Local Coverage, Global Perspective

Severe Droughts in Somalia amid Climate Change

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Suldan Mohamed

As the waters evaporate due to the sizzling heat of the sun, so have the hopes and dreams of hundreds of thousands of traditional nomadic and farmer communities of Somalia.

Crop harvest has been destroyed, livestock have died.

For these people, their only means to survive in a country with limited job prospects and opportunities has been lost to the very environment they have relied on for so long.

According to experts, Somalia is experiencing its worst drought crisis in a decade, with millions of Somalis going hungry and being forced from their homes in search of food and water across other parts of Somalia. We have seen dozens of IDPs camps prop up across southern and central Somalia as more families flee the countryside.

The drought kicked in during a difficult period for Somalia. Political instability coupled with the impact of COVID-19 pandemic has made Somalia’s situation all the direr. Even before the current drought, an estimated 7.7 million Somalis were in need of humanitarian assistance and protection this year – up 30 percent in on year according to Save the Children Somalia.

To quantify the severity of the crisis, let’s take a look at recent assessments of Somalia.

The international charity Save the Children conducted an assessment of over 12,000 Somalis from 15 out 18 regions across Somalia and found:

Save the Children assessment of over 12,000 people from 15 of 18 regions across Somalia reveals:

  • 70% of households do not have enough food to eat
  • Nearly 700,000 camels, goats, sheep and cattle died from drought-related causes over two months

Somalia has experienced three major drought crises in the past decade; in 2011/12, 2016/2017, and now in 2021/22.

In the 2011-2012 drought crisis, 3.7 million people were experiencing crisis levels of food insecurity according to the UN. A slow global response to the early warnings of that famine led to at least 260,000 people, half of them under the age of 6, dying from hunger and related conditions across the Horn of Africa. By the end of the crisis, only 56% of the UN funding appeal set up to meet the staggering needs in Somalia had been met by donors.

In the 2016-2017 drought crisis, over 2.9 million people faced crisis-to emergency-level food insecurity according to the UN. A faster and more substantive global response led to lives being saved. By the end of the crisis, 68% of the new UN funding appeal had been met by donors.

This year, latest food security projections show that an estimate 4.6 million Somalis faced crisis-to emergency-level food insecurity from February to May 2022 according to the UN. Critically, only 2.3% of the current UN appeal to respond to the crisis has been met by donors.

At least US $1.5 billion is needed to protect vulnerable children and their families across Somalia, and give them the food, healthcare, education and water they need to get through this crisis.

There have been four seasons of failed rains and temperatures remain unbearably high – 90% of the country is dry according to UN estimates.

So what are some of the reasons aside from instability and lack of funds as to why droughts to continue to recur?

  • Climate Change

Climate change has played a significant role in making droughts in the Horn of Africa more intense and rain less predictable. In fact, the Earth’s temperature has already risen by 1.1 degrees and unfortunately, Somalia is listed as one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to this change in climate. It is predicted that Somalia’s temperature will increased by 3 degrees by the end of this century.

The change in climate is due to emissions from developed countries, mainly western countries and China however rarely has this resulted in an increased in the sense of responsibility or support for countries grappling with the affects of industrialisation elsewhere in the globe.

Let’s take the UK for example. The UK has a population of just over four times that of Somalia, but it produces 520 times the emission according to World Bank figures. A staggering figure.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an average of more than 20 million people a year have been displaced by extreme weather events since 2008. Somalia is no different as we recently seen the newly elected President, Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud visit IDPs camps in Baydhabo- the transitional capital of South West State Somalia.

  • Deforestation

The UN Convention to Combat Desertification, known as UNCCD, says an estimated 8.2 million trees were cut down for charcoal in Somalia between 2011 and 2017, increasing land degradation, food insecurity and vulnerability to drought.

We all remember the recent Emirati ship that departed from Somalia illegally smuggled coal to Oman where it was detained.

The ship known as MV Fox was reported to have been carrying 4,425 MT of charcoal in the form of 25kg bags. The ship, originally from the United Arab Emirates is reported to have left the Jubaland region of Somalia, highlighting the scale of the on-going crisis.

UN Security Council Resolution 2036 adopted in 2012 banned the export of charcoal from Somalia. Nevertheless, large amounts of charcoal are illegally produced in southern and central Somalia to be exported to Gulf States.

Despite this, nearly 2 million trees are cut every year in the trade worth $120 million a year according to the UN. The UN also named the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman as the key purchasers of this illicit coal.

Of the $120 million, at least $10 million are siphoned off by the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Shabaab, with a large sum also taken by rogue AMISOM soldiers under the alleged KDF banner that oversee security in Kismaayo through bribery. Some of the coal has been allegedly transported to Kenya itself.

According to a multitude of reports released by varies international organisation, the KDF allegedly heavily benefits from the illegal coal and sugar trade that takes place in Kismaayo.

In a report by researcher Ben Rawlence for Journalists for Justice demonstrates the peak of the illegal trade in 2015:

  • He found that the KDF levied $2 tax on every bag of sugar and charcoal
  • He also found that the illegal trade brings in 10s of millions of dollars per year for parties involved.
  • Rawlence went so far as to say that the actions of the KDF directly benefit Al-Shabaab financially.

This lucrative business is at the expense of Somalia’s nomadic and farming population as the cutting of trees directly results in desertification and lose of biodiversity and ecosystems. 

So what has the Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud government done thus far?

In May, President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud appointed MP and former 2022 Presidential Candidate Abdirahman Abdishakur as the Villa Somalia’s Special Envoy for Droughts.

Alongside the President, the Special Envoy visited South West State Somalia and Galmudug to see the affects of the droughts first hand as well as assessing the immediate aid and support required for victims on the ground.

The Special Envoy has also made appeals to the international community to increase financial support to the Somali Government as it struggles to tackle the worst drought Somalia has faced in a decade.

The United Arab Emirates recently donated $9.6 million which was initially confiscated by the Farmaajo administration due to the illegality of transport to Somalia. However, The Daily Jubba cannot fully confirm whether this money has been used for drought relief at this time.

On 12th June, the Presidential Special Envoy, Abdirahman Abdishakur met with the Speaker of the House of the People, Adan Madobe requesting an immediate investigation into why the caretaker government led by PM Roble has failed to provide a quota or further details on the use of the $9.6M for the droughts as well as the $1M pledged by his government (previous government) which is yet to be seen.

Developing the Presidential Special Envoy to Droughts

The idea of a Special Envoy for Droughts is great. It demonstrates the determination of the Mahmoud administration to deal with the crisis. However, the Envoy must be more than just an appeal or charity organisation seeking funds. It must develop itself from drought funding to drought resolution.

This could include:

  • Finding local solutions to local problems.
  • Development of industries valuable to tackling droughts such as fisheries and agriculture
  • Developing national programmes with Federal Member States’ to find a coherent national plan.

While it is important that we provide immediate relief for victims, we must also simultaneously continue the search for a long-term solution to the recurring crisis in Somalia.

So, what next for Somalia and the crisis?

The drought crisis will not disappear. Climate change coupled with a lack of effective government, funding and continued deforestation means that the droughts will only get worse.

While neighbouring countries are equally experiencing droughts, Somalia is the only suffering such large scale famine, death and displacement. This is directly due to the inability of the Federal Government to exercise its power in relieving victims and providing the necessary support needed.

For Somalia to overcome this recurring issue it must:

  • Develop a coherent plan to find immediate and long-term causes of the drought
  • Developing effective government in both state and federal level
  • Tackle insecurity and instability in the drought stricken regions
  • Tackle rampant local level corruption which hinders the finances of donors reaching the intended populations.

Suldan is political analyst, podcaster and presenter interested in everything Somali! If you are too, feel free to contact him https://twitter.com/SuldanMohamed_

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