Like most Somalis suffering from the effects of the devastating drought and conflict, peasant families in Armale, a village 70km east of Erigavo in the Sanaag region, are living under the most modest of circumstances. The land here is extremely dry, yielding crops for only a short period following the rainy season. The soil is rocky, making it impossible to dig wells or boreholes. Water can be collected only in underground reservoirs called berkads, dug to harness runoff after rainfall. As berkads in the region are few and far between, families have to walk long distances to carry water back to their homes.
A surprising challenge has also arisen for locals looking to collect this basic resource. Marauding hordes of thirsty monkeys, with no other water source in their habitat, have taken to invading Armale’s uncovered berkads. In addition to drinking the scarce commodity, the monkeys also swim and excrete in the water causing it to turn green and unsanitary. With no money to build covers for the berkads, local Somalis are left to fend off the unwelcome invaders with sticks and stones.
As part of a European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Office funded emergency intervention in Sanaag region, International Medical Corps’ Water and Sanitation (WASH) team set out for Armale to identify water points for rehabilitation. The assessment team met with community leaders and village elders where they learned that 17 berkads remain uncovered but there are plans to rehabilitate only one due to limited resources.
International Medical Corp’s WASH team spoke with Ibrahim, a tired and frail Somali in his sixties who works to protect the berkad selected for rehabilitation. Ibrahim sits day and night at his post beside the uncovered reservoir holding a long stick and a basket of stones to fend off invading monkeys. The sticks and stones are the only means Ibrahim and his neighbors can afford to prevent the monkeys from spoiling their vital resource.
International Medical Corps’ WASH team supported the rehabilitation of the berkad by installing a cover to protect the water and repairing cracks. The community contributed local construction materials while International Medical Corps provided iron sheets and cement and paid skilled local workers to complete the labor. Ibrahim and his neighbors no longer have to worry about losing vital drinking water to monkeys and can concentrate on providing for their families. The Somalis who depend on the other 16 berkads in the region unfortunately are not so lucky. Without additional funding, they will be forced to keep watch on their berkads day and night to ensure sanitary drinking water for their families.