How can drought-parched Somalia break out of an endless crisis?
Some efforts in the region to build greater resilience to climate threats may provide a model for action in Somalia
A man looks at the carcasses of animals that died due to the El Nino-related drought in the town of Marodijeex in southern Hargeysa, in northern Somalia’s semi-autonomous region of Northern Somalia, April 7, 2016. Picture taken April 7, 2016. REUTERS/Feisal Omar
Development cash and humanitarian aid have poured into crisis-ridden Somalia in recent years, but Hassan Mowlid Yasin – head of a climate change nonprofit – has seen little spending that he believes would build lasting resilience against worsening drought.
Emergencies have arrived, he said, but not enough cash to finance the changes drought-hit herders say they want, such as better rainwater collection systems and deep wells with solar panels to help draw up scarce water.
“It’s better to be resilient than in an emergency,” said Yasin, executive director of the Somali Greenpeace Association, a non-profit organization that since 2019 has been supporting communities to better understand climate threats – and develop their own solutions.
Locals “often know much better how to adapt,” the 30-year-old said in an interview.
“When we ask a farmer (what to do), he says a well must be built for him so he doesn’t have to leave.”
Over the past half decade, Somalia has received roughly $2 billion a year in development aid and humanitarian aid from abroad, UN figures show.
But after four failed rainy seasons in a row, more than 7 million people – or 44 percent of the population – face acute food insecurity, with more than 200,000 on the brink of starvation, according to the UN’s World Food Program (WFP).
The nation in the Horn of Africa – populated mainly by nomadic pastoralists and torn by decades of civil war, worsening drought and economic misery – has long struggled to emerge from a seemingly perpetual crisis.
But Yasin said he has a pretty clear idea of why things aren’t changing, having worked with about 2,000 young people in the country on efforts to build resilience to climate change.
“It’s about the money,” he said.
“When you ask donors for help, there are many requirements and conditions: ‘Have you worked for 10 years with this’?”
The restrictions, designed to ensure that money is used well, effectively exclude local organizations from accessing the funds they need to make local priorities a reality, Yasin explained.
To build a more resilient Somalia, “we need to change the narrative that local people don’t have the capacity to manage finance,” he said.
MONEY IN HAND
One way to channel more money to local priorities is to offer direct cash transfers to those at risk during drought, to help them avoid losing vital assets – like their last livestock – and falling into an irreversible downward spiral .
Such “pre-emptive action” – or providing aid when a crisis is still on the horizon – can help avoid large expenditures later on food aid and other support for those blighted by disasters including drought, according to resilience experts.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has estimated that every dollar it has spent on preventive measures has provided $7 in benefits and avoided losses to families.
Such savings are crucial as climate disasters become more frequent and severe, with humanitarian aid increasingly unable to meet demand, and a new UN-backed fund to cover “losses and damages” from climate change still being established.
But funders are often reluctant to commit money to places like Somalia for fear it could be misused, said Clare Shakya, director of climate change research at the London-based International Institute for Environment Development (IIED).
“As soon as you get into conditions where it’s considered fragile in some way, there’s a sense that you have to control it so that no funds are lost or misused for things like terrorist activities,” said Shakya, whose work focuses on making climate finance more inclusive and fair.
“Donors are asking, ‘What is this funding going to buy?’. They don’t want to give a cash transfer and trust communities to know what they need,” she said in an interview.
The result, as early money to help families cope with worsening drought falls short, is that humanitarian aid spending for those hard-hit by disasters increases and budgets for building resilience disappear.
“The prevention agenda, the resilience agenda, will be left behind. There is no budget space to experiment,” Gernot Laganda, WFP’s climate and disaster risk manager, warned in an interview.
Ahmed Amdihun, who coordinates disaster risk management efforts for a climate prediction center under the East African Intergovernmental Authority on Development, said he also saw development and resilience efforts falter amid unrelenting drought.
“We deal with the crises, the emergency rather than (predicting),” he said during an online event. “It always has a consequence.”
IDEAS FOR CHANGE
Some efforts in the region to build greater resilience to climate threats could provide a model for action in Somalia, IIED’s Shakya said.
Since 2005, Ethiopia has operated a productive safety net program, which pays food-insecure rural communities to plant trees, restore damaged land and water channels, and help build public infrastructure.
The initiative – designed to replace food aid – has helped reduce hunger, restore water supplies, build greater resilience to drought and support agriculture and local economies.
In turn, Kenya’s government has made a decision to push much more climate and development money to local governments, leaving them to decide how best to spend it.
That has led to some innovative efforts to, among other things, reduce conflict between communities near water in arid northern Kenya, according to Shakya.
A range of aid donors – from the US and the Netherlands to Norway and Finland – are similarly thinking about how to deliver more money directly to local communities, she said.
In Somalia, finding ways to channel cash donations and remittances sent by a large overseas Somali population into a more effective social protection system could also be a way to increase resilience, Shakya added.
“Even in fragile contexts, you can still do things in a different way,” she noted.
Yasin, of the Somali Greenpeace Association, said that with increasing losses in Somalia, change could not come fast enough.
As livestock deaths, displacement and hunger increase, and the drought shows little sign of letting up, the country’s basic livestock-based economy is at risk, he said.
“If we don’t protect the cattle, most of the people will be unemployed, many of the people will die of hunger,” he warned.
“Our president is saying that if we don’t stop the climate crisis in Somalia, it will not only affect Somalia, it will cross borders,” he added – including as more families migrate and the need for internationally funded humanitarian aid increases.
Building greater resilience now, by focusing on what local people affected by the drought believe will best help them adapt, is critical, Yasin said.
“If we don’t put plans in place, we always end up at the same point: Need international support,” he said.