Somalia could be on the brink of another famine | Opinions
In July 2011, the United Nations declared a famine in Somalia, which caught the attention of major media outlets around the world. This statement was released during the holy month of Ramadan, which gave it additional resonance in the Muslim world and contributed to massive fundraising efforts.
While the UN announcement helped mobilize people and governments around the world, the international community saw it as having arrived too late, causing a delay in scaling up humanitarian assistance. An estimated 258,000 people – mostly women and children – have lost their lives as a result of the delay in global action.
In late 2016, warnings of another potential famine were issued, sounding the alarm bells in donor capitals. Memories of the tragic events of 2011 were still fresh, allowing funds to be raised earlier than in 2011, but not soon enough, as some 45,000 people died.
In view of these painful past experiences, we are writing to you now to warn of a possible new famine. Based on observations, publicly available reports and consultations within our networks – both Somali and international – we have gathered enough evidence to suggest that a significant portion of the Somali population is facing a food crisis. major. We are extremely concerned that the humanitarian system will be too slow to respond, which could again lead to the deaths of many Somalis.
Echoes of 2011
In 2012-13, we conducted research on the 2011 famine, which confirmed that the UN declaration on famine came too late. The famine itself had likely started in March or April that year and was caused by a combination of factors, including consecutive droughts, high global and national food prices, and a very poor local grain harvest.
There was also politics at stake: at the time, the militant group al-Shabab was engaged in a conflict with the nascent Somali government and its international supporters. Its designation as a terrorist group limited the reach of Western humanitarian aid to the areas it controlled.
Today, like what happened in 2011, there have been at least two successive severe rains combined with a very poor grain harvest. In addition, Somalia is rocked by political instability and conflict, while the international community is distracted by the COVID-19 pandemic, both of which can slow the humanitarian response and reduce the availability and distribution of funds.
We are also already seeing the first signs of a potential famine in terms of social mobilization and migration. In our research, we documented how, before the famine declared in 2011, businesses and religious leaders in Somalia and Kenya had been very active in raising funds and sending those resources to those in need. . Mosques had become channels for money collected abroad.
On the ground, families had sent children and the elderly to towns where help was more likely to arrive while boys and men often left with the pets they kept to try and keep them safe. life. When people had no other options in their area, they had walked for days into Ethiopia and Kenya asking for help. Many people had died on these trips.
Today we see these same patterns reappearing. Somalis at home and abroad have already responded to the evolving crisis. The epicenter of the current drought appears to be in what is known as the Mandera Triangle, where the corners of Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya meet. But there are also other areas that are suffering, notably on both sides of the Somali-Kenya border, as well as the main grain-growing areas of the South West state.
Aydrus Daar, the head of the Kenano-Somali NGO Wasda, which works in the border areas between Somalia and Kenya, told us that the herds of cattle have already been decimated and that fundraising, especially for trucking water and food, with Somali businesses and diaspora communities in these areas started about five to six months ago. He confirmed that there had been an almost complete failure of the seasonal rains known as Gu, which normally fall from April to June. Deyr’s rains, which fall from October to December, were also unsuccessful.
Daar’s NGO received modest and sporadic support from some international donors due to the drought. He claims he’s never seen anything like it for 30 to 40 years, with wild animals encroaching on people’s homes in search of water.
In northern Jubbaland, Paul Healy, the country director of Irish NGO TrÃ³caire, which supports the local health system, told us that many people are arriving in towns from the countryside in desperate conditions, with women and children dying on the way, before they reach health facilities.
Camel deaths in many parts of Somalia are also being reported and are another indicator of the gravity of the situation. Camels are the most resistant animals in drought; cattle, sheep and goats all die before them.
One of the authors of this article, who recently visited Puntland, in the far northeast of Somalia, observed that religious leaders are now mobilizing the business community and the government, to raise funds and support rural populations. Although Puntland is not at the epicenter of the drought and is a more stable area with considerable response capacity, it is also feeling the effects of this severe drought.
Our colleague was so moved by the cry for help from a local sheikh in a mosque that he immediately sent money to his relatives in the border area between Somalia and Kenya from where he is. was born and received more calls than usual from distant relatives, a sure sign of unusual stress.
In November, a well-respected Nairobi-based religious leader, Sheikh Umal, also started calling on people to raise funds to support drought-affected populations in Kenya and Somalia. Its mosque was an important hub for fundraising and coordination in 2011.
We cannot be 100% sure that there will be a famine in 2022, but there are already worrying signs and we know that given the current circumstances in Somalia and abroad, the humanitarian response could be potentially severely delayed.
Given insufficient rains and early reports of immense food shortages, it makes much more sense to act early and mobilize resources now, to save lives, protect livelihoods and avoid having to organize a response. costly to starvation when it is too late.
Whatever the specific gravity of the crisis, the deployment of humanitarian assistance now would help a large number of people whose situation is already dire and will undoubtedly worsen. One of the lessons of the 2011 famine is that more emphasis needs to be placed on preventing famine.
We recognize that today’s global and regional political conditions are complex and can slow down the decisions that need to be taken to release funds. Internationally, the COVID-19 pandemic has strained governments and humanitarian organizations.
The Horn of Africa is also facing a new wave of instability due to the crisis in Sudan and the civil war in Ethiopia. Somalia’s own government and political elite are concerned about political feuds and an electoral process that diverts time and money from social benefits for the general population.
This contributes to an atmosphere in which lack of confidence in data, different perspectives on areas most in need, competing institutional interests and lack of trustworthy organizations (both international and local) with which to work, make the situation worse. The politicization of data and information is unfortunately all too common. International organizations, including the United Nations, struggle to manage these pressures and influences, and to reach the right people on the ground.
There is no doubt, however, that the situation is already serious and will worsen considerably. The long dry season – the Jilaal – has only just begun and the next rains are in four good months. The forecast for these rains – the Gu – is also not promising. These rains may bring some relief, especially for pastoralists, but for farming communities, their harvest is still over six months away. This is the third severe drought in 10 years, a likely indication of the impact of climate change in the Horn of Africa.
If we are to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, we must act now. Along with the efforts of the Somali diaspora, the international community must also take urgent action. The funds needed are tiny compared to those already mobilized to mitigate the pandemic, but they can go a long way in saving Somali lives.,
Early action can also help set a precedent for famine prevention, which should be set as a standard humanitarian response, especially given climate change-related projections for the worsening water scarcity in Somalia and in the Horn of Africa as a whole.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.