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The burden on children: Searching for scarce resources in drought-stricken Somalia

© UNICEF/HQ06-0149/Kamber
Nomadic girls and women fill containers with water from a large puddle in the middle of the road near the town of Wajid, in the southern Bakool Region of Somalia.

By Sarah Crowe and David McKenzie

BAKOOL REGION, Somalia, 23 May 2006 – The families walk for days across the vast parched landscape of southern Somalia, children and goats in tow, following rumours of rain. Finally, rare showers bring them to a halt around fresh watering holes and they settle down. Just hours later, though, all that’s left are puddles of fetid water.

Nuuriyo Ibrahim Abdirahm, 12, is scooping water from the shallow pool in a plastic cup, literally cup by cup, trying to avoid too much silt.

This is Nuuriyo’s life. She spends her days collecting water, or in search of water. She has never been to school, has never known what it’s like to have running water at home.

Lives hanging by a thread

“In the morning I go get water, and then I look after the goats,” Nuuriyo says timidly, speaking Somali. “I do everything.”

She spends most of the afternoon in the scorching sun, tending to her family’s diminishing goat herd. Many of their livestock have perished in the two-year drought afflicting the Horn of Africa. She wants to go to school but can’t because they are constantly on the move. 
Nuuriyo hasn’t had much to eat lately, either; dry sorghum and the occasional cup of goat’s milk are her nourishment. But for her young age, she shoulders an enormous burden. At the muddy puddle, she is left to compete with animals flicking away the flies. Once her bucket is filled, she treks back with other women and children to their temporary home.

© UNICEF/HQ06-0153/Kamber
A woman stands behind two small children outside their makeshift tent at a camp for persons displaced by the drought in the town of Wajid, Bakool Region, Somalia.
It may seem normal to Nuuriyo, but her grandmother, Halima Ali Eymow, knows that their lives are hanging by a thread.

“If no rain comes, our livestock will be finished,” she says. “What must we do now? We lost a lot of animals, most of them have died already. We don’t know where to go or what to do.”

Children depend on aid

Few in Somalia have ready access to clean water, but for pastoralists like Nuuriyo’s family – scattered far and wide, and hard to reach – the search is endless. Out on the edge of settled society, water trucks simply drive past their makeshift homes and on to a distant village.

In Somalia, as well as other remote parts of the Horn of Africa, the number of pastoralists is swelling as more and more desperately seek scarce resources.  There has been no real functioning government here in 15 years. In this latest crisis, the biggest challenge for humanitarian groups is to find new ways of helping people live a life that is not shaped entirely by a constant search for food and water.

“We are very much afraid of what is going to happen in the coming months,” says UNICEF’s Representative in Somalia, Christian Balslev-Olesen. “There will be no food, no way of surviving a normal life. That means children are totally dependent on the kind of assistance that we can provide: food, water, health and nutrition.”




UNICEF Correspondent David McKenzie reports from Somalia on 12-year-old Nuuriyo Ibrahim Abdirahm, whose family is barely surviving the drought in the Horn of Africa.
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UNICEF Nutrition Officer Regine Kopplow gives an account of how the drought is affecting children in Somalia and what UNICEF is doing about it.
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