In July 2011, the United Nations declared a famine in Somalia, which attracted the attention of major news media around the world. The declaration was issued during Ramadan, which gave it a greater resonance in the Muslim world and contributed to large-scale fundraising activities.
Although the United Nations statement helped to mobilize people and governments around the world, the international community believed it came too late, leading to delays in the expansion of humanitarian assistance. Due to the late arrival of the global action, an estimated 258,000 people (mainly women and children) have lost their lives.
At the end of 2016, another warning of a potential famine was issued, sounding a wake-up call in the capital of the donor country. The tragic events of 2011 are still fresh in the memory. Compared to 2011, this helped raise funds earlier, but not early enough, as about 45,000 people died.
In view of these painful experiences in the past, we are now writing to warn of the possibility of a new famine. Based on observations, available public reports and consultations within our network (including Somalia and international networks), we have collected enough evidence that a large part of the Somali population is facing a major food crisis. We are very worried that the humanitarian system is too slow to respond, which may once again lead to the death of many Somalis.
Echoes of 2011
In 2012-13, we conducted research on the famine in 2011 and confirmed that the United Nations declared it too late. The famine itself probably started in March or April of that year and was caused by a combination of factors, including continuous droughts, high global and domestic food prices, and very poor local food harvests.
There are also political factors at work: At that time, the radical organization Al-Shabaab clashed with the nascent Somali government and its international supporters. It has been designated as a terrorist organization, restricting the scope of Western humanitarian assistance to areas under its control.
Today, similar to what happened in 2011, there have been at least two consecutive severe rainfall deficits, coupled with very poor food harvests. In addition, Somalia is shaken by political instability and conflict, and the international community is distracted by the COVID-19 pandemic, both of which will slow the humanitarian response and reduce the availability and distribution of funds.
In terms of social mobilization and immigration, we have also seen early signs of potential famine. In our research, we documented how companies and religious leaders in Somalia and Kenya were very active in raising funds and sending these resources to people in trouble before the famine was declared in 2011. The mosque has become a channel for raising funds abroad.
On the ground, families send children and the elderly to towns that are more likely to receive help, while boys and men often leave with their livestock in an attempt to keep them alive. When people have no choice in the local area, they will walk for several days to Ethiopia and Kenya for help. Many people lost their lives in these journeys.
Today, we see these same patterns appear again. Somalis at home and abroad are already dealing with the evolving crisis. The epicenter of the current drought appears to be in the so-called Mandela triangle, where Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya meet. But other areas are also affected, including both sides of the Somalia-Kenya border, and the main food producing areas of Southwestern State.
Aydrus Daar, head of the Kenya-Somali NGO Wasda working in the Somalia-Kenya border area, told us that cattle herds have been wiped out in large numbers, and that Somali businesses and diaspora communities, especially raising funds for water and food, started in these areas. Five to six months ago. He confirmed that the seasonal rainfall, which usually rains between April and June, has almost completely failed. The rain in Dyer from October to December is now gone.
Due to the drought, Dahl’s NGOs received a small amount of sporadic support from some international donors. He claimed that he had never seen anything like this in 30-40 years, when wild animals invaded people’s homes to find water.
In northern Jubaland, Paul Healy, the national director of Trócaire, an Irish NGO that supports the local healthcare system, told us that many people are entering towns from the countryside in a state of despair. Some women and children died on the way. Before sanitation.
Camel deaths have also been reported in many parts of Somalia, which is another indicator of the severity of the situation. In drought conditions, camels are the most resilient animals; cows, sheep, and goats all die before them.
An author of this article recently traveled to Puntland in northeastern Somalia and he observed that religious leaders are currently mobilizing business and government to raise funds and support rural populations. Although Puntland is not at the center of the drought, it is a relatively stable and resilient region, but it has also felt the impact of this severe drought.
Our colleague was moved by the news of the local chief calling for help in the mosque. He immediately sent money to his relatives in the Somali-Kenya border area. He was from there. He received more calls from distant relatives than usual, which was extremely stressful. The definite sign.
In November, Sheikh Umal, the widely respected religious leader in Nairobi, also began calling for people to raise funds to support the drought-affected populations in Kenya and Somalia. His mosque was an important center for fundraising and coordination in 2011.
We cannot be 100% sure that there will be a famine in 2022, but there are already ominous signs, and we know that given the current situation in Somalia and abroad, humanitarian response may be severely delayed.
Given the lack of rainfall and early reports of severe food shortages, it makes more sense to act early and mobilize resources immediately, save lives, protect livelihoods, and avoid having to organize costly famine response measures when it is too late.
Regardless of the specific severity of the crisis, the deployment of humanitarian assistance now will help a large number of people whose conditions are already very bad and will undoubtedly worsen. One of the lessons of the 2011 famine is that more attention must be paid to famine prevention.
We are aware that today’s complex global and regional political situation may slow down the decision to release funds that must be made. At the international level, the COVID-19 pandemic has put tremendous pressure on governments and aid organizations.
Due to the crisis in Sudan and the civil war in Ethiopia, the Horn of Africa is also facing a new wave of instability. Somalia’s own government and political elite are focused on political disputes and election processes, which divert time and money from social services provided to ordinary people.
This contributes to an atmosphere in which a lack of trust in data, different views on the areas where it is most needed, the interests of competing agencies, and the lack of cooperation from trusted organizations (international and local) are making the situation worse. Unfortunately, the politicization of data and information is too common. International organizations, including the United Nations, are working hard to manage these pressures and influences and reach the right people on the ground.
However, there is no doubt that the situation is already serious and will deteriorate significantly. The long dry season—Giral—has just begun, and there are still four months before the next rain. The forecast of these rains-Gu-is also not very optimistic. These rains may bring some relief, especially for herders, but for agricultural communities, there are still more than 6 months before harvest. This is the third severe drought in 10 years and may indicate the impact of climate change on the Horn of Africa.
If we want to avoid repeating the same mistakes, we must act now. In addition to the efforts of the Somali diaspora, the international community also needs to take urgent action. Compared with the funds that have been mobilized to alleviate the pandemic, the funds needed are insignificant, but they can go a long way in saving the lives of Somalis.
Early action can also help set a precedent for famine prevention, which should be established as a standard humanitarian response, especially considering that climate change-related predictions will worsen water scarcity in Somalia and the entire Horn of Africa.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Al Jazeera.