How is Progressio, along with our partner organisation Candlelight, supporting people in Somaliland to make the most of the available water? Shukri Ismail Bandare, the founder of Progressio partner organisation Candlelight in Somaliland, answers our questions.
What are the issues in Somaliland?
For the last ten years Somaliland has experienced constant droughts. Before that, we used to have droughts every eight or ten years; we gave each drought a name, and then people used to remember. But nowadays it’s not the same. We are experiencing constant droughts and it has a very negative impact on the environment and on the people and their livelihoods.
What is the impact on the environment?
The problem is, number one, the water is not going into the ground. There is no infiltration at all: the ground is so hard that you have to dig it with a pickaxe. So when it rains there is a lot of run-off. Last year we had a lot of rain. If you had stood next to the dry riverbed here in Hargeisa, you would’ve been amazed how much water was passing, going straight to the sea. Number two, there is a lot of soil erosion. In Somaliland, the backbone of our economy is livestock, but we don’t have any food for the livestock, so we have a lot of overgrazing. Whatever grass that comes out, it will go like this [clicks fingers]. Last month I was visiting some projects outside Hargeisa and I saw three goats kneeling and digging the ground … and they were eating from the roots. Once you see a goat or a sheep going all the way to the root, you know that that area is zero.
What does that mean for the people?
Before, the nomads or the pastoral people used to stay in one area for three months. They used to stay there, graze their animals there happily, bring their products into the cities or into the small villages. Now, it is not like that. Nowadays you don’t have a house, you have a donkey or you have one camel and you have a few things on the top. And you will see a woman and the future they are running after, walking and walking, coming from miles away, settling their things for a week or so, leaving again, trying to look for pasture. You know, it’s never been like this.
So what can you do about it?
We need to make people aware of the problems. One example is that the trees are going – people are cutting them to make charcoal, particularly the rural youth [who have few employment options or other means of earning money]. They do nothing else, except charcoal, and there’s a constant demand. But because of that, nothing is growing. Usually the grass and shrubs grow under the trees, and that keeps the
water there. Immediately the tree is cut and everything goes into the sea. People don’t consider what this tree is doing, the value of the tree – that this tree is literally, you could say, supporting our health and our environment. But it’s a tree, and in Somaliland we always say, “it’s none of your business”. If you see someone cutting a tree, it’s none of your business. So we are constantly on the TV or in the radio or in the newspapers, trying to make people aware of the importance of the environment. We bring out our own newspaper called Deegaankeenna, it means ‘our environment’. And at the same time we are trying to work with the government and at least engage them in all our activities. Because in Somaliland we have good policies, but if the policy is not working, then what’s the use of the policy? We need to be pushing the policy, and making it work.
Do you run practical projects too?
We are trying to focus on regenerating the earth, both in pastoral and agropastoral areas. We are trying to de-silt the water reservoirs; making stone terracing in areas where it’s needed; training the agro-pastoral farmers in soil and water conservation systems. We promote water harvesting through rehabilitating the berkads [traditional underground cisterns] and ballehs [traditional surface dams]; harvesting water from the roof; building wells and subsurface dams. Most of our projects are for agro-pastoralists in rural areas – training the farmers, giving them seeds. A lot of the agro-pastoralists don’t have that much experience in farming [because of their pastoral background] – that’s another problem we have. We have two good trainers who are constantly on the move, training the people on the ground.
What impact do your projects have?
The long-term projects that we have – you would never believe the results! In one area, it used to be full of trees, but over the years everything had gone. So we started from scratch, and built it up as a communal grazing area. And we have seen the difference, how people have benefited. Thousands and thousands of animals now come and graze when we open it [it’s closed for part of the year, to prevent overgrazing].
And what about the training projects?
They have tangible results too. We had one bee-keeping project in the Sahil area – still I remember this one young boy. The bee-keeping training class was full but this lady came with a young guy and she said ‘can you add him, my son?’, and we said ‘fine, let him sit.’ And now they are honey sellers, they have a small farm. Literally, their livelihood changed, and that young guy now is driving a car – he bought a car, not straight away, but over the years. But if he did not come to the training, probably he would have gone and joined those people who are burning the trees…
This interview between Candlelight’s Shukri Ismail Bandare and Progressio UK’s Programmes Officer Isabel Gammies took place in Somaliland in April 2012.