30 year old Habiba walked for several days before she reached the town of Dollow, where she will now find help to feed herself and her baby. Photo: Tobin Jones / Danish Refugee Council

When the river dries out all life disappears

After three years of drought Somalia is on the brink of a humanitarian disaster. In a town in the southern part of the country residents walk for days to find something to eat.


Dollow is a town in southern Somalia. It is peaceful - at least compared to many other areas in the conflict-ridden country. It is located close to the border of Ethiopia and right where two rivers meet - or rather, where they used to meet. There is no longer any water flowing in the rivers, instead the soil is dry and hot and nothing grows here. For the past three years, the rainy seasons have failed leaving Somalia - and several neighboring countries – on close to a humanitarian disaster. More than half of Somalia's population of 6.2 million people is in urgent need of food and hundreds of thousands of children are malnourished. Without a massive effort the situation will develop into a full scale famine.

The urgency of the situation is evident in Dollow. Every day, people reach the city on foot after having walked for days in search of food. Most are from rural areas where food insecurity is significantly larger than in the cities, because their wells are less deep and therefore dries out faster.

On the side of the road lie corpses of dead animals. Most families here depend on their livestock but when the drought hits, the animals are the first to succumb to thirst and hunger. The cows are the first to die, then the goats. The donkeys can survive a bit longer.

“Now we have nothing”

30-year-old Habiba Abdu had to leave her family behind when she left her village in order to go to Dollow in the hope of finding food for herself and her newborn baby. She feared that the child would otherwise not survive.

"We were hungry," she says while pointing to her throat:

"All our animals are dead. We had 40 goats, two cows and two donkeys. Now we have nothing. They are all dead."

She hopes that her husband and their six other children will soon join her. In Dollow it is still possible to find food - and help. She is waiting in line to be registered by the Danish Refugee Council. When her information is loaded into the computer, she will receive a voucher with a value of 75 US dollars from WFP, with which she can buy rice, oil, flour and other necessities in some of the town’s small grocery shops.

"We used to eat every day, but now there is nothing that can grow. For a long time we have not had three meals a day. Sometimes we don’t eat anything for a whole day," Habiba says:

"We have lost everything, and we need help."

20170326 Somalia Drought Dawa River

There is no longer any water running through Dawa river. Photo: Tobin Jones / DRC

When the river dries out

The border between Somalia and Ethiopia is visible from Dollow. It is marked by a bridge crossing the river, Dawa. But currently there is no need for a bridge. In fact, there is no water to cross. The only sign of the river is the sunken riverbanks and a few puddles.

"When the river dries out, you can no longer cultivate the fields. Also, there is no longer any fishery, because there is no water to fish in,” says Abdirahman Mohamed Abdi, who is a project manager for the Danish Refugee Council in the area:

“When the river dries out, there is basically no food anymore.”


The Danish Refugee Council is there 

With 20 million people at risk of starvation and famine, the UN warns that the situation can develop into the largest humanitarian crisis since 1945. It has labelled Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and Nigeria as 'the four famines’, but the drought knows no borders, and countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya and parts of Uganda are also badly affected. Rapid assistance and access to food and water is vital and can mean the difference between life and death.

The Danish Refugee Council is present in all of the affected countries and works around the clock to help the many people who are affected by the drought.