by Ariel Delaney
The village of Habarshiro, comprised of approximately 150 households, is located in the Sool Plateau of Sanaag in northern Somalia, and has seen great hardship over the years. Although the Sool Plateau has always been prone to water shortages due to its overpopulation and open grazing, the prolonged drought (from 2002-2004) has further affected the semi-pastoral community. Due to this prolonged drought that occurred from 2002-2004 and runoff water flooding, much of the fertile soil has washed away and in time the process of desertification left the land in a deserted state. This severely affected pastoral communities, leading to the destitution of many, as the lack of pasture and water caused many to lose livestock herds. From 2002-2004 alone, pastoralists lost 70% of their sheep and goats and 80% of camels, mainly pack camels essential for transportation.
Land deterioration from deforestation was just one of the problems faced by the population of Habarshiro. Water is also a scarce resource and during the dry season many residents are forced to use credit to pay for water that is trucked into the village from as far as 100 kilometers away for personal and livestock use. Residents frequently accumulate high amounts of debt while trying to provide basic resources for their families. Alternative livelihood opportunities are scarce and the community receives no outside assistance from the Somali Diaspora. In addition, Habarshiro suffers from a lack of basic services such as health care, sanitation and education.
Traditionally in Somalia, the provision of credit is an essential coping mechanism to drought, lack of income sources, poor livestock conditions, lack of alternative livelihood opportunities, etc. Pastoralists and other households commonly go into debt to meet their basic food and non-food needs such as water, food, etc. Repayment is then done once livestock is sold, or when crops are harvested. High levels of debt are frequent, in part due to low purchasing power caused by loss of income/assets or from increased expenditures, and from inflation in the price of food and non-food items. In turn, this can lead to a collapse of the credit system.
To protect the pastoralists’ remaining herds in this region, Adeso innovatively created an intervention to halt the desertification process and begin to restore the land and livelihoods of the communities. Starting in November 2011, the Sanaag Emergency Response Project II (SERP II) intervened to support livelihoods while also focusing on environmental management and protection. SERP II was specifically designed to build on the gains of SERP I intervention which ended in September 2011. Recognizing the extreme needs of Habarshiro, Adeso selected the village to receive much needed assistance as part of the project.
During the initial stages of the project, the community formed a village relief committee (VRC) to identify the most vulnerable community members to become recipients of Cash Relief (CR). In an emergency context, like that of Habarshiro, CR allows for the provision of resources to a population in the form of cash in a timely manner. In this case, it was implemented to assist households meet their basic needs such as water, food, shelter and medicine.
The Habarshiro VRC immediately identified 58 year old Aadan Ahmed Mohamed’s family to become recipients of CR. Mohamed, who is disabled, supported his wife and 13 children and his livelihood depends on a herd of 30 sheep/goats. Supporting as large family is extremely difficult and poor households like Mohamed’s often rely on negative coping mechanisms. In Mohamed’s case, he sent 3 of his children to live with relatives to help provide for the family, a strategy that is traditionally used when hardships occur. Unable to sustain his wife and 13 children, Mohamed attempted to perform casual labor from time to time, but due to his disability was unable to secure long-term employment. Prior to the intervention, the family was only eating one meal a day with the meager income Mohamed was able to make.
Adeso distributed $180 for two months to each of the 150 vulnerable households identified. Mohamed’s family felt a change immediately after receiving assistance. Not only did their debt levels decrease but the family’s meal intake doubled. “Our source of food would have run out a long time ago if not for the cash we received,” remarked Mohamed. Mohamed expressed his desire to have Adeso return to his village and for a longer period of time.
SERP II ended in September 2012 and reached over 3,500 households with activities in Agriculture, Food Security, and Economic Recovery/Market Support. The project provided urgent assistance to the poorest and most vulnerable households in Sanaag and Mudug regions while rehabilitating urgently needed community assets. Not only was access to essential food and non-food items enhanced through cash transfers but vulnerability was reduced by the rehabilitation of community economic assets. Despite these considerable achievements, populations in the region, including Mohamed and his family, remain vulnerable. Insecurity remains an issue, and inflation of goods (which is as high as 40%) has led to continued increases in debt levels. Access to basic services continues to affect the lives of the community, and elders in Habarshiro, for example, would like to see a school and health clinic in their village. “We are committed to sending our children to school,” said one village elder. Adeso has recognized the vulnerability but also the goals of the population of the region and has developed an intervention to address their growing needs. As such, the Livelihoods Emergency Assistance Project of Somalia (LEAPS) began in October 2012 as a continuation of SERP II and villages in the Sanaag region are among some of the communities targeted.