number of droughts in 2010-2019 tripled compared to the decade 1970-1979. The reasons are diverse: global warming plays a role, but also desertification, overexploitation of the land, and natural phenomena such as El Niño and La Niña.

In addition to the Horn of Africa, Southern Africa also experiences a period of constant drought. According to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, there was very little rain in Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Populations in southern Madagascar are particularly vulnerable: according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the region is teetering on the brink of the world’s first climate-related famine.

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