Somalia’s Humanitarian Crisis Is Also an Environmental One

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Building resilience among communities on the ground is key to dealing with both.

new international report led by the Third Generation Project at the University of St Andrews highlights the devastating impact of the pandemic among internally displaced persons in Somaliland, Somalia.

Focusing on the initial stages of the pandemic in 2020, this report assesses unpreparedness and issues in the responses of key stakeholders during this period. The report highlights how marginalized communities are liable to be neglected in times of crisis, in spite of their heightened vulnerability, and how local organizations on the ground can be key to preventing worsening outcomes.

This report, which was written in partnership with SOM-ACT and Transparency Solutions, draws our attention to the importance of community-led efforts and local capacity building. This has implications not only for health-related crises, but also for the climate crisis. Building resilience is key, especially in nations like Somalia, which are on the front lines when it comes to global warming and which also face a range of other challenges.

Somalia’s Challenges

The humanitarian crisis in Somalia remains one of the largest, longstanding, and complex emergencies globally. Over 2.6 million people remain in protracted displacement situations within the country.

Internally displaced people in Somalia deal with multiple crises. Vulnerabilities are rife. High numbers of displaced people in the country have contributed to a disconnect between people and land. Climate change, ecological decay, disease, food insecurity, and conflict have overlapped catastrophically for decades, posing a massive challenge to local communities’ development, as well as to the protection of ecosystems and biodiversity.

Political turmoil since Somalia’s Central Government collapsed in 1991 means that, in the vacuum of power, people reverted to their traditional and religious laws to govern and resolve clan conflicts. Inclusive politics, unemployment, and poverty have all further weakened the region and continue to do so. These things have made it challenging to form a cohesive response to environmental problems.

Climate change and resource scarcity in Somalia are exacerbated by a lack of social support for sustainable land use, climate change adaptation, and disaster risk management. Somalia’s essential social services have been decimated due to civil unrest and years of underinvestment.

Unfortunately, current practices in agriculture in Somalia have caused a lot of damage to the natural ecosystems upon which the country depends. Pastoralism, which has dominated in the northern parts of the country, has led to widespread problems with overgrazing. This has damaged and degraded the natural ecosystems of the region and led to widespread de-vegetation and deforestation. This, in turn, has led to decreased rainfall and greater desertification. The problem has been exacerbated by the overuse of wood for fuel (such as in charcoal production) and for construction. Loss of vegetation is widespread and a major factor in food insecurity.

Somalia’s economy depends heavily on livestock, agriculture, fisheries, forestry, etc. Natural capital has been the backbone of the country’s economy. Severe degradation and depletion make associated economic sectors vulnerable to recurrent natural shocks. In turn, communities are left more vulnerable to other crises.

International organizations in Somalia are committed to working with the authorities to ensure the needs of the most vulnerable groups are addressed. But long term, pandemic response and climate change mitigation and adaptation must look to building more resilience. The response must ultimately come from within.

An IDP camp in Somalia's Puntland region, with a locked well where people are forced to pay for water
An IDP camp in Somalia’s Puntland region, with a locked well where people are forced to pay for water. Yannick Tylle/Getty Images

Solutions for Somalia

Displaced people and refugees who become self-reliant can lead active and productive lives and weave durable socio-economic and cultural ties with their host communities. But crucial to building this resilience and integration are efforts to rebuild natural capital. Ecosystem restoration is a key climate solution within this region, which is important for capacity building—both for settled communities and displaced people.

Dryland Solutions, a Somali-led organization, is working closely with locals and partners to develop holistic plans for land and people. Operating from Garowe, in Somalia’s Puntland Region, Dryland Solutions is currently seeking to establish an Ecosystem Restoration Camp that can be a beacon of hope for resilience in the Puntland region.

Treehugger spoke with Yasmin Mohamud, who set up Dryland Solutions. In 2018 she relocated to Somalia from Toronto, Canada, to be a part of the international movement to change the climate change story that we are in from disaster and catastrophe to one of transformation.

“One thing that became very clear when I traveled to Somalia was the connection between damaged environments and human poverty. Human activity in Somalia is causing massive damage to our environments and our planet as a whole. People are living at edge of life and death.” she said.

“In many parts of Somalia, there’s been a vicious cycle of drought, floods, food insecurity, and water shortage. In addition, continuous land use has led to subsistence agriculture, overgrazing, and generation by generation has further degraded the soils.”

The camp will become a hub for food and resource production, education, healthcare provision, sustainable business incubation. It will welcome international volunteers, as well as members of the local community and the Somali diaspora, who will aid in restoring the landscape and building resilient, diverse systems. It will also plant the seeds for dissemination of this idea throughout the region.

“We created this initiative to help the people of the region combat poverty, famine, climate change, loss of fresh water, desertification, and biodiversity loss.” continued Mohamud. “We strive to bring the degraded area back to life and enable communities to benefit from a regenerative landscape. The camp aims to train as many people as possible on the importance of ecosystem restoration and proper land management as a first step towards changing the damaging agricultural and land management practices that constitute some of the root causes of food insecurity, desertification, conflicts, and vulnerability to extreme climate events.

“Our ecosystem restoration camps will show how restoring ecosystems is not just ‘the right thing to do’—it can also make sound economic sense. This practical knowledge will maximize the ability to use scarce resources, enhance food production, strengthen food security, and reduce conflicts over water, therefore having a life-changing impact on local residents’ livelihoods.

“Restoring these lands provides many local jobs—jobs in the nurseries that supply the trees, a labor force for the camps themselves to build infrastructure, management teams, marketing teams, employment of local vendors to sell food and other items during the events, caterers, supporting the local economy by the entrance of people to the camps, local accommodation receiving an increase in guests, and showcasing successful entrepreneurs in the environmental sectors.”

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