How creating a water poverty map for all of Africa can help sound policies

By: Hatem Jemmali

African countries are behind the global curve when it comes to providing people with clean water and sanitation services. A joint monitoring report by the World Health Organisation and UNICEF shows that 89% of the world’s population has access to clean water sources. In sub-Saharan Africa, the figure is 64%. Globally, 64% of people have access to decent sanitation services. But this is true for less than a third of sub-Saharan Africa’s population.
How creating a water poverty map for all of Africa can help sound policies

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This lack of access can be fatal, particularly for children. The absence of clean water and basic sanitation is among the leading causes of mortality among those younger than five all across the continent. It also places a huge burden on Africa’s women. It is they who must walk long distances to gather water from streams, ponds and wells.

Research has also showed how unreliable water supply is simultaneously a cause and result of poverty. South African water researcher Dr Anthony Turton coined the phrase “water poverty” to describe societies that cannot cope with the problem of water scarcity.

This prompted the development of the Water Poverty Index by ecological and environmental economist Professor Caroline Sullivan in 2002. The index allows researchers to produce an integrated assessment of water stress and scarcity, linking physical estimates of water availability with socioeconomic variables that reflect poverty.

There’s wide agreement that the index is useful and reliable. But its indicators are not appropriate for all contexts. That’s why I set out to create a set of indicators that can be applied in the African context. These indicators include a country’s seasonal variability of rainfall; a nation’s water investments and how efficiently it uses water in agriculture and industry. Another indicator is a country’s Human Development Index, which takes into account factors like life expectancy, education and average income.

This allowed me to map Africa’s water poverty situation, giving a good sense of how different this is across countries on the continent.

My findings offer a transparent analysis for policymakers, governments and organisations that deal with water issues. They can use the information from the index to assess the opportunities and risks involved with interventions. They’ll also have a better understanding of the socioeconomic factors that affect different African countries’ water management policies rather than treating the whole continent as a homogeneous mass.

What will work in Seychelles, which has a low level of water poverty, will not necessarily be useful in Djibouti, whose water poverty levels are high.

New indicators for Africa

I chose 15 indicators from 22 variables to compute five components for the African Water Poverty Index: resources, access, capacity, use and

The results are mapped across a number of water poverty maps that I developed. They show that water poverty follows a complex, diverse spatial pattern. Africa’s most economically developed countries are also its most water-scarce. These are located mainly in northern and southern Africa and includes Libya, Algeria, Tunisia and South Africa. Water-rich but lower income countries are mainly concentrated in the sub-Saharan region – places like Gabon, Central African Republic and Congo.

This suggests that as some countries grow and attract more people looking for work, their water resources will become more pressurised. These countries must put long term, sustainable water management plans in place so they don’t run short of water – a scenario that would greatly hamper further economic development and growth.

The index also suggests what form these plans might take. North African countries, for instance, ought to pay more attention to improving the use of scarce water resources in agriculture and other sectors. Higher water efficiency and consumer conservation programmes are required.

In the sub-Saharan region, meanwhile, access to piped water and sanitation facilities remains generally very low. These countries may be “richer” in water than their northern counterparts, but this reality is not experienced by many residents. Anyone working in the water sector in these countries ought to be focusing on how to improve access to safe water and effective sanitation.

A useful tool

The ConversationMy hope in creating this Africa-focused index is that policymakers, politicians and development experts will be able to apply the data. Such a multi-dimensional assessment of water poverty for the continent could make a big difference to management and planning.

The Drought: Context, Vulnerability, and Solutions

by Muna Ismail

(Journal of the Anglo-Somali Society, Issue 61, Spring 2017, pages 17-19)

Droughts have long been part of the Somali peninsula’s climate and, in most cases, have always had significant economic, environmental, and social impact, both direct and indirect. In cultural anecdotes, all past droughts in living memory have names that tell social stories or peculiarities that were identified in such times. The names given not only highlighted the severity of the drought but normally captured the prevailing social traumas and the collective survivability of hard times in the psyche of society for generations to come.

One of the worst droughts in the last century, known as Xarama-cune (eating-the-forbidden) occurred in the period 1913-14. Cited by many elderly people in Somaliland, it was a time when severe famine swept through many pastoralist regions, resulting in catastrophic losses of lives and livelihoods. To survive, people ate anything they could find, hence the name.

Pastoral communities living in dryland ecosystems have historically shown ways of coping and absorbing shocks of droughts or effects of famine within their natural ecology. However, in the past 4 decades, droughts in Somalia have become a major problem causing depletion of resources, environmental degradation, impoverishment, loss of livelihood and forced migration. The frequency of droughts, however, has particularly increased in the last two decades with climatic variability which has become more extreme in the Horn of Africa.

Generally, at the macro level the climate in the Horn is influenced by El Niño’s warm and cold cycles of sea-surface temperatures in the eastern, central Pacific Ocean. The average rainfall in the Somali peninsula is 100-150 mm, but the El Niño episodes which occur every 3-7 years are known for being associated with below-normal rainfall in the Horn. Since 2011, four consecutive years of extreme weather cycles resulting in droughts, soaring temperatures and flash floods have hit all the countries in the Horn. Somalia has fared worst in terms of the increased societal vulnerabilities and fragility of the natural ecology. Somalia was hit hard in 2011. An estimated 4.6% of the total population and 10% of children under 5 years old died in southern and central Somalia. (UNOCHA report July 2011).

Understanding vulnerability

To fully understand the vulnerability of the Somali population to droughts in either Somaliland or the Federal regions of Somalia we need to understand the concurrent impact of bio-physical and socio-economic drivers. Bio-physical drivers such as change in land use, climate variability, and invasive species all have a severe impact on the ability of the population to survive drought. Hence vulnerability depends on a number of factors including population size, social behaviour, economic development, land policies and water management.

The pattern of drought in the Somali region has always been that famine would most likely follow a period of severe dryness which is often the case when rains fall short in two consecutive years. However, one may argue that what causes famine and vulnerability to droughts may not be totally dependent on a decline of food and feed availability and loss of livelihoods such as through loss of livestock in pastoral households. But rather depend on human capabilities deficiency because there is no social opportunities and structures, e.g. institutional support which can expand the realm of human agency and freedom (Drèze and Sen 2002) . The word social opportunity is a useful reminder not to view individuals and their opportunities in isolated terms. We have to understand that a person or a pastoralist households greatly depend on relational networks, natural ecology, having equality in accessing and negotiating in markets. As well as on the capacity of the state to provide measures to safeguard the livelihoods of the population through institutions and influences of effective public policies.

In early-mid 1970s the Daba-dheer (long tail) drought in pastoral east and central Somaliland prompted the Somali government, with the help of the Soviet Union, to resettle a large number of distressed nomads in the agricultural lower Shabelle and middle Jubba regions. This was a huge national programme that saved a vulnerable population while helping to diversify their livelihoods with new skills in fishing and agro-pastoralism.

However, in the absence of local and regional capabilities in Somaliland or in the southern Somalia regions of Bay and Bakool, where the present drought is most severe and causing population displacement, short term humanitarian interventions to avert catastrophic outcomes or to at least ameliorate its impact are needed urgently. Such efforts help people with an immediate need for food and shelter but do not address the long-term impacts of recurrent droughts. Long-term strategies to help both pastoral and agro-pastoral communities throughout the Somali peninsula to build resilience for climate change is the only rational way. These do not exist in the present framework of humanitarian assistance.

To address the long-term solution, we may need to consider how the following could feature in drought-risk management:

  • Concerted efforts backed-up by community-focused land policies to safeguard the long-term tenure and resource-rights of the rangelands as common and shared land.
  • Diversification of income and the introduction of drought-resistant crops that can provide food and fodder, such as the restoration of the Yeheb plant in the Haud grassland.
  • Wide-ranging intervention targeting agricultural and pastoral communities’ need to adapt to climate change.
  • Sustainable land use practices allowing physical recovery of forested areas and rangelands as well as the reduction of soil erosion.
  • Building the capacity of state and local governance structures to address the need for sustainable natural resource management (NRM) that would build on the existing capacity of clan and village structures.

Drèze, J and A.K.Sen (2002) India, Development and Participation. New Delhi, New York: Oxford University Press


Droughts generally remain the main threat to Somalia and Somaliland’s human security in any period of post-conflict development and peace. It contributes directly to malnutrition in children and vulnerable adults as well as preventing people from overcoming hunger and poverty. Hence comprehensive risk-management strategies that focus on building long-term resilience in the population are required urgently.

Land Degradation: The case of Somaliland.

During a scoping mission for the reintroduction of the Yeheb bush [see page 4 of Journal Issue 60] we encountered many examples land degradation in Togdheer and Sanaag: loss of vegetation, gully erosion, loss of topsoil, the invasive species (Prosopis juliflora) [see page   ], the demise of frankincense and juniper forests and wide-ranging ecosystem degradation. They are all having a negative impact on traditional livelihoods.

Climate change-induced ecological stresses, the increase of human and livestock populations and changes in the national and global economies, are the main concerns of people we met. They realise they are influencing the changing patterns that have been occurring in land use. These land use changes have a negative impact on the land resources (soil, vegetation). In places we visited, land resources are being stretched beyond the land’s natural ability to recover and there is a serious case for rangeland restoration.

The economy of Somaliland is heavily dependent on ecosystem services with its most significant source of economic wealth being livestock. 65% of the population depend either directly or indirectly on livestock or livestock products for their livelihood. Crop husbandry provides subsistence for about 20% of the population. Foreign aid and remittances from diaspora also play a significant role in the economy.

Historically, there have been several laws introduced in Somaliland with regard to land management during colonial times and when the subsequent central Somalia government was in power [see article on page 6]. These laws brought demarcations and changes of land ownership from communal to individual, with negative consequences for livestock movement and grazing patterns. They are responsible for many of the problems exacerbating land degradation, particularly in relation to charcoal production.

Charcoal production was regularised before 1990, but after the collapse of the central government, it became a lucrative business that is causing serious land degradation. It has destroyed many of the acacia forests providing protective cover for the fragile soil. Such degradation was apparent in the gully erosion and topsoil loss we encountered in many areas we visited.

The Chairman of the Parliamentary Sub-committee on Natural Resources, Mr Said Warsame Ismail informed us during our visit that an Environment Act for Somaliland is proposed which will regulate many of the critical ecological land use issues in the country.

Part of the problem is that the general outlook of the population is primarily to draw maximum benefit from the ecosystem. Protection of the environment and a sustainable ecosystem is not a priority. Being a post-conflict state, 43% of Somaliland’s revenue goes to maintaining security within its borders. What remains from that limited revenue is not enough to cover the needs of the country.  Hence there is a heavy dependency on International NGO development programmes. State institutions are weak.

Somaliland’s “Vision 2030” strategy recognises environmental protection as one of the five pillars earmarked for the national development agenda promoting ‘a stable, democratic and prosperous’ society. Sustainability is a guiding principle of this vision and highlights the preservation of natural resources.

However, there are major factors undermining the realisation of this vision. Soil erosion, deforestation, drought and climatic stress, overgrazing of rangeland, urbanisation, population growth and pollution (lack of waste management) all conspire against a sustainable ecosystem that can provide necessary goods and services to support viable growth, long term stability and peace.

  • Dr Muna Ismail is a Programme Manager for Initiatives of Change – UK, and Vice-Chair of the Anglo-Somali Society. She is a scientist and environmentalist, with a passion for community action and sustainable development in Horn of Africa. In the last 4 years she has been training programmes for UK Somali and Horn of Africa Diaspora community groups. Muna is also currently co-ordinating an Erasmus+ Strategic Partnership Project called: Cross-border Intercultural and Societal Entrepreneurs. The aim of this project is to co-design Curriculum, Competence Framework and Indicators for migrants and refugees as Re-builders

She was the leader of the team engaged in the Yeheb Project described on page 4 of Issue 60 of the Journal.


The Yeheb Project


Mapping of seasonal migrations in the Sanaag region of Somaliland

Mapping of seasonal migrations in the Sanaag region of Somaliland

Authors: David Hadrill and Haroon Yusuf


Shortly after Somaliland declared its independence from Somalia following four years of civil war, ActionAid set up a rehabilitation programme in the Sanaag region. The programme provides basic animal health care to the pastoral communities living in the region whose livelihoods depend upon their livestock. Camel, sheep and goat milk and meat are mostly consumed by the herders and their families, while sheep are frequently sold or exchanged with traders in return for imported wheat, rice and other products.

ActionAid contracted VetAid to design and provide technical support for the programme. The existing rehabilitation programme provides basic veterinary health care training for Primary Veterinary Assistants (PVAs). It also provides drugs, at a subsidised price, to herders who have had their flocks and herds decimated by the war (herders now pay the market price for drugs). PVAs visit the herders and supply them with veterinary drugs and advise them on basic health problems. The PVAs are trained in basic diagnosis, treatment and prevention skills but the majority of medications requested by and prescribed to the herders are used to control internal and external parasites.

The pastoral grazing system

Project staff have been using participatory research methods on an informal basis throughout the course of the development programme. Their main objective was to build up a more detailed picture of the herders’ lifestyle, particularly their management of communal resources, animal husbandry practices, and methods of managing disease.

Participatory methods were used during routine meetings with herders rather than as part of a planned, structured appraisal. Much of the information gathered by the project staff was collected using semi-structured, informal interview techniques. Of particular interest, to the team were details of the seasonal migration patterns followed by different groups of pastoralists in the region. These details were mapped and provided a fairly comprehensive picture of seasonal migration patterns in the Sanaag region and the distances covered during the individual migrations.

During the jilal (long, winter dry season), livestock are concentrated around permanent wells. This is the hardest time of year, especially if the preceding dhair rains have failed. Conflicts can break out over access to water during this period. Camels are taken up to seven days’ walk from the wells to graze, and watered every two weeks.

The herding boys live only on camels’ milk during this time. Women and elderly men look after the sheep and goats up to a day’s walk from the wells. As the dry season progresses they are taken further away to graze and camels bring them water. The jilal ends with the gu rain after which herds are moved to grazing lands in places without wells. Livestock can get adequate water from fodder and puddles following showers. As the hagar (summer) progresses the grass becomes dry and fibrous and livestock are moved to grazing near permanent wells. The dhair rains fall at the end of the summer. If they are good the herds are taken back to the wet season grazing grounds.

Migrations in the Sanaag region

The Isaaq and Darod clans inhabit the west and east of the Sanaag region respectively. They maintain a natural buffer zone between them over which neither clan claims to have definitive overall grazing rights. During the civil war, there was a great deal of conflict between the Isaaq and Darod clans in the Sanaag region. But in peace-time, there is greater flexibility of movement and the clans enter into each other’s territory, subject to prior agreements.

Interviews with herders indicate that the distances travelled by Sanaag herders and their flocks are relatively short. Typically, the limits of their migration may be around 80km apart. Project staff were surprised to find that the migration patterns are not seasonal movements to and from the same grazing grounds annually, as they had previously believed. Instead, herders are opportunistic and move their animals according to the prevailing rainfall and quality of the pasture. The extent of change in pastoral grazing strategies during the civil war years is not clear. Herders apparently continued with their traditional seasonal migration patterns. In some instances, access rights to grazing lands may have changed hands between clans and sub-clans depending on the outcome of local battles. However, in general, herders continued to migrate with the rains or pasture.

Mapping pastoral movements

One herder, Warasame Hirsi, described herders’ general movements and then recalled where his own rer (flock) had been in the recent past. His stock stay near Erigavo, to the east. Their movements are recorded in Figure 1. He was asked questions such as “Where were your animals last season? Where were they the season before that?” and so on. These prompted him to describe his flocks’ general movements which are summarised in Table 1.

table1This table illustrates how the seasonal movements of camels differ from those of the sheep and goats.

Jama Ashkir then recalled the places his rer (flock) had been during the last three years. In peaceful times 10-15 families of the same subclan would move together. However, now about 50 Isaaq families may move together for security. For example, they all moved to Sool Giriyo earlier this year when there was tension between Isaaq and Darod clans. However, when they moved to Kabid recently only three families moved together. The details of where the rer moved are summarised in Table 2, and also illustrated in Figure 2.

Figure 1. Mapping pastoral movements: Warsame Hirsi’s Rer (Flock)


The maps indicate that Jama and Warsame move stock to the territories of their Diya paying group. Information about seasonal migration patterns confirmed that herders are likely to be in a certain area during a particular season of the year. This knowledge assisted with the planning of drug distribution, making it compatible with the herders’ needs and seasonal location. Informal interviews were always attended by clan chiefs and community leaders and were carried out through an interpreter. More often than not the quality of information collected depended upon the individual characters of the chiefs and leaders. The most successful informal interviews often took place when a member of the project staff was called by the herders to treat an animal and took the opportunity to make a few inquiries about their livelihoods.

The team also endeavoured to draw maps, calendars and use visual aids. If nothing else, they provided a talking point and helped to stimulate a discussion. The strict Muslim culture made it necessary for an exclusively male team of researchers to conduct the informal interviews and mapping exercises. However, this made it virtually impossible for discussions to take place with the women in the communities. The team were aware of the gender bias and consequently appointed a woman to try to redress the balance.

Figure 2. Mapping pastoral movements: migration of Jama Ashkir’s Flock over the past three years


Indigenous knowledge

During informal interviews herders gave information on the different celestial observations used to divide their year into seasons. Researchers also learned details of the indigenous system of classifying the characteristics of rainfall, drought periods, plant species, soils, and livestock diseases and their traditional treatments.

The herders’ calendar

An appreciation of the herders’ calendar is important in the planning phase of any development project. An understanding of the calendar can help explain why herders plan their movements and grazing patterns. The names given to the different seasons are often linked to meteorological factors. The herders divide their year into two seasons, each of 180 days. The first 180 days are called biyo daalalo and are divided into nine periods of 20 days. This season coincides with the dhair (autumn rain) and jilaal (dry winter). The second 180 days are called diriir and are divided into six periods of 28 days. These coincide with the gu (spring rain) season and the following hagar (hot, windy summer). Table 3 lists the names of each of the periods within the Biyo daalalo and Diriir seasons.

table3View the source document here

Source: RRA Notes (1994), Issue 20, pp.106–112, IIED London
PLA Notes CD-ROM 1988–2001


Nomadism and desertification in Africa and the Middle East

Johnson, D.L. GeoJournal (1993) 31: 51. doi:10.1007/BF00815903

Author: Johnson Douglas L. 


Desertification in areas where traditional pastoral nomadism was common is a phenomenon of this century. Nomads possessed institutions and management practices that avoided excess concentrations of people and animals, rotated grazing pressure seasonally between major pasture zones, protected dry season resources that were critical to their survival, and limited access to pastoral resources. These systems of management and control have broken down and degradation of pastoral lands has been the result. The pressures promoting desertification include agricultural expansion into pastoral zones, the loss of critical dry season pasture, sedentarization of former nomads, the impacts of war and civil conflict, nationalization of pastoral resources, the collapse of traditional common property resource management systems, and social change and economic intensification. These processes have concentrated pastoral pressures into more limited spaces and increased the stress placed on natural resources to the point where land degradation takes place. These adverse changes can be avoided and desertification arrested if principles of proper management are applied. By planning holistically, using the ethnoscientific wisdom of nomadic pastoralists as a basis for development, protecting zones critical to the survival of pastoralists, retaining mobility and flexibility in contemporary pastoral systems, and strengthening common property systems developed by nomadic pastoralists, land degradation in dryland rangelands can be halted.

Reprinted with permission from Springer.
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