The critical environmental and sustainability issues of Somalia:
- Extreme weather phenomenon resulting in possible famine
The failure of seasonal rains earlier this year in Somalia threatened more than two million people with hunger as their crops shrivelled in the fields and livestock died from the lack of water and pasture. It was one of the driest rainy seasons in decades, and the UN issued an urgent call in May for $710 million in aid to help prevent the country tipping into starvation.
Alternately, torrential rain pounded central Somalia in October, causing flash floods that have affected more than 547,000 people, forcing 370,000 from their homes. Somalia is undergoing a climate emergency in which droughts, floods, and desertification are wreaking havoc on the country’s livestock and farming sectors, which have sustained people for centuries. Water, whether too little or too much, is at the heart of this crisis – and the UN has warned that the situation will worsen.
2.2 million people could face acute food insecurity by September, a 40 percent increase from January. A further 3.2 million people will need assistance by year’s end.
- Humanitarian Problems/Violence
Fighting, insecurity and lack of state protection, and recurring humanitarian crises had a devastating impact on Somali civilians in 2018. The number of internally displaced people, many living unassisted and at risk of serious abuse, reached an estimated 2.7 million.
The Islamist armed group Al-Shabab subjected people living under its control to harsh treatment, forced recruitment, and carried out deadly attacks targeting civilians.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) reported 982 civilian casualties by October, over half from Al-Shabab attacks. Inter-clan and intra-security force violence, along with sporadic military operations against Al-Shabab by Somali government forces, African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) troops, and other foreign forces, resulted in deaths, injuries, and displacement of civilians.
Al-Shabab remains a “formidable fighting force” despite years of operations against it by the African Union’s military intervention AMISOM, and Western special forces. Displacement as a result of drought, and growing tensions between herders, farmers, and clans allow al-Shabab to exploit the grievances of the population that stem from weather-related losses. As a result, insurgent groups gain recruitment opportunities.
With 4.2 million people in need, largely as a result of long-running displacement, humanitarian aid is by far the biggest ticket item for the international community.
- Poverty and National Debt
No country has become more impoverished, relative to its position in the 1960s, than Somalia. Following the collapse of Siad Barre’s government in 1991, a long civil war devastated the economy, infrastructure, and public institutions and created a huge loss of human capital. This impact has been aggravated by climate shocks affecting agriculture and livestock which, together, account for the largest share of GDP.
The poverty rate (percent of the population below $1.90/day, 2011 PPP), based on one of the few high-frequency surveys undertaken in the country, is estimated at 69 percent, the sixth-highest in the world. Among internally displaced Somalis the poverty rate is 74 percent.
In the UNDP’s multidimensional poverty index score of “intensity of deprivation,” Somalia ranks last.
Somalia has been in arrears to the IMF for over three decades—the second-longest period of protracted arrears (after Sudan) in IMF history—rendering it ineligible to receive financial assistance from the IMF or the World Bank Group.
A recent assessment of the resource requirements for the basic services that countries need to reach the Sustainable Development Goals concludes that the minimum amount of targeted resources is around $270 to $350 per capita for low-income countries. Were Somalia’s entire government budget (including grants), along with remittances, be used to finance these services, the total would amount to $50 per person. With debt at about $4.7 billion (100% of GDP, of which 96 percent is in arrears), Somalia will require dramatic levels of support from the international community to fund these critical humanitarian and development needs.
- Poor Health and Communicable Diseases
Massive displacement and food insecurity have a major effect on the health of the population. 1.5 million people need humanitarian assistance in 2019 due to inadequate nutrition.
In 2019, almost one million children risk being acutely malnourished, carrying severe implications for their future health and that of subsequent generations. This is among one of the factors that cause one out of seven children to die before they reach five years old.
On top of that, Somalis are exposed to serious risks from the outbreak of diseases such as cholera, measles and diarrhoea, spread easily in congested living conditions and where there is a lack of clean water and sanitation.
- Women, Children and Minorities vulnerable
Women, children and members of minority groups are particularly vulnerable during displacement. Women and girls, especially those living in informal urban centres, are at risk of gender-based violence, and often have less access than others to opportunities to earn a living. Estimated to affect 98 percent of Somali women and girls, female genital mutilation (FGM) further undermines their health and access to education.
One third of those who need assistance are children, most of whom are out of school. This makes them more vulnerable to exploitation through child labour, including possible use in hostilities.