When Hawo Mohamed woke one morning to find about a dozen of her goats dead, she knew her life as a herder was coming to an end.
Raised in a remote village in coastal Somaliland, in northeast Africa, Mohamed remembers taking her family’s goats to feed on green pasture flanked by a sprinkling of trees.
But in time the trees began to die, she said, and then, about eight years ago, seasonal rains grew much more erratic, seemingly worsening each year.
Little by little, her animals, starved of enough forage and water, grew weaker too.
“One day I went to collect the animals as usual and brought them home but the next morning 10 to 12 of them were dead,” Mohamed recalled, sitting in the sand nursing her newborn son outside a corrugated iron shelter in the coastal city of Berbera.
“When only a few of our animals were left, I saw my neighbours had already started to move and I went with them … I knew nothing would be the same again.”
Mohamed, 32, her husband Ahmed Ali, and their four children this year joined an estimated 600,000 people in Somaliland who have fled rural villages to seek new lives in cities, unable to cope after years of drought decimated their livestock and crops.
Somaliland, a self-declared republic of 4 million people in the Horn of Africa, is one of the world’s most vulnerable places to climate change. Poor and drought-hit, and without legal status as a country, it is struggling to adapt for the future.
As the Syria-sized republic battles worsening weather crises and growing migration within and out of the region, it is racing to find ways to stem a tide of climate migrants, keep people on ever-less-productive land and create new jobs for the unemployed.
In particular, soaring youth employment, as destitute families leave farming but find nothing else to do, is creating a social and political “timebomb” in a region already struggling with migration and extremism, Somaliland representatives warn.
“It is a nation moving,” Minister for the Environment and Rural Development Shukri Ismail Bandare said in an interview in her office in the capital Hargeisa, where goats roam the streets, some with their owners’ phone numbers written in pen on their side.
“Climate change is real in Somaliland … and it is becoming a disaster.