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Opinion: Drought in Somali state is matter of humanity, should not be politicized

Without sufficient food or water for weeks, this cow of Abdulahi’s is unable to stand and walk to the shade on its own. Photo: WFP/Michael Tewelde.

By Mohamed-Taqwim Badel Ali @taqwiim99

Addis Abeba – Somali regional state and some other parts of the Ethiopian lowlands, including in southern Oromia, have been ravaged by recurrent droughts primarily caused by low precipitation due to failure of three subsequent rainy seasons. Drought has become part of the lowlanders’ life and over the past two decades Somali region has experienced it once in every 5 years. Drought has a devastating impact on the entire livelihoods of the population, especially pastoralists and farmers whose lives directly depend on the seasonal rains.

At the same time, pastoralism is the backbone of the regional economy; however it is vulnerable to the effects of these repeated droughts due to low or absence of resilient capacity and/or drought management schemes.

Effective drought management rests on three pillars: monitoring and early warning; vulnerability and impact assessment; and mitigation, preparedness, and response. All these three pillars are fledgling in Somali region in particular, and the wider horn of Africa in general.

So far, the current drought has affected nine zones in Somali region and an estimated of 3.5 million people, which is almost 35% of the total population of the regional state; furthermore, an estimated 300,000 domestic livestock were lost since October 2021. Apart from these, hundreds of primary schools in the pastoral areas are partially or completely closed as per the regional education report. The number of children, pregnant and lactating women who are malnourished has increased significantly. It has also psychological and physical impacts that may last longer to the affected population.

Drought is a natural phenomenon and dealing with it should be a matter of humanity. It shouldn’t be politicized. It is neither an event that everyone poses for a picture of the needy by giving them half a liter of water and a bag of rice, nor should it become a topic of daily arguments

Pastoralists have become synonymous with what is called in Somali Nirgo samays, meaning someone who hardly earn an income or produce some products and lose it before consumption and again do it the same and lose it and continue that process till his death comes.

Politicizing the drought situation

Drought is a natural phenomenon and dealing with it should be a matter of humanity. It shouldn’t be politicized. It is neither an event that everyone poses for a picture of the needy by giving them half a liter of water and a bag of rice, nor should it become a topic of daily arguments among the public and politicians, both government and the opposition.

The regional government is spending a lot of time and resource responding to the complaints from the opposition politicians and social media circles, while we are in a difficult time and the needy people are waiting a collective response and help from us all. The primary responsibility of the government is not only self-defense, but also the safety of people’s life and assets. Actually, the drought is not caused by the regional government, but the administration is responsible for the lives of citizens and their livestock.

In the meantime, political stakeholders have turned the drought discussions into unproductive daily talks of the market that does not go beyond the tea shop sit-ins of criticism and self-defense. Opposition groups see this drought as an opportunity to direct the attention of the public to the weakness of the administration instead of mobilizing the public, raising awareness, collecting funds, and supporting the government’s efforts in responding to the drought.

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It is known that this drought has severity and magnitude and not worthy politicizing even if it is an election period, let alone these days.

So far, large-scale fundraising efforts organized by both the government and clans are underway. International partners are also involved in responding to the needs of the affected population. If properly managed, the resources committed by the stakeholders and the people’s participation can minimize the impacts of the drought, but not the solution in the long run.

These pastoralists in Ethiopia are suffering in the stomach of a country that claims its resources and policies are directed towards agricultural development. They are marginalized, underdeveloped, and lacking proper political representation in the central government.

What is to be done?

It is inevitable, and as such, the responsibility of all stakeholders to find a lasting solution to recurrent droughts and get pastoralists out of this miserable life. The following are some of the recommended steps to build the resilience of the pastoralists;

  • Pastoral development policies and programs have to shift from mobility based livelihood system to climate smart pastoralism that is resilient to external shocks.
  • Move from subsistence pastoralism to commercial pastoralist activities that is linked to the international markets; such move has to be encouraged and incentivized.
  • Livestock products processing factories and industrial zones have to be established in the pastoral areas in order to increase production and earnings of the pastoralists and agro-pastoralists
  • Building the resilience of the pastoralist community through developing (water points and supplies, rural roads, electricity, telephone networks, bank services, health facilities and livestock markets)
  • Improving early warning systems, drought preparedness and response strategies, as well as community mobilization at grassroots level is important

The current drought can be managed through greater cooperation between all government levels, non-governmental and international organizations, civil society and the opposition groups. It is also important to speed up responses to minimize the loss of life and assets as it increases on daily basis.

The federal government has the primary responsibility for the pastoralists’ lives and development. These areas were marginalized and least developed; there should be a fair share and affirmative action in the allocation of the national budget to ensure the development of pastoralists and sustainable livelihoods.

Eventually, the rain will come, but the only lasting solution is to build resilience of the pastoralists and agro-pastoralists. AS

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Editor’s Note: *Mohamed-Taqwim Badel Ali is a Lecturer at Jigjiga University, Institute of Pastoral and Agro-pastoral Development Studies

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