Clearing Safe Spaces for Drought Affected Communities in Somaliland

Demining and ERW Clearance Opens Humanitarian Space

Governments and nongovernmental organizations (NGO) working in the Horn of Africa consistently identify conflict and climate change as two primary drivers of insecurity in the region. The HALO Trust’s landmine and Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) clearance in the Republic of Somaliland over the last 19 years has been at the intersection of these two issues.

The HALO Trust began operations in Somaliland in 1999, conducting manual and mechanical mine clearance, battle area clearance (BAC), explosive ordnance disposal (EOD), physical security and stockpile management (PSSM), and mine risk education (MRE). HALO is active in all regions of Somaliland and, from 1999 to January 2018, has cleared 2,340 hectares of land, removing 3,560 anti-personnel mines, 1,348 anti-tank mines, 101,413 items of unexploded ordnance (UXO) and stray ammunition, and 150,372 rounds of small arms ammunition.

In the first half of 2017, HALO’s operations were heavily affected by the drought as teams could not obtain enough water to supply remote camps without harming already struggling communities. Minefields in the worst affected areas were suspended as the teams had to relocate to other tasks closer to areas with consistent water sources. In the second half of the year, HALO was able to return to tasks on the border with Ethiopia and prioritized tasks to include assistance to persons displaced by the drought. As has been observed in many other countries, as IDPs move into new and unfamiliar areas that have mine and ERW risks, they are often at a greater risk of being injured or killed, especially if they come from an area without such threats.

Demining candidates in training

In July 2017, an eight-year-old girl in an IDP camp near the town of Adhi-Adeeye in Sool region found a stray hand grenade in an area adjacent to the camp, which was the scene of fighting between Puntland and Somaliland forces between 2004 and 2008. The girl brought the grenade into her family’s cooking area in front of their house and pulled the pin unaware of the danger of the item. The resulting explosion killed the girl and wounded 17 others as they were preparing food. HALO immediately sent a team to the area to conduct BAC and EOD activities, as well as the MRE team to conduct education seminars with the civilians. HALO found and destroyed 23 items of UXO and stray ammunition, while six additional UXO items were handed over by the surrounding community.

As refugees move toward populated areas, land previously cleared by HALO has been repurposed to serve IDPs as a safe area to set up camp, as was the case near the village of Khaatuumo. Khaatumo village is located on the border with Ethiopia and was heavily mined during both the Ogaden War (1977–1978) and Somali Civil War (1988–1991) to protect military camps and prevent road access.

HALO cleared over 750,000 sq m (896,992.5 sq yd) of ground around a former military camp between 2014 and 2015, finding and destroying 57 anti-personnel and four antitank mines. The area now houses two IDP camps for people displaced by drought. The arrival of IDPs in Khaatumo has increased the pressure on local water sources. The villagers in Khaatumo rely on limited water supplies from local wells, while the IDPs must travel to the nearby village of Jeenyo Laaye to use wells there. However, these wells are swiftly running dry and causing water prices to increase from US$2 a barrel in late December to $2.50 a barrel in January 2018, an enormous sum in a country where the average income per person is less than $1 per day.

HALO’s current task in Khaatumo is to clear the road between Khaatumo and Jeenyo Laaye, freeing up access for IDPs and villagers alike. Clearing the 18 km (11.2 mi) route will save beneficiaries a significant amount of time and effort in accessing the water source at Jeenyo Laaye, as they are currently forced to travel 38 km (23.6 mi) through detours and side roads. HALO’s work to open roads is also important to the safety of economic migrants as was recently demonstrated by an accident in the Lughaya area.

21 January 2018, a dual-wheel flatbed truck carrying approximately 30 people detonated an anti-tank mine on a track 12 km (7.5 mi) south of Lughaya, a town of 14,000 inhabitants in Northwest Somaliland. The passengers in the vehicle were economic migrants trying to reach a boat in Lughaya town in order to travel abroad in search of work. Fortunately, due to the mine’s depth and standoff provided by boxes that the passengers were standing on, only two people were slightly injured. With ever-growing numbers of displaced persons passing through Somaliland from Ethiopia to access the coast for the purpose of economic migration, the threat of landmines is a daily hazard and one that carries significant impacts.

Conclusion

Since the beginning of the drought in 2016, HALO’s clearance teams have released 134,000 sq m (160,262.7 sq yd) of land for agricultural use such as growing fruit, vegetables, and cereal as well as grazing land for livestock. In addition, 156,000 sq m (186,574.4 sq yd) of land has been cleared for community development, and 986,000 sq m (1,179,256.2 sq yd) of land has been cleared to allow access for water collection, health facilities, schools, markets, and other aspects of livelihood previously cut off by the threat of landmines.

The activities conducted by HALO provide support to urban and rural communities that have a history of conflict or that have been severely impacted by the drought. Clan disputes in Somaliland are often centered on agricultural land and access to resources such as water. By clearing mined land, HALO improves access to these resources, reducing the likelihood of disputes arising, which in turn has a stabilizing effect on the region and the country.

Nearly 60 percent of deprived households in Somaliland rely on livestock to sustain their livelihoods. Somalis are famously adept pastoralists and rely heavily on livestock not only for their milk and meat, but also as an investment. In an environment where banking and savings facilities are limited, livestock, particularly camels, represent a key alternative. The loss of camels, when one steps on an anti-tank mine and kills several in a herd, can destroy the wealth of not only single families but often the wider community. In addition to the prevention of accidents to people, the prevention of accidents to livestock is also an important outcome.

HALO also recruits staff from local communities, and with over 500 local nationals employed in Somaliland, the injection of money into local economies through salaries is significant. In areas where there are few other income alternatives, this approach has a proven stabilization effect on the entire country.

The humanitarian situation in Somaliland significantly deteriorated in 2017, as several seasons of poor and below average rainfall impacted food security and livelihoods, and the situation is expected to deteriorate further in 2018. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) stated that rural livelihoods are people’s best defense against famine, and HALO intends to continue supporting these livelihoods through opening access to resources and protecting lives and property

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Ed Lajoie: Somaliland Deputy Program Manager the HALO Trust
Megan Dwyer: Somaliland Program Support Officer the HALO Trust