Breakdowns at wells cause suffering for rural pastoralists in Somaliland

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The biggest fear for 54-year-old Saynab Ali Ahmed, living in a remote village near Ya’ubole, 290 kms south of Sheikh in Somaliland’s Sahil region, has been reaching the borehole and not finding any water.

Having lived here most of her life, this mother of 12 has never experienced such water shortage, she says. Frequent breakdowns of the pumping machinery at the borehole have exacerbated stress for her family and others living in eight villages in this dry area.

After four successive failed rainy seasons, the reservoirs and water catchments have all run dry over the past nine months so the borehole has been in constant use day and night.

Currently, the borehole generator at Ya’ubole has broken down for the fourth time in six months, so now they cannot draw any water at all.

“The water shortage worries us, and our livestock are dying. We didn’t get rainfall for past two Gu and Deyr seasons. We have been hit by persistent drought for us when the borehole breaks down it has a huge impact,” Saynab explained.

Her family’s herd of 250 goats has reduced to just 20 think survivors due to the drought and water scarcity. She and six of her neighbours pooled their money and raised $180 to buy 40 barrels of water on 8 August, although they can barely afford such expense with their tiny income.

They have been getting 75 kg of mixed maize, sorghum and wheat fodder aid for their livestock from the World Food Programme but Saynab’s tea shop, their only income these days, has dropped due to the water shortage. Her husband is unemployed and mostly stays at home.

According to Abdillahi Ahmed Adan, the director of the well maintenance department at the Ministry of Water Resources, a lack of skilled workers and the overuse of wells during the drought has led to such problems in many places.

He told Radio Ergo’s local reporter that breakdowns of deep boreholes in the rural areas increased this year. Over exploitation and expensive repair services that are unaffordable to herdsmen have reduced the water available for vulnerable families.

He said the ministry was able to repair 84 boreholes during the past six months. The main faults were failure of the water pumps. The boreholes are intended to work for a maximum of eight hours but are now being used far beyond their capacity.

Osman Mohamed Salah, another herdsman living in Awdanle, 180 km south of Burao, told Radio Ergo the borehole in their area has broken down six times.

The well supports more than 15,000 families who are mostly nomadic pastoralists. Osman said whenever it breaks down, water prices instantly shoot up, with a single barrel selling for $5.

This borehole was last repaired on 12 August. Some of the families took their camels and donkeys to Qorilugud, 67 kms from Awdanle, trekking for two days to find precious water and carry it back.

“All the families took out their horses, donkeys and even cattle; we got 150 animals in total. When we came back all the families ran up to us desperately and we had to give them a jerry can each. We don’t get much through this process but this is our situation…we are just doing it for survival,” said Osman.

Osman, one of the elders in the village, feared the situation will worsen if the rainfall delays longer. He says they are potentially just one more breakdown away from death.

“We request the government to assign a permanent maintenance crew so that they can offset the recurring issues of the borehole,” he added.

The ministry of water resources has received more frequent reports of breakdowns of boreholes, sometimes just 10 days after repairs, due to overuse. It says it has trained additional repair teams in Hargeisa, Berbera, Burao, Borama, Erigabo and Lasanod, and equipped them with vehicles and machines to repair the boreholes in two days.

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