Women beating drought in the Horn of Africa

Stories of resilience from Ethiopia and Somalia

June 16, 2023
Woman smiling

UNDP-funded projects such as the 50,000 cubic metre earth dam at Baligubadle are vital to support communities in Somalia, where approximately 60% of the territory is arid or semi-arid.

Photo: UNDP Somalia


The high cost of living, food shortages, and water availability are consistent challenges for 18-year-old Derertu Hohammad and her family. Food harvested on their plot in Ethiopia’s Lugo watershed, together with three goats and four other larger animals, provide enough food to cover four months of the year for the family's nine members of three men and six women.  

The rest of the time, the family relies on a relief programme providing food. Among the changes that Hohammad would love to see, reducing women’s burdens – especially traveling long distances during the dry season to find water – is a priority. Her family is not alone: by 2050, it is projected that droughts may affect over three quarters of the world’s population. 

This year, the theme of the International Day Against Desertification and Drought – "Her land. Her rights."– emphasizes that investing in women’s equal access to land and assets is a direct investment in their future and the future of humanity.  


collection of images fom Somalia

Left to right: Mohamud Hassan walks across a constructed check dam in the Gardo district of Puntland; Mohamed Muse works with rural population to find solutions for preservation; Mohamed Hirsi stands next to a recently constructed dam in Shaxda village.

Photos: UNDP Somalia


In Somalia, roughly 75 percent of the country’s 14.7 million people live in rural areas, with approximately 60 percent practicing pastoralism and 15 percent working in agriculture. Less than one third of the population has access to clean water. Lack of water poses a serious threat to the health, wellbeing and livelihoods of farming and pastoral communities and limits Somalia’s overall economic and social development, with women in rural areas particularly vulnerable.  

For decades, Somalia's crucial grazing land has faced intense pressure, putting the livelihoods of millions at risk. Despite a ban on charcoal trading, deforestation and the relentless cutting of trees for charcoal persist, further depleting the grazing land.  

Additionally, the proliferation of an invasive tree species known as Prosopis juliflora, or Garan-waa (meaning "the unknown"), has hindered farmers in central Somaliland from cultivating crops to feed their cattle. The extensive root systems of these invasive trees have also exacerbated water scarcity. These challenges, combined with the adverse effects of climate change, have intensified the frequency of droughts, floods and other erratic rainfall patterns. 

Working with a range of development partners, as well as traditional leaders, women’s groups, local non-government organizations and community-based organizations, the Global Environment Facility in collaboration with UNDP and partners provides support for communities to sustainably manage water resources and build resilience to climate impacts, including through nature-based solutions.  



A ray of hope in Burao 

By eliminating invasive species and promoting sustainable agropastoral practices, the project aimed to restore productivity to the land and empower the local community. Together with the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, 500 hectares of land were rehabilitated, equivalent to around 416 Olympic-sized swimming pools, in the villages of Beer and Ceelbilcile.  

Benefiting from a year of favourable rainfall, the removal of invasive trees has yielded remarkable changes. "The land has recovered and is now productive, and praise be to Allah, the rains have been plentiful after such a prolonged period of scarcity," said village head Hassan Ali yare Beereed. 

His optimism reverberates throughout the village, particularly among women farmers like Samsam Ali Mohamoud, who are reaping multiple benefits from the rehabilitation project.  

"During the favourable season, our animals now have ample food, and we can store excess fodder for the rest of the year. This results in increased milk production, nourishing our children. By selling surplus milk to neighbouring villagers, we generate additional income to support our children's education," Mahamoud said.

"We can store excess fodder for the rest of the year."
Samsam Ali Mohamoud, farmer


Women farmers have witnessed significant improvements in their lives, with food available to their animals during the favourable seasons, enabling them to store excess fodder for the rest of the year. This has translated into increased milk production, providing essential nourishment for their children. The surplus milk has also become a valuable source of additional income, allowing women to support their children's education and invest in their future.  

Initiatives such as these do not only revitalize the land, but also empower women farmers to become even greater contributors to their families' well-being – for the overall prosperity of their communities. 


a collection of images from UNDP Somalia

Left to right: An aerial view of Puntland’s arid terrain photographed as seen from an aeroplane; Fardosa Mohamed uses water she’s collected from the UNDP-funded dam in Baligubadle, Somalia; Pastoralists are particularly vulnerable to changes in climate because they rely on rain-fed rangeland for grazing livestock.

Photos: UNDP Somalia


Ecosystem-based adaptation solutions are at the heart of UNDP’s climate change adaptation work. To date, through UNDP-supported coastal resilience and water projects worldwide, 2,076+ km of coastline, 6.5 million+ ha of land, and 72,000+ hectares of marine land have been made resilient to climate shocks, while 105,000+ ha has been restored/reforested; and 764,000+ people have increased access to water. Learn more at adaptation-undp.org .