Oxfam assessment: deaths from dehydration as Somalis exist on a twentieth of minimum water ration

Published: 16 February 2006

Nairobi, 16th February, 2006 - Hundreds of thousands of people are at risk in Somalia because of chronic water shortages, according to a new assessment by aid agency Oxfam International.

The assessment found pastoralist families forced to exist on only one twentieth of the daily water supply recommended by minimum humanitarian standards. Many families are surviving on just a 20-liter jerry can of water for 3 days. This is equivalent to 830 ml, or three glasses of water, per person per day for drinking, cooking and washing.

Oxfam’s assessment team also gathered reports of people being forced to drink their own urine because of the desperate thirst the drought has caused.

Abdullahi Maalim Hussein, a Somali village elder who accompanied Oxfam’s recent mission said:

“The situation is as bad as I can remember. Some people are dying and children are drinking their own urine because there is simply no water available for them to drink.”

Deaths from dehydration are being reported as families trek 70km to replenish water supplies, in scorching temperatures of up to 104˚F (40˚C).

“The situation will get worse unless swift action is taken,” said Mohamed Elmi, Oxfam Regional Program Manager. “People cannot survive on just three glasses of water a day when the temperature is hitting 40 degrees.”

In response to the crisis Oxfam International is launching emergency water operations in Somalia, helping up to 200,000 vulnerable people and their animals. Oxfam is targeting areas along the Kenya/Southern Somalia border: the lower parts of Gedo and Lower Juba regions. Further assessments are being carried out so that Oxfam can scale up the intervention in appropriate areas.

Although the security situation is currently calm, Somalia remains a challenging place to run humanitarian operations, with basic services and infrastructure destroyed by 15 years of armed conflict.

“There is a serious food crisis unfolding across the Horn of Africa region, but as well as food, these communities desperately need water,” said Elmi. Without water children will die, and the livestock on which pastoralists depend will end up as rotting corpses around dry wells."

“Our assessment shows people in Somalia having to walk the equivalent of almost two marathons to collect water because nearby sources are now just cracked earth. The burden is worst for women on whom the responsibility of weekly trips to collect water often falls.”

According to the UN, 1.7m people in Somalia are in need of urgent assistance because of the worst drought in a decade; some areas have recorded their driest months since 1961.

Contact Information

For more details or interviews, please contact the Oxfam media team in Nairobi:
Douglas Keatinge, Oxfam GB Regional Media Officer for the Horn, East-, and Central-Africa (HECA), + 254 (0) 733 632 810 or + 254 (0) 20 282 0136
Wyger Wentholt, Novib Oxfam Regional Media Officer for HECA, +254-(0)20-3741920, cell: +254-(0)724-922 839