War and climate change are overwhelming Somalia | World News

AS THE SUN beats down on the dusty yellow soil and a cluster of tin shacks near the town of Galkayo in central Somalia, mothers point to their children, who look at them shyly. Then almost everyone expresses variations of the same words: “I don’t know what I’m going to feed them” or “I haven’t cooked today because I don’t have food.”

Somali children play with a replica of a weapon during Eid al-Fitr celebrations, which mark the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, in Mogadishu, Somalia, April 10, 2024. REUTERS/Feisal Omar (REUTERS) PREMIUM
Somali children play with a replica of a weapon during Eid al-Fitr celebrations, which mark the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, in Mogadishu, Somalia, April 10, 2024. REUTERS/Feisal Omar (REUTERS)

Theirs is a desperation that is felt in a country where at first it never rained and then it poured with rain. Between 2020 and By the end of 2022, rains, which normally come twice a year, failed five times in a row, causing Somalia’s worst drought in 40 years and bringing the country to the brink of famine. The disaster was averted only thanks to a $2.4 billion emergency response led by the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) and international charities, including Save the Children. Then last year came the country’s worst flood in a century, sweeping away fields, driving up food prices and forcing more than a million people from their homes.

“If someone doesn’t believe in climate change, this is a clear testimony that it is happening,” says El-Khidir Daloum, WFP director in Somalia. “The Somali people did not contribute to the climate crisis, but they are suffering from it.”

The small settlement of Samawade is a microcosm of Somalia, a fragile state that has been embroiled in war since 1991 and is now at risk of being overwhelmed by increasingly frequent extreme weather conditions. Almost all of the 167 families living here have fled conflict, drought or floods, some of them more than once. Some, strictly speaking, are refugees from neighboring countries, including Ethiopia and Yemen.

The precarious lives they now lead highlight not only how difficult it is to rebuild failed states, but also how even the best-intentioned international efforts to do so can leave people trapped in a depressing limbo, unable to return to their homes but also unable to move. . in. And as the number of displaced and desperate Somalis has increased, their growing humanitarian needs are met with increasing donor fatigue.

Some four million Somalis, or about a fifth of the population, face “crisis” or “emergency” food insecurity, in the jargon used by UN experts to describe the subtler gradations of human suffering. Put plainly, these are the two highest rungs on a ladder of unimaginable misery, just below hunger, the highest rung. Among those climbing this ladder of death are 1.7 million children under five years of age who face acute malnutrition. “My biggest worry is what my children will eat,” says Muslimo, a mother of nine. “We need help.”

However, his request is being ignored. Of the $1.6 billion needed for the humanitarian response in Somalia this year, less than $200 million has been funded. This, says Mohamed Abdiladif, acting director of Save the Children in Somalia, is forcing aid agencies and charities to make impossible decisions about who to help. “You see with your own eyes children who are severely malnourished and there is not much you can do for them,” he says. “When you’re not able to help, it really makes you question yourself a lot.”

Extreme weather conditions and conflict are the most direct causes of the current crisis. But they would not be so deadly if the people of Somalia had not been impoverished by decades of fighting and rapacious rule by warlords, jihadists and corrupt officials. Almost all of the country’s statistics, including population estimates, must be taken as guesses. The last census was taken in 1986, but it was never published. Still, it is certain that Somalia is one of the poorest countries in the world. Their GDP per person is probably less than $800.

Two things keep the economy afloat. The first is the Somali diaspora, which sends home about $2 billion a year, a considerable sum in a country with a GDP of only about $10 billion. The second is foreign aid, which last year amounted to about $3.6 billion. That makes aid Somalia’s largest industry after agriculture. It is also a tempting source of patronage and a target of corruption in a country ranked the most corrupt among 180 in an annual index compiled by Transparency International, a watchdog.

Somalia’s dependence on humanitarian aid may also help explain why roughly one in five residents are trapped in godforsaken camps like Samawade. Across Somalia, nearly 4 million people are classified as “internally displaced,” up from about 1 million a decade ago. Many would rather return to their old homes and livelihoods or get jobs and new homes in the cities than stay where they are. “I love farming,” says Halima, a grandmother. “You sleep when you want and you work when you want.” However, returning home is not always an option: her farm was devastated by floods.

Daka, who has lived for five years in Kulmiye Garsoor, another camp, longs for his old life of tending flocks that roamed in search of pasture. “I would come back because I would be someone with something,” he says, saying that he once had 40 goats and two donkeys. The grass has returned with the rains, but Daka has no capital to replace his livestock, which perished due to the drought.

Instead, it is displaced people who are effectively being herded into camps, often on private land, where they have no security of tenure and rely on handouts. Now they need urgent help to feed their children and themselves. But if Somalia wants to break its cycle of crisis, its rulers will have to start seeing them as citizens, not displaced people, and invest in transforming supposedly temporary camps into permanent neighborhoods, with schools, clinics, decent houses… and jobs.

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