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Drought in Somalia; Devastation and Delayed Aid
By Mohamed Yarrow Ali
Friday, February 3, 2017
A girl stands amid the graves of 70 children on the outskirts of Dadaab. The long desert journey to the relief camps has claimed many lives.
Cyclical droughts have engulfed Somalia for decades, the most recent one being the 2010/2011 that caused famine in the entire Horn of Africa region. Once again, Somalia is facing another severe drought mainly occasioned by the below-average-performance of the last two consecutive rainfalls: the April-May 2016 long rain season and the October-November short rain season. Conflicts, poor market patterns, and inflation have also exacerbated the drought conditions in the country with Somaliland and Puntland reported as the most affected regions.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) estimates that over 5 million Somalis are in need of humanitarian needs, this translates to 41% of the Somalia’s population. Out of this 5 million, about 1.3 million are feared to be in a severe food insecure situations according to the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU- Somalia) and Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET- Somalia).
There are reported cases where people (mostly children and women) have succumbed to hunger and thirst in Somaliland, Puntland, Jubbaland and Galmudug regions. Pastoralists are losing their livestock in flocks to the drought. Cases of suicide by those who lost their entire herds have been reported in some areas including a man who hanged himself in Baxdo town, Galmudug State. Livestock prices have dropped by 30 - 40 percent due to reduced body weight following the drought, trade ban on animals imposed by Arab countries, animal disease outbreak and oversupply of weak animals in the market. Food production is at unprecedented low levels as the rain-fed agriculture is no more, while the Shabelle and Juba rivers (the two main rivers in Somalia) are recording below average levels with their lower reaches drying up.
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It is also feared that a failed or below average 2017 April-May rains could lead to famine in Somalia. Already, a series of analysis conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) indicates that a dry 2017 April-May season is likely, though the severity of this dryness is unknown. In a worst-case scenario where the 2017 April-May season performs very poorly, purchasing power will decline to levels witnessed in 2011, and with humanitarian assistance unable to reach populations in need, famine would automatically be expected.
Since mid-2016, FSNAU and FEWS NET have been raising the red flag over the impending drought crisis. Through their seasonal forecasts such as the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis, Food Security Outlooks, Food Security Alerts, Nutrition Updates and Quarterly Briefs, the two agencies have constantly and sufficiently fed the world with information on the looming drought disaster. Truly, FSNAU & FEWS NET Somalia have responsibly and graciously done their assignment and deserve accolades for their outstanding performance. The Federal Government, as well as the Regional States of Somalia notably Puntland and Galmudug, have in their own levels constituted ad hoc Drought Committees with the mandate of assessing the impact of the drought. Based on the findings of these committees, the President of the Federal Government of Somalia has in November 2016 appealed for humanitarian assistance for the drought affected nationals.
Unfortunately, with all the sustained red signals shown by FSNAU, FEWS NET and the President’s appeal for humanitarian appeal, the international community is yet to adequately respond to the Somalia drought. And this has been the ghost haunting the aid community for ages; inability to timely respond to emergencies.
The international community has failed to learn lessons from the 2010/2011 famine that claimed the lives of over 260, 000 Somalis just because of delayed aid. This time again, the same deadly mistakes are being repeated and already human lives have been lost. How can we lose human lives so cheaply, not to the lack of aid, but to its delay in delivery? Doesn’t this point to a moral deficiency of the international community and a breach to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)? The UDHR’s Article 25(1) states that, “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food….” In emergency contexts, it is obligatory for the international community to reaffirm the fundamental right of everyone to have access to adequate and safe food. It is the moral duty of the international community to actualize this life-saving international convention. The international donor community should quickly ready emergency funds, with zero red-tapes in its allocations, to provide life-saving services like water, food, medicine and nutritional support to the drought-affected people in Somalia. The country’s international partners who are currently involved in state-building and stabilization programs should also slice a portion of their budgets towards the humanitarian assistance call, and take part in this emergency response.
There is an immense potential of mobilizing local resources within Somalia and with the help of the large Diaspora community. The Somalis should exploit this potential and raise resources to help the drought victims. National corporate companies have in the 2010/2011 famine played a key role in the raising of local resources, particularly Hormuud Telecommunication Company which has an effective Corporate Social Responsibility Program. I trust Hormuud and co. will again be supportive this time round.
With funds from the Somalis themselves and the international donor community, rapid drought mitigation interventions should reach every single affected person in the country within the shortest time. Critical interventions should include trucking water to the millions facing acute water shortages across the country, especially those in far-flung settlements with no reliable water sources. The minimum SPHERE standards should be met when providing water to people in emergencies, which is 7.5 litres/person/day. The water provision should also entail giving fuel subsidies to key communal water sources such as boreholes to cushion pastoralists from the burden of meeting the fuel cost to water their few remaining animals. Where necessary, strategic water sources that serve a large number of pastoralists will need to be supported in increasing their storage capacity and having gen-set spares, submersible pumps, pipes etc.
The drought affected people need to be fed in a dignified manner. Food supply should be adequate to cover the overall nutritional needs of all the population groups in terms of quantity, quality and safety. Adequate to meet the population’s minimum energy, protein and fat requirements for survival and light physical activity. The food rations should also provide adequate micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). The U.S. Committee on International Nutrition, UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP & WHO all recommend foods that give an energy average level of 2,100 kcal per person/per day to cover the energy needs of populations in emergencies. The food distribution can be in the form of dry rations and wet rations depending on the conditions of the beneficiaries while considering the severity of children and pregnant/lactating mothers. In situations that physical food supply is a challenge, then cash relief should be used as alternative where beneficiaries can receive cash via their mobile phones or remittances.
Infant and child morbidity and mortality rates often dramatically increase during emergencies. Malnutrition during the early years of life has a negative impact on cognitive, motor-skill, physical, social and emotional development. So, children who are under five years and pregnant/lactating mothers need to be supported with proper nutritional packages such as OTPs, CTCs, and SFPs- both blanket and targeted. Healthcare provision, especially for mothers and children, is also another urgent need of the drought victims in Somalia that the emergency response should cover.
Above all, deliberate actions should be taken to mainstream protection aspects in all the emergency interventions so as to ensure full respect for the rights of the affected people. Special focus should be given to protecting the children in the emergency to prevent and respond to abuse, neglect, exploitation, and violence against them. The first step of child protection in an emergency is guaranteeing that children receive all the necessary humanitarian assistance that is required for their safety and wellbeing.
As I pen down this piece, my clarion call is to the custodians of the relief food and funds including aid agencies, charity groups, faith institutions and prominent personalities to make sure the relief reaches the affected people. It is not a secret that relief food diversions and funds misappropriations by those who are entrusted to deliver the aid have been commonplace in Somalia. This morally bankrupt practice should not happen this time, and relief aid should reach the needy people as required. Those entrusted with responsibilities of delivery should carry out their duties with patriotism and tame their appetite for what does not belong to them. The aid donors, whether local or international, should demand maximum accountability from the aid deliverers with the objective of increasing the impact of their relief program and getting value for each of their pennies.
Mohamed Yarrow is the Executive Director, Centre for Peace and Democracy (CPD-Africa). The views expressed in this article are his own and do not necessary represent those of CPD-Africa. He can be reached at his email;
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