First Person

Fleeing famine and drought in Somalia

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Photo: Jane Beesley / Oxfam America
"We left our village because of the drought," said Fatima Mohammed, a mother of four from Somalia whose family sought shelter in Ethiopia. Photo: Jane Beesley / Oxfam America

Somalia remains the epicenter of the drought and food crisis in East Africa, with 3.7 million men, women, and children affected. Famine has been declared in some parts of the country, and the UN estimates about a quarter of Somalia’s population—1.8 million people—has been displaced. 

Since early August, Oxfam has provided clean water and sanitation for an estimated 11,000 Somali refugees in Hilaweyn camp, in Dollo Ado, Ethiopia. Oxfam’s Jane Beesley visited Dollo Ado last month and spoke with recently arrived refugees, whose stories are excerpted below.

Photo: Jane Beesley/Oxfam
Hussain Aden said his family walked for 30 days to reach a refugee camp in Ethiopia. Photo: Jane Beesley/Oxfam

Hussain Aden, left, and his family walked for 30 days to reach Dollo Ado from their village, Juwari. “We have a household of 20 people, including children and grandchildren,” he said. “We left due to hunger and drought. We used to have livestock. They all died: 35 cattle and 15 sheep. When the last one died that is when we decided to leave. We left our houses and came here. Before there were droughts but not like this. I don’t know when the drought will end.

“On the way we were very dusty and hungry. We had a little maize that we prepared on the way. We walked with our children on our backs … the children are small and couldn’t walk by themselves.”

Aden said one of the challenges the family faces now is the lack of opportunities to earn a decent income. “All the men want to work, but there is nothing for us. The women are collecting firewood, which they sell … [but] we are idle when we want to work.”

Photo: Jane Beesley/Oxfam
Hawa Aden said she collects and sells firewood to buy food for her family. Photo: Jane Beesley/Oxfam

 “I went out and collected firewood early this morning,” said his wife, Hawa Aden. “Normally we go at 7am and come back at 1pm. I go with a lot of other women. It takes three hours to get to the place where we collect wood.

“If I sell wood in the camp I get 5 Birr (about 29 cents), but if I go into town I can get 10 Birr (58 cents). It takes me one hour to walk into town and another hour to walk back. I use the money to buy tea, salt … food for the family. I get water in the camp, one jerry can a day. I use the water for bathing the children, preparing tea, and drinking. … I have two children, both boys; they are 7 and 4.”

Fatima Mohammed, pictured above, arrived in Dollo Ado with her four children. Her family was waiting in a transitional camp before moving to long-term shelter.  “We left our village because of the drought,” she said. “We’ve been experiencing drought now for three years. All the people from my village have come here. We’d heard people were coming to Dollo Ado. On the way we asked people for directions.

“I think life here compared to there will be different for us,” said Mohammed. “When I arrived I felt satisfied, because I thought now I’ll get everything I need—enough food, enough water, and my children will get good medicine.”

Oxfam aims to reach more than 3 million people throughout East Africa with a variety of support, including food aid, clean water, and veterinary care for animals. We are drilling and repairing wells and distributing fuel vouchers to ensure that pumps on the wells can keep operating—even if people have no money. We are also campaigning to change the root causes of this crisis. Find out how you can support our efforts. Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Google+