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Harnessing Community Power In Somaliland
BURAO, Somaliland, July 4, 2007 – Abdi Hassan's new stone house is one of 60 that have mushroomed in the Koosar and Aden Saleban areas of Burao town, in the republic of Somaliland.
The two-roomed units are low-cost and part of a project that started in 2003 targeting 1,800 families - returnees from Ethiopian refugee camps who remained displaced in Burao, Togdeer region. The community initiative was supported by the UN International Labor Organization (ILO) and other partners.
"When we returned from Ethiopia, we came to live here because we had nowhere else to go. We had no land or house elsewhere," Hassan said. "The permanent houses protect us from the strong winds and the rains that have become more common nowadays."
Working through village committees, the ILO and its partners have expanded their activities to include a range of technically simple projects that benefit the returnees, such as brick-making and road upgrading.
"The committees are put in charge of the resources, with communities providing contributions mainly in the form of labor," said Abdikarim Egeh, ILO programme officer. "This creates a sense of local ownership of the projects."
The initiative is also addressing rampant unemployment by involving community members in labor-intensive projects where an unskilled laborer is paid US$3 per day and skilled laborers are paid $8. Women too participate in some of the projects.
"It is a way of putting money in people's pockets," said Andrea Berloffa, field officer with the European Union.
Egeh said the money was being channeled back into the community, with most people establishing petty trades from the income. Community contracting was also stimulating economic growth by improving market access due to the upgrading of roads; such as the Ali-haydh road in the Awdal region - one of the main transit routes to Djibouti.
The ILO is also involved in environmental - water and soil conservation - projects, as well as small and medium enterprises. According to officials, its community contracting initiatives have been especially successful within rural settings.
However, there are challenges, especially relating to sustainability. According to the country programme manager for Somalia/Somaliland for Oxfam GB, Peter Kisopia, there is a need for capacity-building to ensure sustainability once supporting organizations leave.
"We should build skills to improve project management sustainability by balancing infrastructure development with that of skilled manpower," Kisopia said.
"There is a need to prepare communities to sustain infrastructure such as roads; otherwise this ends up being a waste of money. If you dig a road and there is no proper maintenance it becomes an erosion path," he added.
The challenge is even greater in a situation where there is no functional local authority or the government lacks the funds to sustain the projects, as in Somaliland.
"There is a need for small-scale projects that are locally sustainable and that communities are comfortably able to sustain," he said, "In my opinion, helping 20 or 30 families get out of poverty is a better approach."
The head of UN World Food Programme’s Hargeysa sub-office, Amadou Samake, said follow-up was needed "because even if you give the local people the skills to manage a project, this will not be sustainable without funds".
Admittedly, there was a need for an exit strategy when the project ended, but with a proper follow-up mechanism in place, he added.
Gathered at a stake-holder meeting on 25 June in Burao, the beneficiaries were excited to be moving into their new houses but suggested they should be made bigger.
"The two-roomed houses are still insufficient due to the large size of an average Somali family," Abdi Hussein Said, the governor of Burao told the gathering.
Alongside him, Mohamed Jama Farah, director-general of the ministry of environment and pastoral development in Somaliland, called for programmes that also considered the environment. "The environment here is very fragile and there is rampant cutting down trees for charcoal production for export, especially to Yemen," he said.
"There is also insufficient ground cover to hold water and prevent erosion, leading to recurrent floods, which destroy people's livelihoods," he added.
Many at the meeting agreed with him, saying most of the problems facing the communities were associated with environmental and climatic conditions and needed to be urgently addressed.
They cited recurrent drought and flooding, which they said had led to destitution and loss of livelihoods.
Kisopia said this called for disaster preparedness and mitigation through the development of early warning systems - something that could not be done in two or three years. "There is a need for long-term commitment," he said.