Somalia’s Aid Operations Leaving no Hallmarks

Conflict and drought have led to food shortages in many parts of Somalia. PHOTO CREDIT: WFP

A devastating drought in the Horn of Africa region has left more than half the population of Somalia in a precarious food crisis.

The food crisis is so severe that organizations responding to the near humanitarian catastrophe believe the situation could change into famine unless urgent measures are taken.

The dire humanitarian situation has prompted aid agencies to appeal for $2.26 billion, $1.1 billion more than the previous appeals to address the food crisis.

The population in need of humanitarian assistance has risen from 3.8 million at the start of the year to 7.8 million, aid agencies state.

The persistent drought and armed conflict have displaced more than 1.5 million people in Somalia, according to estimates by UN agencies.

“We are unfortunately now bracing ourselves for a fifth failed rainy season and the time to act is now. Famine is projected in southern Somalia before the end of the year if humanitarian assistance is not urgently scaled up and sustained,” said El-Khidir Dolum, Country Director of the World Food Programme and acting Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia.

In recent months aid agencies have ramped up humanitarian assistance, but the dangers of famine are still present and the current conditions are expected to last through March 2023.

Despite decades of aid operations with billions worth of donor aid deployed to respond to humanitarian aid, Somalia remains more vulnerable to climate change, drought and hunger.

IOM in Somalia has reached out to the vulnerable groups to help with the shortage of water. PHOTO CREDIT: OCHA

The Special Envoy for Drought Response Abdirahman Abdishakur, said the Somalia government has spent $7 billion for the past three years on humanitarian response.

Aid agencies have spent billions on food, water, medicine, and cash transfers for the last nine months and reached 6.8 million people, yet few Somalis have felt a real impact.

Thousands of drought victims arrive each day in government-controlled areas looking for help, where they are given food for a few weeks.

While humanitarian access remains difficult, the reach of aid organizations has grown over time as Somali militant groups lose ground to government forces.

Thousands of Somali refugees, especially those who recently returned home from refuge in Kenya, have been forced to return to camps for the displaced populations in order to get food rations, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said recently.

Somali militant group Al Shabaab long banned aid agencies in areas under its control, making it difficult for humanitarian assistance to reach at least one million people, the aid agencies estimate.

The insurgent group notoriously collects money from aid workers and aid organizations to guarantee the distribution of food and water.

The US law prohibits such financial transactions between aid groups and terror groups as it sees it as a way of strengthening Al Shabaab terror activities and campaigns against the Somali government and America’s interest.

The survival of the one million lies in the hands of the militant group Al Shabaab allowing passage of aid without condition and easing US government counterterror laws that ban any transaction dealings with terror groups, aid agencies operating in the region say.

When aid groups failed to reach the drought victims in the 2011 famine, more than a quarter of a million people died, according to the UN.

Despite restrictions on dealing with the humanitarian crisis, Somalia authorities accuse the aid agencies of ignoring the legitimate authorities. The aid agencies unilaterally operate programs and interventions without the input of the government and the local community.

Despite the ravages of the current drought, the Somali population in the Diaspora feel left out amid the growing threat of famine.

There is growing frustration amongst the local population over perceived indifference to the famine. Driven by these frustrations over the lack of tangible support from the non-governmental organizations and the government, some have embarked on fundraising campaigns against the drought.

The fundraising effort is aimed at availing trucks of water and food to communities, even in areas under the control of Al Shabaab.

However, the Somali drought response has always fallen short of seeking sustainable development solutions such as the building of dams and improving irrigation systems.

The Somali population depends on livestock as a source of livelihood and the country gets 80% of its foreign currency earnings from livestock exports to Gulf countries.

It is estimated more than 200,000 heads of livestock, including goats, cattle, camels and sheep have already died, leaving thousands of families without their basic source of nutrition.

“It reflects both the strong commitment to respond to immediate life-saving needs of Somalis, but also to work on developing their future capabilities, and the ability of the country to generate wealth to address its requirements under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative to see improvements in health, education and other social sectors,” the UN Secretary-Special General’s Representative for Somalia, James Swan said while addressing the humanitarian and longer-term development needs of Somalis.

Food aid provides immediate relief but is not a long-term sustainable option. The drought and conflict have become cyclical and formed a vicious cycle against sustainability.

The donor organizations appear less interested in working towards longer term solutions such as enhancing community awareness, enhancing reforestation and working towards food production.

The donor approach remains transfixed on non- sustainable approaches which have made the people less self-reliant on relied assistance.

In August, the federal government of Somalia and the World Bank launched the De-Risking Inclusion and Value Enhancement of Pastoral Economies in the Horn of Africa Project to improve pastoralists’ access to financial services for drought risk mitigation.

The World Bank’s Board of Directors approved $327.5 million in drought relief and market access for pastoralists. 

The project will benefit 250,000 households, or 1.6 million pastoralists and their dependents.

“This project will present the Horn of Africa member countries with an innovative approach to addressing climate change and pastoral poverty,” said Boutheina Guermazi, World Bank Director of Regional Integration for Africa, the Middle East and North Africa. 

“We are committed to addressing the long-term drivers of fragility such as climate change through our support to green, resilient and inclusive development and efforts to create reliable markets for livestock and livestock products.”

Last week the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the World Bank and the Federal Government of Somalia launched $20 million projects to address the urgent needs of 71,000 internally displaced people.

The fund will provide emergency relief and enhance recovery and adaptation capabilities through long-term housing solutions and infrastructure development.

Humanitarian organizations say more assistance is needed and opening up more villages and towns to reach millions trapped and have no means to move to safer areas where they can get food and healthcare services.