Water and the City of Hargeisa
The availability of sufficient water resources in Hargeisa has become critical.
The capital city Hargeisa lies in the North Western part of Somaliland. It is the biggest and one of the most important in Somaliland. It has also been the second largest city in the republic of Somalia.
Even though the city was destroyed during the successive civil wars, it recovered and people are settling down. Construction is taking place and lives of people have turned to normal once again. The city contains five districts (dagmo): Ahmed dhagax, Ibrahim Kodbur, Mohamoud Haybe, 26 June and Gacan libaax. The climate of Hargeisa is hot and dry and it receives rain twice a year.
Since Somaliland claimed its independence back from the South of Somalia in 1991, Somalilanders came back home either from neighboring or overseas countries where they had lived as refugees. Hargeisa hosts the largest population in the country. The estimated number of people living in Hargeisa is approximately one million, which means that the city has doubled its inhabitants in the past ten years. As a consequence, the city has expanded tremendously towards all directions, and there are many new areas joining the city. As a result of increasing population and with the combination of inefficiency of the water management in the city, the availability of sufficient water resources has become critical. The demand for water has increased enormously, and water scarcity has become acute.
Welcome to Hargeisa.
Water Management in Hargeisa
The water in Hargeisa is run and managed by Hargeisa Water Agency. It is an independent institution with its own administration appointed directly by the president, and not by the ministry of Water, Minerals and Natural Resources as many would assume. Unlike the third biggest city of Borame, where the provision of water is the responsibility of a private company, Hargeisa Water Agency is a public institution solely responsible for the distribution of water in the city.
The Main Source of Water in Hargeisa
The main source from where Hargeisa obtains its scarce water is a small village (tuulo) called Geed deeble. Geed deeble was built in 1972 and has been repaired several times in 1980s. It is situated some 40 km north of Hargeisa. The whole area with its bore holes and the managing staff belongs to the government. There are 14 wells working at the moment. They are the source of water.
12”-pipes take water from Geed deeble to Biyo shiinaha reservoir (the main water storage of Geed deeble). The water is then transferred to the next reservoirs in the Sheedaha area (a neighborhood in the North of Hargeisa), which in turn transmit water through small pipes to provide drinking water to the city.
However, water distribution does not reach many parts of Hargeisa. Initially, when the water storages were built they were planned to provide water for approximately 300.000 persons which at the time was equivalent to the number of people living in the city. Now the number of people exceeds more than three times the intended. The demand for water is increasing, and also for the land. People compete for houses that are closer to the water reaching areas resulting in very high land prices.
The Hargeisa Water Agency has struggled to provide water for at least some parts of the city, even though there have been reports of mismanagement of the agency. Initially it allocated water equally for each neighborhood in Hargeisa (one night for one and the second night for another area and so on). The agency managed this status for a while and conducted it successfully. However, when the number of people living in the city continued to increase, the strategy could not work. The agency tried to use some other ways to distribute water to the city without success.
Today the provision of water is limited to certain areas in the city. The newly built houses in the outskirts of Hargeisa have never seen a running tap. There exist entire neighborhoods in the city which are suffering from the lack of water. There are also a considerable number of big hotels which experience the same scarcity.
Trucks and tanks
The pertinent question of managing the hazardous circumstances has been raised by many, and the situation has also created a lucrative business environment. For example there are quite a large number of truck owners who have benefited from the poor network of water distribution in the city. They have divided neighborhoods and made their own customers accordingly. The water is caught from neighboring small towns and villages mostly in the East and West of Hargeisa.
There are many trucks in the city transporting water.
One of the areas where truck owners fetch water is Aw-Barkhadle. It lies around 30 kilometers east of Hargeisa. Unlike Geed deeble, the wells there are privately owned. More than 60 trucks (booyad) drive there every day. According to one of the owners of the wells, depending on the volume of the trucks, the water price per tank is around SL SHLNGS 20.000 which is the equivalent of around 4 USD. This means, the truck owners bring cheap water from the area and provide water with profit to the areas that do not have access to more affordable water. The price of water per barrel is in average 1.5 USD depending on the season. Big families with big houses need to set up water tanks holding five, ten or more barrels of water (taangi) in their houses and consequently they have to spend huge sums of money at each time of refill.
A truck fetching water in Aw-Barkhadle.
Many people cannot buy water from truck owners as they don’t have big tanks. The middle income families, who cannot afford to buy big tanks to keep water, use smaller water containers or tanks (foosto) to reserve water. Very poor people can use only small jugs (jirkaan). They get water either from donkey owners or they can buy it directly from areas where water is sold. There are also some families in the neighborhoods with large tanks next to their houses. They use these tanks to keep water from truck owners in order to sell it to the people.
The problem with water quality is pertinent. Most of these families use this water for drinking, cooking and washing as well. However, as truck owners fetch water directly from the wells in the neighboring small towns, there is a growing concern of the cleanness of this water. No water purification and treatment of water takes place here. Well owners wait for the wells to become full and once water comes to the surface they dip long tubes that take water to the trucks. The truck owners serve for both far-reaching houses as well as nearby houses.
Nawaal Abdi who is among the consumers of water tanks told me how they get water: “We buy water from truck owners every two days; we pay around 2 USD for one and half barrel. We use water for everything; washing, cooking, cleaning and even drinking.”
Wells are deep and often dug in the river bottom during the dry season.
Gaadhi dameer – the donkey owners
It is not only trucks that transport water in the city, but also animals. Gaadhi dameer are men known as donkey-drivers. These men get water from the sub-water supplying centers which are set up for business purposes. Donkey-drivers provide water for the nearby houses as they are not able to travel long distances to provide water. Unlike truck owners, donkey owners provide less water (one barrel at a time) usually to the houses and small teashops alongside the streets. These men provide relatively clean tub water for almost the same price as truck owners. However, the donkey-owners are not available for all as they supply water for specific customers.
Ahmed Abdi who is a donkey-owner in Hargeisa explains how he distributes water: “Some of my customers ask me to transport water while I am in the water supply center. I often take water to the houses of my customers every night because they expect me to do so.”
Donkey owners provide water to the houses and small teashops alongside the streets.
The big hotels that experience shortage of water have their own trucks transporting water to their hotels only. The water is used for cooking and washing, showering and also drinking. There are also several locally produced bottled water industries in the country which are mostly based in the East, Burao Togdheer region. This bottled water is expensive and only the big hotels and restaurants can afford it. Local production has, however, helped the country to minimize the importing of bottled water.
Even though the shortage of water existed for some time now, the expectation of finding new water sources in other areas of Hargeisa is increasing. There are also great expectations of repairing and expanding the pumps and pipes from the existing water wells. The Ministry of Water and Minerals is very optimistic that sufficient water will be provided to the entire city. It is anticipated that an EU-supported project for repairing the existing wells as well as for finding new sources of water will soon be initiated.
The author lives and studies in Hargeisa. He is Bachelor of Arts Candidate in Development Studies at Admas University.
Photos: Petri Hautaniemi