“Drought Destroyed Our Lives”: One Woman’s Experience of Environmental Migration

Halima (left) shares her story with IOM, assisted by a translator. Picture: IOM/Kenneth Njagi

Halima*, a 30-year-old mother of three, never thought that she would leave the comfort of her home in Somalia where she lived with her mother and siblings. She grew up looking after her family’s large herd of livestock in Johwar in Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region, situated in the south of the country.

Her family was comfortable and financially secure until 2013, when they were forced to leave Somalia after they lost all their livestock in a severe and devastating drought that ravaged the southern part of Somalia from 2011 to 2012. The drought left almost half the population in need of humanitarian assistance, decimated livestock and crops, and left tens of thousands of people destitute. Conflict and insecurity further exacerbated their misery.

“The drought was so bad. I saw people lose their livelihoods because all the animals died due to lack of pasture and water. Our lives were destroyed; we suffered from thirst and hunger every single day,” Halima says with hesitation. They are painful memories she struggles to recall.

Successive droughts have ravaged parts of Somalia in recent years. Photographer: IOM/Muse Mohammed 2017

Halima and her six siblings decided that they had no option but to migrate across the border to survive. They started on a long and torturous journey to get to northern Kenya, but they were not all lucky. Two of Halima’s siblings died during the trek.

“They died because of heat and thirst and we had very little to eat. We would trek for days and nights without food. They were already so weak and they couldn’t walk for long. We had no choice after they passed away — we had to continue with our journey,” she explains emotionally. Along the journey, Halima joined another group of people, also migrating for the same reasons. Once in a while, they would hitch a short bus ride, but such opportunities were few and far between.

In 2013, Halima and her four surviving siblings managed to reach Kenya through Dagahaley camp in Dadaab. It had taken them 15 days to travel, mostly on foot, from their home town to Dagahaley camp. From here, she moved again, to Nairobi, hoping she would be able to start a new life.

Today, Halima is living in Eastleigh, a suburb in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, known for its predominantly Somali population, where she ekes out living selling doughnuts to support her four children as well as her ailing mother back in Somalia. Her mother has been living in an internally displaced persons camp since 2013, when she also left their home as a result of the drought.

From her business, Halima’s makes about USD 2 a day. With this, she is unable to send her children to school and can barely afford to feed them. Paying the rent on her single-roomed house is a constant struggle and most months she is in arrears and her electricity is cut off.

“Many people who were displaced cannot return home. The drought in Somalia is happening all the time. People have no way to recover,” she sighs.

A dried up carcass lies along the road in Dolow, Somalia following consecutive seasons of poor rains. Photo: IOM/Muse Mohammed 2017

Migration has always been connected to the environment in Africa. Climate change has made hazards, such as drought and floods, more intense and frequent, forcing people out of their homes.

Environmental factors are among the major drivers of migration in the region, with the World Bank estimating that by 2050 some 86 million people could be internally displaced as a result of climate change in Sub-Saharan Africa unless climate action is taken now.

In Somalia, environmental factors have driven thousands of people from their homes. Perennial drought and floods do not allow the population time to recover, and the 2011–2012 drought in Somalia hit hard, resulting in a famine that killed nearly 260,000. In 2017, Somalia was once again hit by severe drought, and mass famine was narrowly averted thanks to a rapid and effective humanitarian response.

A multitude of factors, including the longstanding civil war and a heavy dependence on natural resources, has reduced the population’s ability to cope with the additional, adverse effects of climate change, resulting in poverty, hunger and the displacement of thousands.

Statistical trends show that more people are on the move today than ever before. According to IOM’s World Migration Report (2018), there are now 258 million international migrants, comprising 3.3 percent of the world’s population. This figure does not account for people who migrate within their countries; the most recent estimates suggest that there are now upwards of 760 million internal migrants globally. These migration flows are often linked to the scarcity of natural resources.

Consequently, the importance of managing natural resources has been increasingly recognized in the migration debate. Particularly, water resource governance has become an important consideration within multiple regional, national, and international policy frameworks on migration.

Local residents, who largely rely on open and unprotected shallow wells — most of which have dried up — are struggling to find alternative water sources in Somalia. Photo: IOM/Muse Mohammed 2017

The intensification of water scarcity and resulting migration flows have created a strong impetus to integrate migration policy concerns into water governance at the global level.

As part of its mandate on migration, environment and climate change, IOM has been researching and engaging with policy discussions on the nexus between migration and water governance and identifying synergies between both policy domains.

As a recognized leader in this cross-cutting field, IOM has made numerous contributions across multiple fora, sharing expertise, knowledge, and experience.

Disclaimer: Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

For more information on the links between migration, environment and climate change, visit the IOM Environmental Migration Portal.

This story was written by the IOM team at the Migration, Environment and Climate Change Division at Headquarters and the Regional Office for East and Horn of Africa with support from IOM Somalia.

For additional information, please contact IOM Somalia Programme Support Unit at IOMSomaliaPSU@iom.int.

Official account of IOM, the UN Migration Agency.