The river Shabelle has completely dried up in some parts of Jowhar, leaving a wide dry river bed where children can play football.
There have been devastating effects for people in the area who rely on the river for their drinking water, as well as on farmers using the river for irrigation and pastoralist communities whose livestock drink there. There are also hundreds of local fishermen facing unemployment.
It is the third time the river has dried up since March 2016.
Yakub Ise Omar, head of Somalia Water and Land Information Management (SWALIM) in Middle Shabelle, said the river has been badly neglected over a long period of time.
Eroding soil and silt have filled up the channel preventing water from flowing. Sometimes the water floods over the river banks but people are unable to benefit from the flood water. The regular maintenance that used to be carried out ceased after the fall of the central government in 1991.
Yakub told Radio Ergo that overall water management has been poor and the water catchment areas are not effective. This has heightened the problems caused by failed rains over the past three years.
He said generally rainfall collected in water catchments had reduced from 600 mm to not more than 200 mm in the last three years. This is partly due to climate change in Eastern Africa.
Many farmers in Jowhar and its 20 villages, who depend heavily on farming for their livelihoods, have been affected. Mohamed Ali, a farmer in Adada, around six km from Jowhar town, said his one hectare farm, where he grew various vegetables, has dried up due to lack of irrigation. He planted his crops last December.
Mohamed said he had suffered two major losses year. First his maize plantations were destroyed by floods in October, and then when he started planting vegetables the river began drying up.
“I have given up making any profit. More than that, I have debts of 3.5 m shillings [approx. $143] that I used to reinvest in my farm. In the next six months I don’t expect to harvest anything,” Mohamed told Radio Ergo.
The minister of agriculture and water resources for Hirshabelle regional state, Hassan Ahmed Muuddey, who spoke to Radio Ergo, said the regional parliament on 14 February held a debate on how to restore the people’s water lifeline. He said it was agreed to construct water wells for the areas that depend entirely on river water.
However, the Hirshabelle authority has no capacity or financing to undertake the project. The minister said they had asked NGOs and the federal government to help realize the plan, including constructing wells and providing water to farmers and residents.
The parliament also agreed to provide some funds to provide water temporarily for the affected families.
The Shabelle flows from the Ethiopian highlands through Hiran, Middle Shabelle and Lower Shabelle regions of south-central Somalia.