Somalia: Better days ahead for the homeless of Hargeysa

Jan 2014, Somaliland, Somalia: Istahil washes her cloths in front of her new shelter in Digaale settlement southeast of Hargeysa town - Somaliland. Credit: OCHA
Hundreds of families displaced by the devastating 2011 famine are moving into new homes in Hargeysa, Somaliland.

The 2011 drought and famine affected approximately 4 million people across Somalia. As many as 260,000 people died and thousands of people were displaced within the country and across the borders. Istahil Ali Gamadid’s family was of those driven from their homes. Istahil, a mother of eight, hails from Libasagaale village in the Waqooyi-Galbeed region of Somaliland.

She was forced to leave her village and seek humanitarian assistance near the city of Hargeysa after her family’s livestock were wiped out by the drought.

“We had more than 80 goats and 20 cows before the 2011 drought. In less than three months, our livestock herds were completely destroyed,” she said. “We were forced to leave our village to go and live in the congested Mohamed Mooge camp in Hargeysa and to depend on humanitarian assistance.

“We were exposed to harsh living conditions. We never had good toilets or water or a school for our children.”

The offer of new land

Following efforts by aid organizations working alongside the Hargeysa municipality, Somaliland authorities donated a piece of land to permanently settle and integrate the displaced families into the community.

Abdirahman Mohamud Aydid is the Mayor of Hargeysa. He says that the parcel of land at Digaale on the outskirts of the city will house 816 families from the Mohamed Mooge camp.

“Each of these families will get their title deed which will guarantee them ownership of the land,” he, adding that authorities will work closely with aid agencies to ensure the resettlement is a success.

Istahil’s family was one of the first 100 to move into their new homes on 12 December 2013. It is, she says, a place she will call a home and raise her children.

“As a family, we are now happy to own a piece of land with a shelter to start rebuilding our lives. This is a renewed hope after many years of despair.”

Land remains a major challenge for displaced communities

Despite this important development, access to land remains a major challenge for displaced families in and around Hargeysa. The Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Philippe Lazzarini, says this is due to a number of issues, including the absence of a land tenure system and the lack of available public land. He says that communities living on private land are often exploited by landlords, who also refuse to allow aid organizations to install basic services or upgrade the shelters.

“People need to have rights to the land to invest in long lasting solutions such as the permanent shelters, health and education facilities and toilets,” he said.

Humanitarian support

Resettled families still need access to the basics – water, food, health, education, sanitation and livelihoods. The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) an NGO, built 700 of the houses along with 300 shared latrines. According to Steve Mutisya, NRC Shelter Manager, the organization will now focus on building new shelters, as well as water and sanitation and food security, and on providing legal assistance to the new inhabitants.

“We have provided 800 water tanks, 816 kits of non-food items such as cooking pots, solar lamps and other items,” he said. “We have also constructed a community centre and will advocate for the construction of a school.”

Other aid organizations, including the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the Danish Refugee Council and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) are also providing services for the relocated families.

IOM is helping transport them to the new site, and plans to set up a mobile health clinic and to implement a range of livelihood activities. The relocation of all families to the new Digaale site will be completed this month, say the aid groups.

Over the past two decades approximately 1 million people across Somalia have been displaced by conflict and recurrent drought. According to UNHCR, there are an estimated 85,000 people currently displaced in Somaliland, the majority of them - 45,000 – living in five main settlements in and around Hargeysa.

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