Here’s a list Africa‘ s eastern edge, multiple crises have conspired to create a dire humanitarian emergency – political instability; recurrent climate shocks; decades of conflict resulting in large-scale displacement of people; the impacts of the Covid pandemic; and a prolonged desert locust infestation that has affected crop yields, harvests, and pasture.
While it may be impossible to draw a ‘cause and effect’ relationship between climate change and any specific weather event, there can be little doubt that the current unprecedented drought has been fuelled by broader climatic change.
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Consider that, in an average year along Somalia’s northern and northeast coasts, rainfall measures in the range of just 50 to 300 millimetres – most years, Edinburgh, by comparison, receives some 800mm of rain.
After three straight droughts, almost 90 percent of Somalia has been in severe drought. A fourth consecutive year of drought would be the worst in the past decade. In fact, some areas are experiencing their driest season for four decades.
The devastation that follows is severe for an economy that depends mainly on agriculture and livestock. So much so that the United Nations believes that by May of this year, 4.6 million Somalis – approximately 30 per cent of the country’s population – will be without enough food, and an estimated 7.7 million Somalis will need some form of humanitarian assistance.
About 1.2 million children below the age of 5 are likely to be severely malnourished by May. This includes more than 200 000 children whose condition could become life-threatening if they are not treated immediately.
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The anguish experienced in the hardest-hit areas is already intense. Many families have lost everything and farmers have moved their herds hundreds kilometres to find pasture.
These animals are the ones that survive. They are allowed to eat cactus and other toxic plants.
I met two women in Lower Juba who had left their husbands to look after their herds. These women and their families were living in makeshift shelters near towns without food, water or sanitation. They are constantly in a constant struggle for survival.
As dire as things are right now, the next months will be worse for Somalians as the drought continues to worsen and food and water supplies dwindle. But, the international community can quickly save lives and preserve livelihoods to alleviate the suffering.
Mercy Corps, my organization, has been working in Somalia since 2005. Today, we provide emergency cash and food to those most affected by the drought. We also transport emergency water supplies to remote villages for the livestock and communities. We reached more than 700,000 people last year with emergency assistance.
To prevent mass starvation and death, however, more needs to be done. The United Nations-led humanitarian plan for this year seeks US$1.5 billion to aid 5.5 million Somalis in greatest need. Last year’s appeal of $1.09 billion was only 71 per cent funded.
We must save lives and stop the situation getting worse. However, in an age of constant crisis, emergency response efforts must also help communities recover from future shocks. This includes the creation of local markets to accelerate and scale up economic recovery.
Although it is important to provide water and food when there is none, local businesses who know their customers and communities best are often the most responsive to changing needs.
They can use local networks to gain access in ways aid agencies often cannot. We also see that they often return to work quickly.
That is why, when markets are functioning, transitioning to providing emergency cash – rather than food – is critical, as it not only enables people to purchase what they need most but also helps keep local economies going.
Mercy Corps can provide emergency financial and technical assistance that can help local businesses survive and grow stronger to withstand any future shocks. These markets are an effective way to address poverty and serve as vital drivers for recovery and growth.
The humanitarian crisis in Somalia is without doubt one of the most complex and difficult on the planet. It will not be easy to solve, but it can be managed with international attention and the marshalling resources to help Somalia withstand the looming drought and build their resilience to future and ongoing crises.
We are witnessing firsthand the consequences of not doing enough to protect the planet’s changing climate here in Somalia. We have not been able to save the planet, but the next months in Somalia will prove if we are better equipped and more willing to work together to protect its most vulnerable citizens.
Daud Jiran is the country manager for Somalia for Mercy Corps International Aid Organisation.