Currently the eastern part of Somaliland, a large swath of territory, which includes the regions of Togdheer, Sool and Sanag is being ravaged by a debilitating famine, the like of which has not been seen in memory. The western part of the country experienced a drought a little over year ago. It is reasonable to assume due to global warming and the resultant atmospheric changes, droughts are not, as in times past, a once in life time experience, but are recurring more frequently.
Somaliland has one source of water: underground; there are no rivers. People can use only water in reservoirs, if any are available, or underground. The fact that people and livestock were dying for lack of water means there are no wells to pump water from or water in reservoirs in the areas affected by the drought.
Underground water is finite. Moreover, more water is being used in urban centers as the population of urban dwellers has dramatically increased, adopting lifestyles that require more underground water usage.
Somaliland does not face external threats nor domestic social or political conflicts that endanger the nation; rather water shortage and droughts pose a long term threat to the existence of the State.
The experience of Yemen must offer a cautionary tale. Some observers believe competition for water undergird the current conflict in Yemen. Yeminis drilled and drilled and pumped underground water and now they are hitting rocks instead of water in some places.
Somalilanders can avoid this fate by planning ahead of time. And planning pays off. Take the case of what the Silanyo Administration has accomplished. Few months after he came to power, in speech to the nation during Eid occasion in late October 2010, he promised to pave the Dilla-Borama road. Not only was that road constructed, but other roadways in other parts of the country were also paved in addition to government buildings that were also built.
The government and people are doing everything possible to assist those affected by the drought as they are being resettled in areas less affected by the drought and they are being provided with food and water and shelters. Laudable as those efforts are, going forward, it will be more useful if proactive measures are taken to confront the challenges of global warming.
Somaliland needs to mitigate water shortages in both urban and rural areas: In urban areas the government should build “spreading grounds” or dams in areas where there are underground aquifers. Underground aquifers are found in areas where the top soil is porous. That is why the water went underground in the first place. By building those water conservation facilities in those areas, water will percolate into the underground through the porous soil. So the water that are being drawn from wells for urban centers will be replenished or recharged from the spreading grounds. Rural people will need reservoirs.
So the new president hopefully will do to confront the challenges of global warming what Ahmed Silanyo did for infrastructure and office construction. This can be done:
- By changing government policy from “drill, drill” to “stormwater capture and drill”
- Substantially increase budget for the Department of Water. Water Department must be third in budgetary allocation after the Defense and Education Departments.
- Establish partnership between the government, business and local communities to confront this enormous challenge. The government must play a leading role in creating the partnership and making it work.
Should Somaliland capture a fraction of the billions of gallons that pour into the lands each during the rainy season and divert those into spreading grounds and reservoirs, she will go a long way to mitigating the effects of global warming, such as droughts and famine.