Amina Jamaa Hussein fires off a flurry of questions on the phone as she sits cross-legged on a plastic mat at a camp in Garowe, the capital of Somalia’s Puntland province.
“Where are you now? Are you okay? Are the fighting still going on?” she asks, concerned for her family in the town of Las Anod, the capital of the Sool region of nearby Somaliland.
The camp is a collection of huts made of tarpaulins and corrugated iron. There is not a single piece of green as far as the eye can see. A five-year drought has left this land scorched, and at the height of this rainy season, the clouds hanging low over the camp offer little chance of rain.
Together with four of her children and five grandchildren, Hussein left her home and all her belongings and fled Las Anod. The family left after waking up to terrifying sounds of shelling and gunfire in February as the Somaliland army battled local clan militias.
“We ran away with only the clothes on our backs and left the house open. We didn’t even lock the door,” says Amina.
Without the good fortune of having friends or family to stay with in Garowe, their only choice was to settle in a displaced persons camp. Such camps have been scattered for decades in the outskirts of Garowe, populated by people who have fled conflict and violence in other parts of the country or those whose livestock have perished in the worsening drought.
Every Saturday, Amina and other women line up at a makeshift call station set up by Somali Red Crescent volunteers. She calls toll free so she can hear from the rest of her family who are still in Las Anod.
“When I manage to talk to them, I feel reassured, but then the night comes again and I’m sick of worry,” she says.
After 30 years of conflict in Somalia, the effects of which have been exacerbated by the worsening effects of climate change, displacement has become an essential part of life in Somali society. According to the International Organization for Migration, the number of displaced persons has reached a new high of 3.8 million this year.
Internal displacement is one of the main drivers of the country’s rapid urbanization. According to projections, by 2026 the urban population will overtake the rural population.
“People who move to the camps after their livelihoods have been destroyed by conflict or drought are struggling to adapt to the new reality,” said Pascal Cuttat, the head of the delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross. in Somalia. “We’re trying to provide emergency relief, but what are the long-term alternatives available to them?”
The people living in the camp next to Amina’s are herdsmen from traditional herding communities. Somalia is one of the countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and droughts are so frequent and severe that pastoralists find it difficult to maintain their traditional nomadic lifestyle. When animals die for lack of pasture, the only option left for many is to move to the breeding camps on the outskirts of cities.
Hospitality is one of the pillars of Somali culture and many displaced people find food and shelter in host communities. People are trying to share what little they have, even though the local economy is under pressure due to the persistent drought.
“People in this city have welcomed us. They are good people,” said Asha Awad Jama, a 50-year-old shop owner who recently fled from Las Anod to Burawadal village with her elderly mother and seven children. The painful loss of her home and life there and the uncertainty about her family’s future consume Asha.
“Our life in Las Anod was wonderful,” she says. “We lived in a house that belonged to us. But the conflict is the worst. It makes you lose everything. So we left everything we had behind and ran to save our lives.”