We Must Not Turn Our Backs on Somalia
Famine has, once again, come to Somalia, a country on the Horn of Africa which has had its fair share of turmoil over the past few decades. While there has been no official declaration of a famine yet (as of October 16, 2022), the UN’s humanitarian chief, Martin Griffiths, remarked: “I have no doubt that we are seeing famine on our watch in Somalia.” In an interview with Al Jazeera, he decried the injustice of the climate crisis-induced disaster. “Nobody in Somalia is responsible for the catastrophe – this fourth failed rainy season, this fifth and sixth to come.” Somalia, like many of its neighbouring countries, have borne the brunt of the effects of climate change in the region with erratic rainfall patterns destroying livelihoods and forcing civilians from their home in search of water and food.
A famine in 2011 killed nearly 260,000 people in Somalia, and 100,000 of those people died before famine was officially declared. The same is happening again and there are widespread fears that it will be worse this time. Griffiths warned that people left behind could be in even more desperate situations than those who have managed to reach camps for the internally displaced. According to the latest UN figures, at least 41% of Somalia’s population of just under 16 million will face acute food insecurity between now and December 2022. This number could rise quickly if the world turns their back on an escalating and dire humanitarian catastrophe. Worse still, an estimated 1.5 million children under five face acute malnutrition.
With Somalia on track for a fifth failed rainy season, there have been no crops in the fields for more than two years. Some people in El-Jaalle camp, an overcrowded settlement in southern Somalia, say they will return to their farms when the rains come, but it is likely many of them will be stuck in the camp for years. There is also fear of returning to areas under the control of al-Shabaab. These militants have tried to stop people from leaving their homes, accusing them of supporting the government and acting as spies. As they are faced with fear and daily insecurity, the people of Somalia must not be forgotten.
The UK’s Lost Leadership Role
Where is the United Kingdom among all these warnings from the UN about another catastrophe about to unfold? In early October 2022, a Somalia government official speaking to the Guardian, stated that the UK has lost its leadership role in the world and is letting down its allies. Abdirahman Abdishakur Warsame, the presidential envoy for Somalia’s drought response, said Britain used to be second only to the US as a key player in international forums and advocacy, but has since slipped, saying that countries such as Somalia were being left without support to face ‘the new climate reality’. In addition, he stated that support from countries such as the UK (as Somalia received in 2017 during the last major drought in the country) was essential for Somalia to navigate its way out of this humanitarian crisis. Warsame stated that “if we had not had Ukraine, Covid and the locust invasion then the effect might be less, but the drought is caused by climate change. We have had four failed rainy seasons now. The cycle of drought used to be every 10 years, now it’s four years and soon it will be two years.
“That is not caused by Somalia – that was caused by the climate crisis.”
Earlier this year, the UK declared that they were providing a £25 million aid package for Somalia to help it avoid widespread famine but aid organisations including Oxfam and Save the Children said that the government should provide at least £900 million to avert starvation not just in Somalia but in other African countries.
The then-Minister for Africa and then Minister for Development (a new position created by then Prime Minister Liz Truss) Vicky Ford remains committed to advocating to the international community that they needed to stand with the people of Somalia. It is worth noting that UK aid to Kenya, Ethiopia, South Sudan – countries which are also on the brink of declaring famine in some of their regions – as well as to Somalia has almost halved in the past year alone due to cuts in the international aid budget. It is evident that these cuts will have long term effects on some of the world’s most vulnerable people, including those in Somalia.
The Ukraine crisis has placed additional demand on dwindling aid funds while the war’s effect on global food and commodity prices looks set to exacerbate hunger in East Africa; the region imports 90 per cent of its wheat. Drawing on the international community’s support for Ukraine, Oxfam said the UK’s promise of £400m in humanitarian and economic aid to the war-torn eastern European country shows “that the world can act swiftly and generously” where there is “political will”. “Help for one crisis should not come at the expense of lives elsewhere in the world. Five years ago, the UK helped avert widespread catastrophe in East Africa. It needs to do the same again now.”
How can we help Somalia?
Sarah Champion, the Chair of the UK’s International Development Select Committee, was vocal in an open letter in The Telegraph with Sadia Allin, Country Director of Plan International Somalia; they made it clear that acting now could save millions of lives and protect the futures of young people, including girls and young women, a cause former Prime Minister Liz Truss talked about as close to her heart.
There are several ways in which we can help us create an awareness of the rapidly unfolding events in Somalia:
- First, we can donate to Plan UK’s hunger crisis children’s emergency appeal. A single donation of £28 can provide four children with school meals for a month, guaranteeing them a regular meal.
- Second, Christian Aid are running a fundraising campaign to raise funds to support those facing extreme hunger in the Horn of Africa. Working with local partners in the region, this international NGO is trying to ensure that the most vulnerable are supported, such as by repairing wells and trucking water to drought-affected communities.
- Third, we can write to our MPs, calling on the Prime Minister to drive a strong global response to potential famine and starvation in Somalia and the wider East Africa region. The UK has been swift to respond to the Ukraine crisis, but will it now show the same dedication to Somalia? The UK’s response to the drought in Somalia 2017 was crucially important and it is vital that they show the same level of commitment once again.
In addition, the devastating aid cuts which have affected people in Somalia and the wider Horn of Africa region must be reversed. The funds allocated to Somalia by the UK are not enough and the Prime Minister must acknowledge that the only moral choice is to step up and act.
We must also be aware that we cannot simply be responding to the drought alone, which is a knock-on effect of the climate crisis. The UK must work with the Somali government to focus on climate adaptation. The agro-pastoral sector is the country’s main economic driver, and the basis for the bulk of Somali livelihoods. Investing in sustainable water infrastructure and livelihood diversification is a must.
International funding and action must catch up with the escalating need and save lives. We cannot simply wait for emergencies to develop and deepen. We must instead act earlier and at sufficient scale through greater collaboration between governments, development, humanitarian, peace, and climate organisations.
With climate catastrophe threatening a future of increased crises, we cannot fail again to support those who need it the most.
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