With the re-election of Hassan Sheikh Mohamud on May 15th and the appointment of his Prime Minister, Hassan Abdi Barre on June 15th the effects of climate change have returned to the top of the agenda of the Federal Government of Somalia. One of the returning President’s first appointments was a Special Presidential Envoy for Drought Response (an interesting ‘buy-off’ of a political rival, Abdirahman Abdishakur Warsame, known as ‘Abdishakur’) and the issue of drought and the broader effects of climate change is item number 1 for discussion by the country’s National Security Council, which will reconvene after a hiatus in early July.
Five Failed Rainy Seasons
Speaking to the news media, Abdishakur noted that half of Somalis are directly affected by the effects of five failed rainy seasons in succession (the country usually has two rainy seasons, the Deyr and the Gu, which should come in April and November each year). 72 of Somalia’s 84 districts are, by the terms defined by the UN, in drought – and 6 are already in famine. This is reminiscent of the early 1990s, where half a million Somalis died of starvation, dehydration or malnutrition.
However, in the 1990s and also in the most recent dramatic period of drought in 2011, there were options for the most affected elements of the rural Somali population: move to the urban littoral; seek financial assistance from family members abroad in the sprawling Somali Diaspora via electronic funds transfers using the Islamic hawalada system; or simply fight through the issue in the knowledge that one day the rains will come again. Those options are no longer available.
Movement within Somalia is now curtailed not just by the reign of terror imposed by the al-Qa’ida linked terrorist insurgency, al-Shabaab: divisive politics have also resulted in a subtle form of ethnic cleansing between Somalia’s ever present clan system. (For example, in northerly, Issaq-clan dominated Somaliland, which casts itself as a nation in every sense barring international recognition, thousands of Rahanweyn clan members were recently deported back to central Southwest State.) In addition, international funds transfers or ‘remittance’ payments are now strictly limited by counter terrorist finance legislation.
Pastures May Never Recover
But, most harmfully, five successive droughts have killed of herds and hardened pasture to an extent that it may never recover: desertification is now a real risk for much of inland Somalia. The UN’s senior commentator on climate change in the region, Christophe Hoder, has suggested that Somalia will be uninhabitable outside the littoral by 2050.
If Somalia cannot address the effects of climate change quickly and decisively the nation will become virtually uninhabitable outside the urban littoral within the next few decades. This could result in mass displacement to neighbouring countries like Kenya and Ethiopia as well as those further afield. It could also increase regional instability as terrorist groups, violent non-state actors such as clan militias and organised criminal gangs seek to exploit the situation for their own ends.