The human and environmental disruption wreaked by drought in Somaliland, where more than 60 percent of people raise livestock for a living, means the self-declared, but barely recognized, independent state should draw up its own plan for climate change adaptation, according to a new report.
The Impact of Climate Change on Pastoral Societies of Somaliland, by Candle Light, a Somali NGO promoting sustainable development, focused its research on an area particularly vulnerable to climate change, the semi-arid Haud region, which runs from Hargeisa’s airport to the Ethiopian border, 70km to the south.
Combating climate change requires investment in soil conservation, water harvesting, reforestation and restoration of grazing. Candle Light emphasized the need to develop scenarios for the impact of climate change on grasslands, vegetation and agricultural production.
It also suggested a more efficient use of water, and creating plans for equitable water sharing that target the specific needs of pastoralists and farmers; trade-offs involving water should be carefully assessed and discussed to avoid conflict.
Noting that livestock is a source of nutrition and bride-price as well as income, the NGO also recommended introducing insurance mechanisms to Somaliland, whose livestock exports dominate the economy.
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a global secretariat, has asked some poor countries to draw up National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPA), making them eligible for funding.
But since the territory’s independence is entirely unrecognized outside Somaliland, there is no one to bat for it at the UNFCC. Having its own NAPA would be a great advantage, according to Candle Light.
The vulnerability of the livestock sector was exposed by an import ban imposed by Gulf states in 2000 because of Rift Valley Fever. The ban was only revoked in late 2009, and export certification capacity remains weak.
Unpredictable rainy season
Drought also exerts a heavy toll on the sector. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, it can reduce herd sizes by 60-80 percent.
Consequently, Somali pastoralists are adept at climate prediction and the shorter-term art of rain-forecasting, which affects breeding plans.
"We used to wait 120 nights after the summer to mix the male with the female sheep because we wanted our sheep to give birth in May... but nowadays, in May there are no rains and all the lambs born during this time have died, making predicting the climate even more confusing," said Hassan Jama Awad, a pastoralist expert based in Erigavo, capital of Somaliland's Sanag region.
In the serious drought of 1974-75, when changing rainfall patterns affected livestock and milk production, bringing widespread starvation, tens of thousands of pastoralist households fled eastern Somaliland.
Most of the displaced camel-herding households were relocated to the agricultural belt between the Juba and Shabelle rivers in southern Somalia to lead a settled life based on farming and fishing.
Chief Caaqil Khadar Hassan Ibrahim, 76, father of 12 and resident of Saila, 48km south of Hargeisa, said the rainy seasons had become unpredictable, with consecutive rainfall failure.
Diminishing tree cover
Another development is that charcoal-burning has become a major source of income for 70 percent of poor and middle-income pastoralists.
But according to people interviewed by Candle Light, revenue from charcoal is often spent not on food for families but by men on `qat’, a mild stimulant which helps avert depression.
Residents of the areas where charcoal-burning is prevalent have expressed concern over the diminishing tree cover as more and more trees are felled. At least four charcoal trucks, each carrying 250-300 sacks of charcoal, leave Saila for Hargeisa, daily. Environmentalists estimate that four trees are cut to produce one sack of charcoal.
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