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Daka Yusef is tall, standing at around 5’ft’10 and, although she wears a loose-fitting abaya, you can tell that she has broad, strong shoulders. She holds herself the way people who have laboured hard their whole lives hold themselves. Rod-straight back, firmly poised.

Daka lives in the remote village of Jab-dhurwa, on the outskirts of Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland.

Daka Yusef standing in front of her home in Jab-dhurwa village, Somaliland. She cares for her family, 11 people in total, on her sole income as a charcoal labourer. Peter Caton/Australian Red Cross

A catastrophic combination of climate change, poverty, political instability and conflict plays out to devastating effect here.

Somaliland, along with much of East Africa, has been decimated by four consecutive years of drought, which has brought many countries to the brink of famine.

Tens of millions of people across the region are in desperate need of food, with 3.3 million (roughly the size of Brisbane and Perth combined) in Somaliland alone. Around half of those are children.

Severe acute malnutrition is rife, diseases such as measles have reached epidemic levels, and ongoing conflict has forced 1.5 million people from their homes.

The International Federation of Red Cross predicts that without a major international relief effort, parts of the country will fall into famine. Fears are growing that it could be a repeat of the 2011 famine, where over 260,000 people died.

Villages like Jab-dhurwa carry the most severe scars of the drought. Earth so dry it cracks beneath your feet, the only vegetation thick thorny bushes. Women forced to walk an hour in the blistering sun to fetch water that is often contaminated.

Cracked earth in Somaliland. Peter Caton/Australian Red Cross

Daka and her family were forced to move here four years ago from Hargeisa, due to the high cost of living. When they first moved Daka managed to make a living by opening a tea shop.

She smiles when she talks of it. She says she had the best tea in town, that her special Somali tea recipes brought lots of customers to her shop. You can see the pride emanating from her as she talks. When asked what her secret was to making such good tea she just smiles and laughs softly, refusing to give up her secrets.

But as the drought intensified year after year, people moved away, her livestock died and she eventually had to close her shop.

She now works in charcoal production. It’s back breaking labour where she cuts down trees, burns them and then sells them in the city.

The charcoal production industry is a triple threat in a country that already suffers from natural disasters and political unrest. It creates irreversible environmental degradation, it sustains ongoing conflict and it creates widespread dependence on an unsustainable livelihood option. The United Nations has banned its export from Somaliland.

Charcoal collection in Somaliland. People are forced to work in charcoal production to make a living. Even though they are aware that cutting down trees is contributing to the severity of the drought they are left with no other option. Peter Caton/Australian Red Cross

Daka is acutely aware that her job makes the drought worse. When asked about this she replies bluntly; she doesn’t have any other options.

She takes care of her entire family on her sole income. Her daughter Ikram, three grandchildren, her brother and his two sons - who suffer from mental health issues - her mother as well as two orphaned nieces – all in the one household, no bigger than your average Australian living room.

But Daka and her family are not entirely on their own. Somaliland Red Crescent’s mobile heath teams come twice per month to the village. They are its only health care service.

People line up all day to get treatment but the wait is worth it.

Families wait patiently for their turn to be treated at a SRCS mobile health clinic. The mobile health clinic comes twice a month to provide vaccinations, supplements for malnourished children and maternal health care. Peter Caton/Australian Red Cross

A basic set-up that consists of a 4WD packed with medication, vaccination and supplements, a local doctor, nurse and midwife. It is deceptively simple in its operation, but they are a life-saver for many.

Especially so for Ikram, Daka’s 22-year-old daughter who is a haemophiliac. The chronic and complicated condition weighs heavy on the family but the mobile health clinics are able to manage her condition and transfer her to Hargeisa hospital when needed.

Ikram is 22 years old and a mother of three. She accesses the SRCS mobile health clinics whenever they come to her village. Though her family are finding it difficult dealing with the drought and food crisis she takes solace in the fact that her children are in good health. Peter Caton/Australian Red Cross

It is obvious the bond between mother and daughter is strong. When Ikram talks of her mother, of her sacrifices and hard work for her family, she is unable to look up, her voice dropping to an almost inaudible whisper.

She says wishes that her mother no longer had to work in charcoal production. She says she wants a better life for her. She says that their situation is very bad, that life is difficult. She says all they want is to be able to eat.

But despite all this, the Yusefs are actually one of the lucky families.

Through the mobile health clinics, Ikram’s children were vaccinated, given medications and supplements, and were even found to be in a healthy weight range – something of a rarity in this part of the world.

Ikram and her children are able to access life-saving healthcare twice per month thanks to the mobile health clinics. Peter Caton/Australian Red Cross

It may seem disingenuous to call the Yusefs one of the lucky families. But the reality is, many families here live on a knife’s edge between barely getting by and falling into an inescapable trap of poverty and starvation.

What Red Cross and Red Crescent do here: the mobile health clinics, the community water point rehabilitations, the water and sanitation distributions, the cash grants, the food and shelter kits keep many families from falling into that inescapable trap.

Ikram fetches water with her two children, Sagal and Awal while grandmother Daka looks on. Peter Caton/Australian Red Cross

When asked if she had ever gone without food herself in order to feed her children Ikram delivers a short sharp almost-laugh, and simply replies “of course.” When asked if her mother Daka had ever gone without food for herself in order to feed Ikram and her siblings when they were younger; again, she simply replies “of course” and one suspects that when Ikram’s three-year-old daughter Sagal grows up and has children of her own, she too will do the same. Of course.

But what makes the Yusefs truly lucky – perhaps even more than the support from Red Cross Red Crescent - is their strength, their courage, their sheer determination.

These women, doing everything they can to help their family survive.

The Yusef women from left to right: Hoodo Ahmed; Hamda Muhammed; Awal Yusef; Ikram Yusef; Sagal Yusef; Daka Yusef; Asma Muhammad. Peter Caton/Australian Red Cross

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