Charity aid keeps a little oasis alive in drought-ravaged Africa

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As goats grazed on pieces of spinach and cows languished under the shade of trees, Maryan Hudun surveyed her farm contentedly.

Despite drought ravaging much of east Africa, her little corner of Somaliland is still bearing fruit, thanks to the support of the charity ActionAid.

Ms Hudun owns a small farm in Ceel-Giniseed, a village about an hour's drive west of the Somaliland capital Hargeisa, running it on her own since her husband died in 2010.

Labourers till the fields ready for crops, and there is plenty already growing - spinach, peppers, onions, water melons and cabbages, as well as groves of oranges, lemons and limes.

Three years of drought has left the fields less fertile, and the yields from her land have fallen dramatically.

But irrigation from a shallow well means Ms Hudun can still make a living, selling her produce in local towns and villages so she can pay her staff and send her children to school.

Her life would be all the more difficult without the assistance of charity from overseas.

Flooding of the dry river at the bottom of her land damaged her shallow well and threatened to wash away vital sands that trap water and allow the water table to rise.

But ActionAid stepped in, building a sand dam to protect the water levels, shoring up the riverbank with a stone embankment and repairing her damaged well.

Speaking through a translator, Ms Hudun said: "ActionAid regularly supported me and improved my farm.

"If those gabion lines (the embankment) hadn't been contributed and that sand dam wouldn't have been constructed there, I wouldn't have managed to sustain the farm at all, because there will be no water.

"Without water that means there will be no farm."

Drought and conflict in east Africa have left 16 million people in Somalia and Somaliland - a self-governed independent state to the north of Somalia - Ethiopia, Kenya and South Sudan facing starvation and in urgent need of food, water and medical treatment.

While charities under the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) umbrella are raising urgent funds for the looming humanitarian crisis, many long-term projects are still going on to help people like Ms Hudun resist threats such as drought.

The village of Ceel-Giniseed lies in a so-called LRP, where ActionAid runs local rights programmes that help thousands.

Projects support communities through building wells and schools, the setting up of women's coalitions and the establishment of micro-credit schemes.

Many Somalilanders from across the state moved to this LRP in search of help earlier this year, displaced from their homes because of the drought.

But some rain has since fallen in the east of Somaliland, luring them back.

The LRP livelihood projects enable people to stand on their own feet - a far cry from the food drops and distribution of water and medical care elsewhere in Somaliland that are vital to save the lives of those facing imminent starvation.

Ahmed Mohamoud, who works for ActionAid, said: "These people are less affected by the drought because of projects which have been implemented here that increases or improves their livelihood.

"Even in the drought, some of them are still farming their farms as they have shallow wells.

"The drought is here but still they are farming their produce, because they have water from the boreholes and they are irrigating their farms, and they regularly sell their fruits to the market.

"Generally these people we are supporting in our LRPs, they are less affected by the drought due to ActionAid's projects."

While drought threatens to bring famine to millions, for many there is still hope.