When a devastating drought hit Somaliland, crops failed and livestock perished. For some of the region’s most impoverished people, survival seemed impossible until a single text message gave them hope.
Chinow Aden’s cell phoned pinged, signaling the first bit of good news she had received in a long while. Drought had forced Aden and her six children from their home in Somaliland to a refugee resettlement camp in the middle of the Somaliland desert. Receiving this text message was the first time she sensed they would be okay—at least for the next few months. She felt a renewed hope that life would get better.
The drought had been devastating for Aden, who was dependent on her herd of 50 animals to get by. “It was not hugely profitable, but it was enough to sustain us with food and clothing,” she explains. “We were content with what we had.” But as food and water ran out—and all of her animals died—Aden started to struggle.
Throughout the region, the land had grown parched. Plants had withered. Pastures had turned to dust. Heartbreakingly, animals had died. Without livestock—their most valuable asset—families realized every day was going to be a struggle just to stay alive.
Aden barely managed to eat a small meal once a day. With little left to lose, but everything on the line, she was forced to search for some place her family could at least survive.
Aden and her children made the difficult journey to Fadhi Gaab, a camp in Somaliland for internally displaced people. There, Oxfam had 16,000 liters of water waiting for her—that’s how much we’re trucking in every day to keep families like hers safe from dehydration and disease. At last, she was able to give her children clean water for drinking and washing.
“We started to look like normal people,” she remembers. “We did not look like that before.”
The transformative power of a text message
In Fadhi Gaab, Oxfam set up a system of cash transfers via mobile phone so its residents could buy food for their families. Through experience, we’ve found that when the circumstances are right, setting up cash grants are the best way to relieve hunger. When food is available locally but people can’t afford to buy it, giving them cash is quicker, cheaper, and more efficient than transporting in huge quantities of food from outside the affected area.
Putting money in their pockets also supports local shops and markets, and gives traders an incentive to keep food coming into the area. This is key: If we’re aiming for a long-term solution to poverty, people need to be able to feed their families next month and next year, as well as today and tomorrow.
When people can purchase what their families need rather than having to wait for food rations that may not fit their needs, waste is minimized and people start to feel in control of their own lives again.
Aden remembers the moment she received one of these cash transfers. “I was sitting somewhere around here, when I heard the pinging notification sound in my mobile phone,” she recounts. “I thought it was from an unknown number. I had a look and saw the amount of $143. I said ‘thank God’ and started shouting. I appreciate it; it has relieved our hunger.”
After converting her text message into physical cash, Aden went into the town of Fadhi Gaab, which is about an hour’s walk from the camp. She was able to buy enough food to feed her family for a few months.
Today, Aden doesn’t know what her family’s future holds. But thanks to the text message, they have food for the immediate future. And because of the water at the refugee camp, they can stay clean and healthy. With these things come breathing space—and hope.
Your support is what allows us to help families survive the drought and begin to rebuild their lives. And we’ll be there to help people like Aden find sustainable ways to live free from poverty.