Climate Shocks Worsening Somalia’s Development

The recent floods in Somalia have disrupted law and order and displaced over 370,000 people, with the UN estimating just under half a million people to have been affected. Farming communities have been wiped off the map and many remain without food, water or shelter. The crisis contrasts sharply with events earlier this year when the nation faced one of the driest seasons on record.
The Gu (rainy) season produced some of the lowest cereal harvests in decades and rainfall fell well below expectations. Somalia is experiencing continuous waves of climatic shocks; the region is described as one of the worst-affected areas subject to climate change, with the UNDP stating that “the country is highly vulnerable to the current and future impacts of climate change.
This vulnerability is further compounded by the fact that the country is coastal, low-lying, poor and disrupted by war.” With the world climate expected to become more extreme, these shocks are expected to increase in both frequency and severity, while Somalia already suffers from problems of desertification, overgrazing and deforestation.

Nasra Ismail, director for the Somalian NGO Consortium which consists of over 80 NGOs, described the crisis as “a global responsibility. Climatic shocks are not a local phenomenon but a manifestation of the growing environmental emergency.” According to UN estimates, 2 million people remain food-insecure with climate change wreaking havoc upon the region through a series of droughts, floods, and heatwaves, heightening the already violent situation. The country has found itself in a perpetual cycle, resulting in a steady flow of international attention; with almost three decades of disease and extreme weather, the armed conflict has worsened, disrupting the flow of resources, and displacing millions within and around Somalia. The New Humanitarian reports that the failure of seasonal rains affects the livelihoods of its farming communities, on top of clan-based violence and terrorist activities under groups like al-Shabab. Local efforts combatting climate change remain disorganised, with war, corruption and poverty hindering climate-adaptive initiatives in the country; Considering each climatic shock reduces the people’s ability to recover, the situation will only continue to worsen.

In 2018 alone, The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) reported that 880,000 Somalis have been displaced, 300,000 from violence, and 500,000 from flooding or drought due to climatic shocks. The holding capacity of many of Somalia’s rivers has fallen, considering that river levels rise as high as 8 metres in some areas according to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). OCHA reports that over half the population remains incredibly vulnerable. Three decades of conflict continue to displace civilian populations, farming communities are getting sucked into tribal conflicts decreasing overall production, and humanitarian organisations are facing a challenging, often hostile environment. Considering the recent floods, OCHA reported that “Farmland, infrastructure and roads have been destroyed, and livelihoods disrupted in some of the worst-hit areas.” Despite the at least 105,000 affected people, large swaths of territory have had no assistance. Crucial to Somalia’s old government was its system of canals which ensured irrigation to farming communities, however perpetual violence has brought them into disrepair.

In the aftermath of the 2016 – 2017 drought, the new government announced a climate emergency proposing new government policies which were widely supported by the EU, UN, and the World Bank, with the central goal of reestablishing the canal system. Water management is central to the crisis, either through flooding or drought: direct action is required for rebuilding and protecting its infrastructure. Although helping to overcome the seemingly complex and difficult challenges with regard to Somalia’s poverty, its reliance on international aid and the absence of long-term goals doesn’t bolster any effective climate action. Somalia remains one of the poorest countries in the world with long-lasting change requiring effective international action. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) coordinator Andrew Lanyon argues that “If we want to talk about the longer-term solutions that are going to help Somalia better adapt to climate volatility and climate change, that is going to take multi-year investments.” Currently the FAO is running projects rehabilitating irrigation systems and water catchment areas although Lanyon notes that current efforts fall short of resolving Somalia’s water crisis.

Written by Jonno McPike, Student at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. Focusing on education policy and its role within foreign aid.