Abdikhayr Mohamed Hussein, Bertha Fellow 2022

Somalia experienced disastrous droughts between 2000 and 2011, but the current dry spell is the worst in the last decade. This is attributed to the failure of the previous three consecutive rainy seasons dating back to October 2020.

The worsening drought has led to water scarcity, food insecurity, and famine, especially among the rural communities that constitute 60 percent of the country’s population. This situation has also increased competition for water, leading to water conflicts, which have been widespread in Puntland and Galmudug states in Somalia.

Drought-devastated poor nomadic people fetching water from temporary plastic storage in Xingood rural areas in the Galmudug state of Somalia. Photo by Abdikhayr Mohamed Hussein

Counting the human cost

More than 91 water-related conflicts were recorded in Puntland and Galmudug states in 2021 alone. Most of these were deadly and destructive. Two clan conflicts broke out in 2021 in the Sool region of Puntland, leaving more than 70 people dead. Also, it is reported that more people died in successive clan conflicts in Balanbale and Ethiopian-border areas in Galmudug state.

Besides the death toll, these conflicts led to the displacement of people, increased inequitable access to water resources, and the suffering of vulnerable groups in an attempt to access water. Women and girls who mostly have the responsibility of collecting water face physical or sexual assault risks at water points in many areas.

According to the communities, local grievances and community tensions are mainly triggered by one clan group attempting to take control of communal water sources. For example, a violent inter-clan conflict broke out in Dhabar Dalool, a remote village in the arid plains of northern Puntland’s Sool region, in April 2021 after one clan in the area claimed control of a shallow well. This sparked anger from other groups, leading to a conflict that left more than 30 people dead. Also, disruption or violation of queues at water points by some individuals has been cited as another trigger for water conflicts in Somalia.

Experts say these water conflicts and lack of sustainable water management mechanisms have also contributed to the degradation of water sources- with at least four shallow wells and water sources in Gumasoor rural area in Galmudug drying up as a result of conflicts and lack of maintenance.

Abdikhayr Hussein (Bertha Fellow) and nomadic elders standing at destroyed and dried up water sources in Gumasoor rural area in Galmudug state. Photo by Abdikhayr Mohamed Hussein

Involvement of political third parties in water conflicts

The water conflicts destroy inter-clan cohesion and divide communities in Somalia, already fractured by internal disputes.

According to the Global Risk In Sights – an online publication for political risk news and analysis, this sometimes transforms into broader conflicts when exploited by political groups. This is even highlighted as a vital driver of Somalia’s ongoing conflict and state fragility. For instance, the self-declared region of Somaliland and the autonomous Puntland State in Somalia have been fighting over control of the Sool region and are accused of having had a role in two deadly inter-clan conflicts that broke out in that region in 2021.

Traditional elders of Bitaale rural village under South Galkacyo district in Galmudug say that Al-Shabab, a terrorist organization that controls much of southern and central Somalia, has been taking advantage of climate impacts to fuel clan conflicts in Mudug and Galgaduud regions of Galmudug State and other areas. Global Risk in Sights highlights that Al-Shabab exploits inter-clan tensions to fuel their jihadist insurgency in a manner that ominously foreshadows the future climate wars of the twenty-first century.

Turning the tide: communities opt for dialogue

There is growing optimism that the water conflicts in Somalia might end soon. The rural communities of Jariiban in Puntland and Bitaale in Galmudug states in April 2022 opened a new chapter of dialogue rather than fighting. They discussed water conflicts openly in a series of consultation sessions involving traditional elders, women, and minority groups.

From the dialogue, the communities drafted guidelines to establish their water management and governance structures through a fair and inclusive process with the participation of all groups. This aims to reduce the risk of conflict and ensure equitable access to water in the face of the climate crisis.

Also, the communities resolved to establish rural water management committees to manage and be responsible for shared water sources and communal water-related activities to benefit all. They are also mandated to facilitate fair distribution of water donated to vulnerable rural people in the time of droughts and also meditate on water-related conflicts.

As far as the communities in Galmudug are concerned, there is a need to address climate-related violence and prevent Al-Shabaab and other armed groups from taking advantage of climate impacts.

Experts believe that the communities in Jariiban in Puntland and Bitaale in Galmudug states have come up with a workable solution to water-based conflicts that can even be replicated in other rural communities in Somalia.

Water Journalists Africa (WJA) is the largest network of journalists reporting on water in the African continent. It brings together some 700 journalists from 50 African countries. It was established in...

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