I’ve recently spent a few days visiting MAG’s work in Somaliland, and am struck by the tenacity of these people, who are some of the hardest hit by the compounding disasters of climate change and conflict in this complicated region.
Visiting a camp for internally-displaced people and refugees in Borama, against the hills that mark the border with Ethiopia, brought home the stark reality of life for pastoralists whose livelihoods exist on a razor’s edge that four successive seasons of drought have effectively wiped out. With the loss of pastureland and water for their animals, or the death of their livestock from thirst, these families are forced to leave their homes, crossing often-unfamiliar regions and insecure borders to arrive in overcrowded, makeshift settlements.
Violence affects many of these people both as the impetus for their journey and as a fact of life along the way and upon arrival. Many families in Borama have fled escalating conflicts between ethnic groups over pastureland in Ethiopia, enduring a 12 day walk to cross the border into Somaliland. The border between Ethiopia and Somaliland is itself a hazard, having been mined in a succession of wars. The police chief of the district told me that three weeks ago a boy in a nearby town had his hands blown off by a grenade he found and was playing with, and that the police team responsible for collecting and destroying this explosive ordnance receive calls every day about hazards in communities. Women and children are especially at-risk of explosives, as kids play with unfamiliar, shiny objects, and women are often responsible for collecting water and firewood, traveling increasingly long distances to do so as the drought worsens.
MAG cannot offer a complete solution to the plight of these displaced people in Somaliland. The pastoralist livelihood will continue to be threatened by climate change, and there is no easy way back to it once a family has lost their animals, their lands, and their community. Other humanitarian actors are responding to the best of their capacity and resources, which are severely constrained by the multitude of crises facing the world. And MAG’s piece of that puzzle is to help those communities who find themselves in an unfamiliar place, with new surroundings and new threats, to live safer lives.
In Somaliland, MAG provides small arms and explosive ordnance risk education as an emergency response to the wave of displaced people. By teaching women and men how to recognize explosive ordnance they might encounter in the landscape, to beware of potentially hazardous areas, and how to keep their families safe from guns, displaced people are able to make safer choices for their families. In future, MAG hopes to provide support and training to the police teams responsible for responding to reports of explosive ordnance, and help them safely and permanently remove these hazards from their community. In Somaliland, MAG is playing a small part in making sure that people who were forced to leave their original homes don’t face further tragedy due to violence in new ones.