Where have all the camels gone?

The death of 50 percent of Somalia’s camels poses a grave question: If camels can’t survive, what can? Eastern Africa’s drought is proving to be a death sentence for an animal that can normally survive weeks without water. In some areas, over 80 percent of livestock have perished, forcing families to abandon their homes and ...

TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images
TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images
TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images

The death of 50 percent of Somalia's camels poses a grave question: If camels can't survive, what can? Eastern Africa's drought is proving to be a death sentence for an animal that can normally survive weeks without water. In some areas, over 80 percent of livestock have perished, forcing families to abandon their homes and relocate in overcrowded refugee camps. Ahmed Mohammad, a Somali camel herdsman, told BBC:

"It is a terrible sign when camels start dying because when they start to die, then what chance have sheep, goats and cattle?"

Around two-thirds of Somalia's population depend on their livestock for survival, especially in drought-stricken northern Kenya, Somalia and southern Ethiopia where the majority of people are pastoralists. Without camels, families not only lose milk and meat, but also purchasing power. Oxfam reports that the value of Somali camels has been slashed in half -- many nomadic herders are watching as their livelihood dies off, one by one.

The death of 50 percent of Somalia’s camels poses a grave question: If camels can’t survive, what can? Eastern Africa’s drought is proving to be a death sentence for an animal that can normally survive weeks without water. In some areas, over 80 percent of livestock have perished, forcing families to abandon their homes and relocate in overcrowded refugee camps. Ahmed Mohammad, a Somali camel herdsman, told BBC:

"It is a terrible sign when camels start dying because when they start to die, then what chance have sheep, goats and cattle?"

Around two-thirds of Somalia’s population depend on their livestock for survival, especially in drought-stricken northern Kenya, Somalia and southern Ethiopia where the majority of people are pastoralists. Without camels, families not only lose milk and meat, but also purchasing power. Oxfam reports that the value of Somali camels has been slashed in half — many nomadic herders are watching as their livelihood dies off, one by one.

Government buy-back programs have been deemed ineffective by many locals and critics. One program in nothern Kenya only offered compensation for goats and sheep, disregarding the herds of cattle that provide the majority of income for families. Save the Children’s Kenya county director, Prasant Naik, noted the significance of the dying camels, saying:

"Pastoralists are used to coping with occasional droughts and dry seasons, but these successive droughts have pushed their resiliency to the limit."

As drought continues to ravage Eastern Africa, livestock have begun to migrate in search of water — and with mass migration comes widespread crop and pasture destruction. For the first time in nearly twenty years, aid agencies are expected to make a formal declaration of famine. But for now, the Somali government is advising starving families to eat leaves in order to stay alive.

Sophia Jones is Global Editor at The Fuller Project. Twitter: @sophia_mjones

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