In Somaliland, Recurrent Droughts Threaten Pastoralist Livelihoods

In a recent reportage, Adrienne Surprenant travelled to the self-declared state of Somaliland to uncover the long-term consequences of severe drought.

© Adrienne Surprenant, from the story The drought made us equal

The Horn of Africa, a peninsula in Northeast Africa, is the most exposed region to droughts and is likely to see an intensification of them in the coming years. If their occasional appearances have brought with them great humanitarian crises over the past decades, their more and more frequent occurrence may not only affect the lives of the locals, but an entire country’s survival.

In the self-declared state of Somaliland, two years of drastic drought throughout 2016 and 2017 have left the country in agony. 80% of the cattle have died, and up to 90% in some parts of the country - it was the main source of subsistence and income. Adrienne Surprenant went there before the rain started to fall again, when people had lost their mind when not their life, and some children had stopped talking by lack of food.

© Adrienne Surprenant, from the story The drought made us equal

“A man told me that while they were used to naming each drought they had, they referred to this one as 'the very worse we have ever had'”, Surprenant recalls. “The fact that the country is self-proclaimed and not recognised by the international community prevents them from receiving direct help from NGOs. Not to mention that the conflicts at the borders make some villages difficult or impossible to access”, she explains.

Obliged to count on themselves, the largely nomadic population tapped its resources, both literally by moving toward the few remaining spots of water, and metaphorically by relying on their ancestral clan culture of solidarity. “I called this work The drought made us equal because people who had money gave to people who didn’t in a very direct way – shop owners were giving food, truck drivers were delivering goods, people who had private money paid for the filling of community wells. There were even crowd-funding campaigns organised in the biggest cities”, she says.

© Adrienne Surprenant, from the story The drought made us equal

They have survived for now, but in a country whose economy depends on pastoralism and the export of livestock, the drought has had a long-term, possibly permanent impact. “Many people are heavily indebted now and would not be able to help again if necessary. Almost every cattle owner has lost their cattle, and with it their main importer, Saudi Arabia. It’s an entire way of life and associated economy that are doomed to disappear.” And that is, in a country where the number of displaced people and internal and external refugees are weakening it further. “The country hosts a lot of people in a precarious situation. With the local population also getting precarious, one wonders how it will recover” Surprenant questions.

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Adrienne Surprenant is a Canadian photographer based in Cameroon and a member of the photo collective, Item. Follow her on Instagram.

Laurence Cornet is a writer and curator based in Brooklyn focusing on cultural and environmental issues.

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Getting Closer presents photographic works, mainly in a documentary vein, that speak about the causes and consequences of environmental degradation.

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