By Helen Vesperini
Berbera - Somali livestock farmers who have converged massively on the port of Berbera after losing all their animals said that this year's drought is the worst in ten years.
"We were in a drought for the past six months. It was very severe. We lost 50% of all our livestock. Then it rained and the rain brought other problems - disease, deaths and flooding," Berbera Governor Ahmed Abdulahi said.
"This last drought was the worst we've had in the past ten years," he said, adding that those displaced by drought, added to people displaced by fighting in south and central Somalia, represented a burden for the town.
George Tabbal, who is in charge of Unicef 's water and sanitation projects in Somaliland, says Berbera's water supply - an out-of-town system of wells and pipes dating back to the Ottoman Empire and rehabilitated by Unicef , has been adversely affected by the drought.
"There is huge pressure on the system," he said.
Temperatures in this Gulf of Aden livestock port can go beyond 50 Celsius in the hot season.
Question of life and death
"In this climate water really is a question of life and death," the Berbera governor said.
A former British protectorate, Somaliland broke away from the rump Somalia 10 months after Somali strongman Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991.
More stable and economically viable than central and southern Somalia in recent years, Somaliland is seeking international recognition as an independent state.
Weris Issa, a wizened old woman dangling a baby granddaughter on her lap in front of a health centre at Jamalaye displaced camp, came into town six months ago after she and ten other family members lost the last of their animals.
"We lost all our livestock and we came to town. We have nothing," she said.
Eighteen-year-old Qadan Aden, a baby at her breast and a toddler clinging to her skirts said her family's 40 goats all died five months earlier, as did 23 out of their 27 camels.
Qadan Abdi Nur, 20, lost her last goat in May of this year and was likewise obliged to come into town.
"The combination this year of drought and high food prices is driving people into malnutrition," said Unicef Deputy Executive director Hilde Frafjord Johnson on a visit to the region.
Many families interviewed said they lost their last animals in June or July.
Some families stayed behind in the grazing lands, but not because they have livestock left, rather because they survive on remittances from relatives in the diaspora.
Others lost their livestock years ago and have lived as urban poor ever since, never managing to save enough to buy more animals.
Kosar Mohamed, draped in a red veil, was forced to come into town in 1988. Three of her seven children have died of diarrhoea.
"A long time ago I lost all my animals and I came to town. But the drought now is the worst I've ever seen," she said.