Fatima Jama Jibrell, Somalia

Photo: Fatima Jama Jibrell

Photograph by Becky Hale

Fatima Jibrell, one of Somalia’s preeminent environmental activists, is the founder of Horn Relief, an African-led nonprofit organization established in 1991 in response to Somalia’s devastating humanitarian crisis and civil war. The organization mobilizes local and international resources to protect the fragile pastoral environment in Somalia. Through her work with Horn Relief, Jibrell introduced the “rock dam” approach to environmental issues. A rock dam is composed of rocks piled together to stop soil erosion and formation of gullies. By slowing down the flow of water during the brief rainy season, the rock dams gather soil and create conditions that allow plants and even small trees to germinate. Jibrell has encouraged community groups throughout Somalia to build rock dams to carefully nurture the country’s harsh, arid environment in order to bring forth shrubs and other plants. She has concentrated much of her efforts on the Sool and Sanaag regions of Somalia, which suffer severe droughts due to climate change and desertification.

In 2004 Jibrell co-founded Sun Fire Cooking, which has introduced affordable solar cooking to the Somali people and, most importantly, substantially reduced the cutting of Somalia’s limited acacia forest for charcoal. She recently delivered 950 solar cookers to the people of Bender Beyler—making it the first solar cooking village in the world. The use of solar cooking helps save money, which can then be used for food, school fees, and healthcare. It also means no charcoal, no soot, and no smoke, hence protecting the environment and decreasing forest exploitation.

Jibrell is also one of the founders of Women Network in Somalia (WAWA), Peace and Human Rights Network, and Natural Resource Management Network—all geared towards improving the lives of the people in Somalia. Additionally, she designed and implemented the Pastoral Youth Leadership Program, which teaches skills to local youth on literacy, leadership, animal health, human health, and the environment. Currently she is working to conserve and protect the Almadow forest, where wildlife such as leopards, cheetahs, mountain lions, and many bird species are near extinction because of hunting and habitat destruction.

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