Sunday, January 13, 2013
A year in Somaliland: ''What I've learned about water in Hargeisa
''I have read in the papers that there are plans to dig more wells in Hargeisa, funded by the EU. But the fact is at least 45%...''. Joanna
- I remember in Belfast the Christmas before last, when pipes froze and burst, water poured into streets, and many of us were without water for days, relying on bottled water that we had to collect from water stations. Many people said at the time, and I was one, how it made them appreciate water was not to be taken for granted. But it has taken living here and observing how people live in a country that experiences serious droughts for it to be brought home to me what a precious resource water is.
For a start, the Horn of Africa is semi-arid, i.e. there is very little rain anyway. Most of Somaliland receives as little as 50 to 150 millimetres of rain annually. Ireland’s annual rainfall is nearer 1000 mm a year (and more in Connemara!). Adan (the driver with Nagaad and the source of much of my information) thinks it has got drier over the past few decades, and Somaliland is slowly becoming more like a desert. When the rain does come, in April and May, its torrential, but I haven’t experienced any yet and wonder about driving on these now dusty dirt roads after torrential rain! On the way to and from work every day, we cross a bridge over what looks like a dried up riverbed, between 50 and 100 yards wide. In fact it’s a flood runoff for the rains when they do come. The rain has been known to sweep away the temporary shelters that internally displaced people (IDPs) live in, and the downpours can be extremely dangerous. They say this area after a rainfall will be a raging torrent of water and then, within hours, the water has disappeared.
The main sources of water in rural areas of Somaliland are the privately owned Barkeds (cemented water catchments), manually dug shallow wells and communal stock watering ponds. All of these sources of water depend on a harvest of seasonal rainfall, which has been worsening year by year. While in urban areas, groundwater is the main source of water for human and livestock consumption (the ubiquitous goats, and not forgetting the urban cattle that roam the streets). I suppose no one worries about the camels!
Because of recurrent drought, there has been a huge population shift to Hargeisa and other urban areas from rural areas, and from areas where people have been internally displaced by the upheavals of war. The steady increase in settlements of internally displaced people on the outskirts of the city makes it hard to keep track of population numbers, and the situation is growing beyond control. Tensions between the IDP communities and the host communities have increased, particularly because of the water shortage.
The water infrastructure in Hargeisa was designed and built in the 1940s for a population of 150,000 people, relying on deep bore wells as major sources of water. A survey of 127 government owned deep bore wells and other sources of water (not just in Hargeisa) were completed recently, and only about 40 percent of all existing wells are operational. Adan complained that 60% of the national budget goes on security and maintaining the military, with no development strategy to address the water infrastructure, although I have read in the papers that there are plans to dig more wells in Hargeisa, funded by the EU. But the fact is at least 45% of Hargeisa’s population of 1.2 million has no direct access to water at all. So how do they manage?
Tankers fetch water daily from wells in two villages 30 or 40 kilometres outside Hargeisa and deliver it to houses and hotels (including the Ambassador) in the city and it is pumped into tanks. Alanye, a board member of Nagaad, explained to me that he and his family are dependent on a truck delivering water every week. He pays $7 for five barrels of water, which last his family one week. But his family is small, him and his wife, and two or three relatives. In Somaliland, extended families are the norm, so it would be usual, he told me, for 12 people to share a household. For most households then five barrels would only last 3-4 days. Then there are sanitation issues because the water comes untreated from the wells. The problem with water quality is pertinent. Most of these families use this water for drinking, cooking and washing as well. No water purification and treatment of water takes place here. Well owners wait for the wells to become full and once water comes to the surface they dip long tubes that take water to the trucks.
The water used for tea and coffee in Nagaad is the colour of weak tea; I have gone without a mid-morning drink since my first taste. Many people cannot buy water from truck owners as they don’t have tanks. They rely on the donkey deliveries, pulling small tanks of water and delivering to people’s houses and small shops.
By Joanna Mcminn