Somalia’s Land is Dying. The People Will Be Next.

Images from the front lines of Africa’s battle with climate change.

Photographs by Nichole Sobecki

Top photo: A woman walks through a cactus field in a drought-stricken area of western Somaliland, a semi-autonomous region in the north of Somalia. Successive droughts, made worse by El Niño weather patterns in the Horn of Africa, hit northern Somalia hard this year, leaving millions of people in need of humanitarian aid.

June 6, 2017

Somalia has never been a forgiving place. A land of extreme temperatures and little rain, the country has faced cyclical droughts and periodic famines throughout the past century. But decades of civil war, coupled with the effects of climate change, have set the country on a path to environmental disaster. Home to a bloody Islamist insurgency that is arguably the world’s first climate war, Somalia is grappling with rapid desertification, increasingly erratic rainfall, and the destruction of coastal waters by foreign fishing fleets. “With this weather pattern, Somalia or Somalis will not survive,” says Fatima Jibrell, a Somali-American environmental activist. “Maybe the land, a piece of desert called Somalia, will exist on the map of the world, but Somalis cannot survive.”

Read the companion piece on how the key to saving Somalia is gathering dust in the British countryside.

Top photo: A woman walks through a cactus field in a drought-stricken area of western Somaliland, a semi-autonomous region in the north of Somalia. Successive droughts, made worse by El Niño weather patterns in the Horn of Africa, hit northern Somalia hard this year, leaving millions of people in need of humanitarian aid.

Somalia’s arid landscape as seen from inside a decaying colonial building in the Somaliland town of Sheikh.

Forced to travel far beyond their traditional nomadic routes because of drought, Muumina Farah and her daughter camp by the side of the road outside the western Somaliland town of Habas. Their male relatives remained behind in northern Somaliland with the family’s surviving animals in a desperate attempt to save what was left of their herd.


In Mareero, a smuggling hub in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, Somali and Ethiopian migrants crowd into caves to wait for the dhow boats that will carry them on the perilous journey across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen.

Dheg Mohamed takes apart her home before loading the materials onto a cart to be moved. Several successive seasons of low rainfall left the well in her family’s hometown of Aynabo, Somaliland, dry, forcing them to relocate elsewhere.

Boats gather at dawn in the old port in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, as fishermen land their catch and ready it for transport to the city’s fish market.

Fishermen untangle their nets in the port of Bosaso, the largest city in Puntland.

A mother bathes her young son in the port of Mogadishu.

A young Somali man attends Islamic religious classes at a madrasa in the Dadaab refugee camp in northeastern Kenya.

Somali children with prayer boards at a madrasa in Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp.

Sahra Mohamed Soran grew up in a family of pastoralists in Somalia, but now she is a climate refugee in Dadaab. “Our life changed when the weather changed, and now it only rains a small amount, even in the rainy season,” she says. “For a year we watched our animals die one by one. When our last cow died, we came here.”

A severe drought in 2011 displaced tens of thousands of Somalis, swelling the population of Dadaab to more than 350,000 and making it one of the largest refugee camps in the world.