Somalia: The Nation On the Brink of Famine, Caught Between Drought and Shabaab Militia

Somalia is experiencing the worst drought in over 40 years, impacting over 8 million people. The issue is set to be addressed at a summit co-hosted by the United Nations on Tuesday.

According to Marc Griffiths, the United Nations (UN) relief chief, while famine has not yet been declared in Somalia, people are already dying of hunger there.

1.3 million Somalis were internally displaced, not only because of the current drought – following four last failed rainy seasons but also because the high taxes imposed by the Al-Shabaab terrorists in the regions they control.

“The situation is as bad as I have seen and, of course, it’s exacerbated by the conflicts and the insecurity, [which also] makes humanitarian access that much more difficult,” said Michael Dunford, regional director for Eastern Africa for UN World Food Programme (WFP).

On Tuesday 6 December, the Arab League and the United Nations will co-host a conference to coordinate efforts and help face the threat of famine in Somalia. The country’s last two great famines occurred in 1992 and 2011, killing half a million people between them.

Reena Ghelani, the UN Famine Prevention & Response Coordinator, just returned from Baidoa, the epicentre of the drought in Somalia.

Ghelani urged the international community “to continue high-level support for humanitarian response”.

Fleeing drought and Shabab

In Baidoa, 250 kilometres west of Mogadishu, a 76-year-old man reached one of its internally displaced camp last june after leaving his village in Gurban. He told RFI’s Florence Morice that he lost all of his livestock and sorgho crop to both the drought and the Shabaab.

“We are suffering because of the Shabaabs. They harrass us, they impose taxes, take our earnings, kill our cattle and enslave us,” he said.

The drought withered away the sorgho and reduced his earnings but the taxes enforced by the Shabaabs stayed the same. He had 20 cows and 20 goats. Some died of hunger, others were sold to pay the Shabaab.

“We have to pay them whether we have nothing left or not. After the last cattle died, it became unbearable and I decided to leave my village,” he said.

Aliman Hassan, who heads one of the groups within the camp, told RFI he is not surprised by what happened to the old man.

“They [the Al Shabaab] shows no mercy for no one. If you don’t pay, you are punished,” he added.

2023 will be worse

The UN mission in Somalia said that 1.5 million children, under age 5, face acute malnutrition. Without urgent action, at least 500 thousand children will be at risk of death by mid-2023, “a pending nightmare we have not seen this century,” the UNICEF spokesman James Elder said recently.

The drought and the last four failed rainy seasons are consequences of climate change. But, WFP’s Dunford argues, “the Somali people have not contributed to climate change, they are not producers of greenhouse gases.” Yet, they are on they are on the frontline experiencing direct impact and shock [of climate change].”

The UN said it needs an additional 1 billion dollars for emergency food, water and shelter.

“Unfortunately, we have not yet seen the worst of this crisis. If you think 2022 is bad, beware of what is coming in 2023,” added Dunford.

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