Remembering Somaliland’s 2022 Drought and Pharo’s Emergency Response

Sometimes, traumatic events can act as a catalyst for transformative action. This is the story of Somaliland’ 2022 drought episode and of how it became a turning point in Pharo’s water mission. In 2022, Somaliland was in the midst of an incredibly lethal drought after five consecutive failed rainy seasons. By early 2023 the UN and Al Jazeera reported that the drought killed as many as 43,000 people in Somaliland and Somalia and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine stated that half of these deaths were children under five. The outlook for the country was bleak as drought is linked to famine as a knock-on effect. 

By March 2022 this bleak reality was coming to the surface and the outcome was clear. Without intervention, the humanitarian crisis would be monumental. Pharo Foundation held an emergency committee meeting in March and reached out to the government's National Drought Committee (NDC) with a plan. We soon donated 1000 water trucks to the NCD and helped the government by putting together a water truck field mission to personally distribute water to those villages in desperate need and to people who had been displaced.  

With commitment and passion, everyone at the Pharo Foundation volunteered for the mission. Knowing how difficult it was going to be, those with underlying health issues were advised against being on the road but to help with the coordination effort from the office. The team waited for instruction from the NDC as to which villages needed water urgently. Everyone knew the task ahead of them would be difficult, but nobody expected it to be as tough as it turned out. 

Once they received news that they had to transport water to 294 villages, they subdivided into smaller groups and with Ramadan starting on the 1st of April, they knew they had to work fast. The challenges they faced were plentiful:  

  • No access to food. The team packed dates and long-life milk which was to be their staple diet for many days. 
  • Sickness - One team member got food poisoning when on the 4th day he found something other than dates and milk to eat and having no bathroom facilities available to use made things particularly difficult. 
  • Lack of sleep. With little time to rest and the need to keep moving in order not to fall behind schedule, the team slept in their vehicles and occasionally, if they were lucky, were offered a room in a village. Sometimes, they ended up sleeping next to the water delivery location until the next truck turned up. 
  • Challenging terrain - The “roads” were sand and rocks and at times, they would need to drive through mountainous areas which were difficult and very time-consuming for the trucks. Situations like this added 6-7 hours to their already lengthy journey. 
  • Nomadic communities had no means of collecting and containing the water that was delivered. This meant the team had to dig a sizable hole in the ground, line it with a waterproof material and then fill it with water. This temporary watering hole could last up to 2 weeks and was invaluable to the people and cattle. But again, having to create this meant more time was taken up. 

It took approximately 3 weeks for the Pharo Foundation to deliver water to 294 of the worst affected villages across 14 districts in the Maroodi-jeeh and Sahil regions. 

It goes without saying that this mission was a labour of love for the Foundation. The team describes it as one of the most difficult yet humbling experiences of their lives and time working at the Foundation. The Somaliland President Hon. Muuse Biixi Cabdi officially thanked the Pharo Foundation for their invaluable help and said: “If you wanted to do things properly, you do it “the Pharo way”.” Although we are not an organisation that usually participates in emergency response, we could not stand by while Somalilanders were dying. It was clear that Somaliland was suffering at the hands of water scarcity and we needed to participate in relief efforts. 

In a panel discussion on the podcast “Rethinking Humanitarianism”, by The New Humanitarian, speakers emphasise the effect of emergency intervention in Somaliland, during the 2022 drought. The speakers say that efforts to provide water during this drought were the sole reason that a lethal famine was narrowly avoided. We were honoured to have been a part of something so impactful, but we also wanted long term solutions for the communities suffering at the hand of water scarcity.  

This was a turning point for Pharo in terms of defining who we wanted to be as an organisation. After the drought distribution effort, we concluded that we needed to build dams, both as an all-year round sustainable response to water scarcity, but also as potential emergency reservoirs of water to avoid another a repeat of the 2022 scenario. While part of the challenge of the 2022 situation was that we had to find the affected communities, the dams would become natural and easy gathering points for the communities and hence distribution points for any potential future aid distribution.  

The drought solidified our need to solve water scarcity not merely in an emergency context but on a sustainable, ongoing basis, and to make this issue one of our defining development missions. To provide access to safe and accessible water through the dry season, we identified surface water harvesting as an appropriate and sustainable water solution in the Somaliland context. This has led us to build our characteristic large hafir dams with plastic geomembranes, which you can now see in Ijaara, Wado Makaahiil and Shanshacadde (the dam in this location is nearing completion). At Pharo Foundation, we like to think that necessity is the mother of invention.