Water filters to combat cholera – ShelterBox aid in Somaliland helps families facing drought and disease

Three years of drought in the African state of Somaliland has now left it in the grip of a cholera epidemic caused by dwindling and polluted water supplies. ShelterBox has been distributing water filters and carriers, as well as shelter materials to its nomadic population

Like much of the horn of Africa, Somaliland is enduring failing crops, a parched landscape, and now the scourge of cholera as water sources are contaminated by waste and rotting animal carcasses.

But one thing it doesn’t share with its neighbours is conflict – Somaliland is a peaceful agricultural republic. Most of its 4.5 million people make their living driving cattle in a constant search for water and fertile grazing land. Now, with more than half their livestock wiped out by the unprecedented three-year drought, people drink whatever water they can find.

ShelterBox Operations Coordinator Dave Raybould has just returned to Somaliland. He says, ‘This will be ShelterBox’s third deployment to Somaliland in as many months, and since we were last there the focus has moved from drought to disease, though the two are interconnected.’

‘The search for water is bringing the nomadic rural dwellers into the towns, where overburdened water sources are becoming a source of cholera. Cholera is an entirely treatable disease contracted through polluted and stagnant water, but with some areas reporting 500 cases a day Somaliland’s health resources are overstretched. Among ShelterBox’s aid package is the ‘thirst aid’ water filter, which rapidly makes dirty water safe to drink, a great help in halting the spread of waterborne disease.’

Cholera has not been seen in developed countries for over a century. Without treatment those infected quickly become dehydrated, but the condition can easily be treated using an oral rehydration sachet.

Thirst Aid Station water filters remove dangerous bacteria and viruses from water, making it safe to drink.

Dave says that ShelterBox has already distributed water filters and water carriers to hundreds of families, and their current visit will discuss a continuing aid programme via in-country partners ActionAid. The familiar green ShelterBoxes used in Somaliland contain the water kit, plus tarpaulins, tools, cooking utensils, solar lights, mosquito nets, blankets and groundsheets.

Adapted ShelterBoxes, containing tarpaulins instead of tents are distributed in Somaliland

Dave explains, ‘The standard ShelterBox dome tent is not needed in Somaliland as their traditional nomadic dwellings are made from found and recycled materials stretched over tree branch frames. So the tarpaulins we supply add to the resilience of these conventional shelters.’

ShelterBox is pleased to report that families who have already received its aid have found all of the contents instantly useful and practical.

Dave adds, ‘Somaliland was already struggling with drought and food insecurity, and the outbreak of cholera is an added blow. We will do all we can to help them with their thirst, with the battle against disease, and with their need for shelter.’

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Praying for rain, searching for pasture – the nomadic people of parched Somaliland.

A ShelterBox team is there now, discussing aid possibilities as drought threatens millions.

Somaliland is a self-declared state on the Horn of Africa. Diplomatically isolated, it is now facing famine as livestock perish after three years of poor pasture. A ShelterBox team is in Hargeisa talking to aid colleagues about what, if anything, can avert a humanitarian disaster

The people of Somaliland are looking anxiously to the skies. In the next few weeks seasonal rains known locally as ‘Gu’ might just save them from impending famine. But if the rains fail they will almost certainly lose their remaining livestock, on which they rely entirely for food and income.

The Gu rainy season in April is the main crop season in Somaliland. In the usual cycle it brings three quarters of the area’s annual rainfall. But for the last three years this corner of Africa has experienced the worst growing seasons on record. No rain means no pasture for the flocks and herds, which means nothing for people to eat or sell. Already the dehydrated carcasses of cattle, sheep and goats litter the landscape.   

Those still alive are being driven by their owners ever further off the usual routes in a desperate search for water and pasture. Somaliland has a population of 3 million, half of whom are nomads. Nomad life depends on livestock, and the continual search for grazing land. Already up to 70% of livestock have perished in some areas.

Now, with thirst and malnutrition a daily threat, families are becoming even more widely displaced.  Complicating the matter further, men and older sons usually head off first into the desert to seek pasture, sometimes by foot, sometimes in livestock trucks. This leaves women and children behind in households facing dire conditions. 

International emergency shelter experts ShelterBox are in the city of Hargeisa talking to the aid community and government officials about the scale of the problem. The people of Somaliland will need a mix of aid in the form of water, food, medicines and shelter.

Team leader James Luxton says, ‘Somaliland is distinctive in many ways. It has the advantage of being relatively peaceful, with no ongoing conflict as seen in neighbouring territories. And family and community really matters here. Displacement patterns are driven by clan, tribe and sub-tribe affiliations, so nomads displaced from one area will go to fellow clan or tribe members in another area.’

‘So, many communities are hosting the displaced, and in this extreme situation are becoming overwhelmed. There are some government-run camps, but they are little more than basic hubs providing water, food and hygiene items. We are visiting one such camp today.’

‘But it is the widely and thinly scattered nomadic population, constantly on the move, that brings the greatest challenges. Simply finding those in greatest need amid this vast open territory will be a task. We are talking to all the relevant players, aid agencies and government, and will then decide what help ShelterBox is able to offer, and where.’

The families in peril are a mix of internally displaced Somalilanders, and those fleeing famine and conflict from Yemen, Djibouti and Ethiopia. The ShelterBox team has so far met with the Somaliland Government’s Ministry of Resettlement, Rehabilitation & Reconstruction, with shelter and refugee aid agencies, and with various United Nations organisations.

To help those in need in Somaliland and other countries, please DONATE HERE