Families walking for miles to fetch water during Somalia’s worst drought in decades, says a Saskatoon relief worker

Four people gather outside a hut in a refugee camp in Somalia, as dry land and scarce water supplies have led to widespread malnutrition.  (Lily Martin/CBC - photo credit)

Four people gather outside a hut in a refugee camp in Somalia, as dry land and scarce water supplies have led to widespread malnutrition. (Lily Martin/CBC – photo credit)

As Somalia’s worst drought in nearly half a century causes crops to fail, livestock dies and children are treated for malnutrition, a Canadian Red Cross worker in the region says water management is a priority.

About 96,000 people faced “catastrophic hunger” in Somalia from January to March, and it is estimated that about 1.8 million children in the region will be acutely malnourished this year, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Relief Affairs.

Angela Hill, a Saskatoon resident who works as a communications assistant with the Canadian Red Cross in Somalia, said the region has experienced about five failed rainy seasons in about two and a half years.

“We see families, women who have to walk maybe a mile or two to get water to cook what they have,” Hill told CBC host Leisha Grebinski Saskatoon morning.

HEAR | Angela Hill from Saskatoon talks about her experiences helping out in Somalia during the drought

The Canadian Red Cross is supporting drought-affected people in the Horn of Africa, including Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Uganda.

People in the area are nomadic and raise livestock, Hill said, meaning the rain provides pasture and water for their livestock. Without them, their livelihoods drop dead.

Hill said she spoke to women who said their biggest concern was access to water.

“Once there’s a little rain, the green comes back, the dust goes away, the animals can eat,” Hill said, noting that healthy animals can produce milk and other commodities that can be sold and consumed.

Berkads — deep concrete reservoirs that provide a source of water for the community — are drying up in some communities.

People have to travel farther to access this water.

The drought in Somalia has drained the Somali community in Saskatoon emotionally and financially, said Ali Abukar, who has been in touch with his family and friends in Somalia.

Abukar said with inflation in Canada, it has been more difficult to send aid to the people of Somalia.

“People will think twice about spending money on things that aren’t necessary…they’re constantly reminded, ‘Okay, people are dying at home,'” Abukar told Grebinski, including free time and eating at restaurants.

“The Somali people and people in the region are very strong people, very resilient and people who are rooted in faith.”

The fighting in the Sool region in northwestern Somalia has also hampered transport and led to rising commodity prices.

Almost 214,000 people in the region – or 43 percent of the region’s population – are experiencing a crisis or worse acute food insecurity.

Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP via Getty Images

Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP via Getty Images

In September, the United Nations said more than 513,000 children were at risk of dying from catastrophic levels of hunger, 173,000 more than during the 2011 famine that killed a quarter of a million people – half of them children.

The United Nations estimates that there were 16.8 million people in Somalia in 2022, 46 percent of whom were under the age of 14. The number of people in need of food aid has increased from 2 million a month in early 2022 to 5.4 million by the end of the year.

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network is predicting a sixth missed rainy season in 2023 to prolong the drought, saying while the region will avert famine, some regions will remain at risk into the summer months, according to the criteria needed.


Hill said the Somali Red Crescent Society is providing emergency financial assistance to help people pay for food, medicine, transportation to health facilities or other needs.

Health centers, also run by the company, can screen for malnutrition and provide high-energy meal supplement packages.

Society is also looking to the future, Hill said, to develop “climate resilience,” including creating watersheds and putting roofs on berkads to prevent evaporation.


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