Aid workers push for fast funds, local government action in Somalia drought

Young girls line up at a feeding center in Mogadishu, Somalia. Photo by: Tobin Jones / United Nations

As donors and governments scramble to respond to a drought in Somalia, aid workers are urging them to heed the lesson of the country’s last famine in 2011 to act quickly and to take account of political decentralization in the country since then.

Savings lives will require mobilizing funds quickly, humanitarians told Devex — something that failed to happen last time, when nearly 260,000 people died due to starvation.

“The biggest problem back then was the late response,” said CARE Somalia Director Raheel Chaudhary. “It wasn’t until hundreds of thousands of lives were lost that funds started coming in, so in a sense, we can say we are in a better position compared to last time.”

Chaudhary told Devex that local governments may be an effective channel to coordinate the relief operation, rather than the previous national approach. In recent years, the country divided into six regional states — Somaliland, Puntland, Galmudug, Jubaland, South West State and Hir-Shabelle — each with different structures and governing bodies.

“We need to recognize that Somalia’s government have developed very strong regional structures over the past few years and we need to keep these local governments active because we have a very little window of opportunity to respond,” he said.

Somalia is one of four countries now at risk of famine, in what the U.N. humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien has called the largest crisis since 1945. More than 20 million people across Somalia, Yemen, South Sudan and Nigeria are at risk of starvation. Within Somalia, 6.2 million are in immediate peril.

At a U.N. Security Council meeting on Friday, O’Brien urged countries to supply immediate funds of $4.4 billion by July. He called for uninterrupted access to humanitarian aid to avoid another catastrophe. All four countries at risk have seen internal conflicts restrict relief efforts. Also last week, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres made an emergency visit to Somalia, where he appealed for $825 million for the conflict-stricken country for six months.

Late last month, newly inaugurated Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed declared the drought a national disaster during a roundtable he hosted to bring together donors, partners, U.N. agencies, NGOs and different ministries. His government estimates that some 60 percent of the country’s livestock have already died due to drought.

Aid workers in Somalia told Devex efforts must be scaled up, including by mobilizing regional response teams to deliver food and water that can reach a wide range of communities.

“Now is the time and we have to give a chance to a timely response to the crisis with food, water and health facilities to increase our chance to save lives,” said Sadia Abdi, ActionAid country director for Somaliland. “The speed of response can prevent the famine, but if we wait until tomorrow, it will be another disaster where we can never bring back the lives lost.”

Some humanitarians told Devex the most effective approach may be to build on the basic structures currently available.

UNICEF Somalia Representative Steven Lauwerier said his agency has seen past successes working through local governments in areas such as Puntland and Somaliland, where response agencies already existed. In Puntland, for example, the local health ministry runs mobile health clinics that are directly financed by UNICEF. The Puntland government also issued a regulation capping the price of water to prevent overcharging and to avoid the water becoming unaffordable for those in need.

Access, however, could limit some local-level collaboration. In some areas, Islamist militant group al-Shabaab still pose security threats, while in other locations, recent soldier protests have blocked roads in demand of unpaid wages.

“Over the past few months, we have faced impediments such as security checkpoints in government-controlled areas, which make it difficult for transporters to use certain roads where there are so many taxes that have to be paid,” he said.

Lauwerier said it’s still unknown how much power the new government will have to combat administrative obstacles like this. “The president has made a clear statement that [the government] would facilitate all the aid coming in and would avoid taxing and profiteering.”

He said “momentum” is gaining in the relief effort, following recent attention given to the region. However, he says efforts are just barely ahead of the curve.

Read more international development news online, and subscribe to The Development Newswire to receive the latest from the world’s leading donors and decision-makers — emailed to you free every business day.

About the author

  • Christin Roby

    Christin Roby worked as the West Africa Correspondent for Devex, covering global development trends, health, technology, and policy. Before relocating to West Africa, Christin spent several years working in local newsrooms and earned her master of science in videography and global affairs reporting from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Her informed insight into the region stems from her diverse coverage of more than a dozen African nations.