Somalia: A way of life lost

Saleban Yussuf Noor in Somalia affected by climate changeWhen we hear "climate change", we think of melting polar ice, raising sea levels. At best, we might imagine violent hurricanes in South Asia.

We don't often consider how changing weather patterns affect the poorest first. We, the lucky ones, have a buffer. We are more resilient, have alternative livelihoods. The majority of people on this planet don't.

For over one billion people, a few degrees more will mean the difference between life or death. Survival of a tribe or starvation.

I was looking for a first hand recount, and asked Jane Barrett to write up something from her last visit to Somalia. Jane is a press officer at Oxfam Novib for Somalia, Niger and Burundi. During a recent field visit in Somaliland, she was met warm and generously by the communities. People were clearly eager to tell their stories to someone who wanted to listen.

Here is a story Jane wrote after meeting SalebanYussuf Noor, a grandfather and probably the last of his pastoral generation:

Somalia: A way of life lost

In Burcao, Somaliland we visited a village called Ununley. Here, in houses spread on either side of the road, live pastoralist families. When the village gathers to meet us, providing an occasion to drink tea and chew khaat, there is a distinct majority of elderly and women. Indeed, many men have gone with their sheep and goats to search for water. The latest information, a village elder tells us, is that it has rained by the Ethiopian border.

It will be busy, as many herders have heard the same. Having missed several seasonal rains, the herders have to go further and further in search of water and vegetation for their animals. Along the way, many livestock will be lost to the drought.

SalebanYussuf Noor is 75. He is one of the oldest in the village and was one of its founding members at age ten. In his younger years, his family was wealthy. “When I was young, my family was most generous. I ran a tea shop and to feed people I slaughtered my goats,” he says.

Then, the village was growing. Saleban himself owned 500 sheep and goats. Now his family of 11 own just 30. In the last ten years, climate change has endangered the pastoralist way of life that has existed for centuries in Somalia. The last four years the drought has intensified, with the most recent summer the worst. “Every place they, the herders, go they lose some cattle.”

Saleban is very concerned about what the future holds for the younger generation of the village: “The young people who are supposed to continue to build the village are leaving to places such as Lybia, the Sahara and Europe to find work and build a family. This changing weather is very bad. The people living here used to be wealthy, now they are very poor.”

He doesn’t quite know how to deal with the impact it has had on himself and his village. “We are proud. We used to live lavishly, we don’t know how to help, it sounds like begging,” Saleban said.

Saleban’s grandson has been sitting nearby throughout our conversation, drawing patterns in the sand. I ask him what he wants to be when he grows up. “Teacher” he says shyly. Then I ask his friends who are sitting around us, “Teacher.” “Doctor.” “Teacher.” “Teacher.” “Big man who can work in the factory.” Not one of them wants to be a herder like their fathers. That outlook is too bleak.

Check Oxfam's climate change blog

Picture courtesy Jane Barrett/Oxfam


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