The impact of the war in Somaliland

Loss of life and displacement of population

The number of deaths in the northern towns has been estimated at around 100 000.23 Up to 50 000 people are believed to have lost their lives in the capital city, Hargeisa, as a result of summary executions, aerial bombardments, and ground attacks carried out by government troops.24 Gersony, who conducted one of the first investigations for the US State Department, maintains that the troops conducted systematic attacks against the civilian population.25 Some of the more brutal acts occurred in rural villages and were carried out by special troops known as the `Isaaq Exterminating Wing’ (Dabar-goynta Isaaqa) who were believed to have been recruited from among the Ogaden refugees. Targeting herders and farmers perceived as being affiliated with the SNM, they destroyed or poisoned wells vital for the pastoral economy seized livestock and burned down entire villages to deprive the rural population of its basic means of livelihood.


Loss of livelihoods

Although the exact number of animals lost as a result of the war is still unknown, it is estimated that more than half of the country’ s total livestock population was killed either directly or indirectly. The troops also destroyed water sources by blowing up or draining water reservoirs. In some areas, open wells were poisoned, while others were contaminated with corpses.26 The extensive planting of mines in rural areas was also partly responsible for animal losses.

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Another contributing factor was the distress sale of livestock by pastoralists. The war also disrupted the merchant-based network that transmitted remittances from the Gulf States. Crop production was even more devastated by the war since all farmers were forced to abandon cultivation for the four years of conflict.

Social and economic costs

The war destroyed market centers while mining of transport routes virtually shut down trade. This was accompanied by the closure of the Berbera port for animal exports from the second half of 1988 to 1991. An average of 1.2 million animals used to be exported per annum through Berbera.27 Because market exchange was central to the survival of rural households, the closure of Berbera port and the collapse of local markets for meat had a devastating effect, forcing many to dispose of large numbers of their animals.

Ironically, the community insurance and transfer systems that had originally played important roles in the collective coping strategies of households triggered social crisis during the war. There was a sudden increase in the social obligations, forcing many households to sell their assets. The blood money payment, for instance, which played an important role in preventing and containing localized conflicts, also forced many households to liquidate some or all of their productive assets. Because neither the SNM nor the Ethiopian authorities controlled the refugee camps there was massive violence and lawlessness, caused in part by the proliferation of light weapons. As a result, there were many deaths and injuries attributed to freelance bandits. The absence of central authority meant that there had to be settled through traditional means of compensation. Because of a fear that any internal conflict would hinder their common struggle against the regime, the council of elders had constituted emergency laws demanding any outstanding blood money to be settled within a short period of time. Arrears in blood money payments forced many households to default on payments for the first time, jeopardizing the functioning of the whole system.

A further social obligation which households had to meet during the war was a contribution to the war effort. Two types of contributions were required from individual households: a male member was required to join the SNM forces, in addition to making a payment of one sheep (or its equivalent in cash) at least once a year. These obligations were strictly applied during the war.

The crisis had a differential impact on men and women among rural households. While comparatively less severe in the north than the south, the threat of physical violence contributed everywhere to a heightened sense of insecurity. There was a significant increase in the number and type of tasks performed by women during the crisis. As men became increasingly involved in the community-level activities associated with the war, the burden of labor shifted to tasks such as queuing up for food rations, fetching water from distant sources and engaging in petty trading to supplement their incomes.

Famine and loss of life and livelihoods

Even after their defeat, the remnants of Barre’s forces maintained a strong base in the inter-riverine region for nearly a year, destroying villages and crops. Animals were killed or stolen, forcing hundreds of farmers to flee to the regional capital Baidoa which later became the epicenter of the 1991±92 famine. With the exception of Mogadishu, this region suffered the most severe devastation. As a result, `the inter-riverine people were trapped between Aideed’s forces in the north, Barre’s in southwest, and Morgan’s Barre’s son-in law in the south, in what became known as the “triangle of death”. Baidoa, the capital of the region became also known as the “city of the walking dead.” 28

At the height of the civil war in 1991-92, a major drought hit the area, leading to a devastating famine that killed between 300,000 and 500,00029 and affected as many as three million. A large number of deaths resulted from the outbreak of infectious diseases as thousands of people gathered in relief camps.

Population displacement and economic costs

The war in the south created a huge displacement of people, uprooting an estimated 1.7 million, over one-third of the entire population in the south.30 As many as a quarter of a million people from rural areas poured into Mogadishu, where aid agencies had set up relief camps. As the war in Mogadishu and the surrounding areas intensified, most of the city residents and internal refugees were displaced, again creating massive flows of moving populations. Heavy fighting along the surrounding state borders prevented most of them from fleeing to Ethiopia and Kenya.

The residual services and institutions that had survived the radical erosion of the late Barre years collapsed in the ensuing civil war. Key infrastructure, essential for economic activities, such as water and power generators, refineries, air and seaports, telecommunications installations, bridges and parts of most tarmac road were destroyed or ceased to function because of non-maintenance which has been an endemic Somali problem even in peacetime. Schools and hospitals were targeted during the initial factional fighting in Mogadishu and surrounding areas. What was not destroyed in the war was looted and shipped to surrounding countries.

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