Before the Famine - Enhancing Climate Resilience of Vulnerable Communities & Ecosystems in Somalia

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Green shoots of peace and development are emerging in Somalia, after a particularly difficult period of instability. Ongoing climate risks have put those delicate shoots in danger. Drought-related malnutrition and disease outbreaks are on the rise, nearly doubling climate-induced displacement from 62,000 Somalis in January 2017 to 106,000 in February 2017.

The humanitarian situation in Somalia is now rapidly deteriorating. Half of the population – 6.2m out of the country’s 12.3m people - are acutely food insecure and in need of humanitarian assistance. Widespread starvation in Somalia is a very real possibility in 2017, just six years after a previous devastating famine led to the death of more than a quarter million Somalis, half of them children.

In recent years, changes in weather and climate have affected Somalia’s economic and social development – providing a roadblock to peace and prosperity. Facing increasing uncertainty for seasonal and annual rainfall levels, rising surface temperatures, sea-level rise, and the loss of livelihoods dependent on fragile or over-exploited ecosystems and natural resources, there is concern that future climate change could exacerbate displacement in the region and intensify conflict over scarce natural resources, including water.


In Somalia, poverty, environmental degradation, migration and conflict are significant contributors to the population’s extreme vulnerability. This is predicted to worsen due to climate change. Existing major climate hazards in Somalia include droughts and extreme flooding events.

Flooding – particularly intense rainfall events that lead to flash floods – is a key pressure point threatening vulnerable communities, nomads and semi-pastoralists throughout the country’s semi-autonomous states. These floods degrade the land, creating gullies, diminishing soil integrity and fertility, and threatening existing water-supply schemes and infrastructure. This trend is combined with frequent and persistent water scarcity events across the whole of the country that result from delays in rainfall onset and extended dry seasons, sometimes lasting for many months.


Deqa Ahmed Jama, a mother of seven and the sole breadwinner for her family, hails from Qoyta village in the Burao District. Qoyta Village has an estimated 1,500 households. Around 500 of these households are female-headed. For Deqa, dramatic changes in climate make it hard to get ahead and thrive.

For a long time I used to farm crops like sorghum, tomatoes, and water melon; the yield was minimal due to lack of reliable rainfall along with limited farming skills’.

Repeated and cyclical droughts erode the ability of small-scale farmers like Deqa to earn meaningful income, provide food for their families, and build a better future for their children and their communities. These communities depend almost exclusively on rain-fed agriculture and are the most affected by climate change. They are also marginalised, with limited power, voice and access to information.

Approximately 70% of Somalis are dependent on climate-sensitive agriculture and pastoralism. As floods and droughts become more severe and frequent, there is a need to find approaches that can reduce the sensitivity of farmers and pastoralists to increasing rainfall variability.


With financing from the Global Environment Facility’s (GEF) Least Developed Countries Fund, the Federal Government of Somalia has been working to bolster the resilience of vulnerable communities and ecosystems to climate change through the UNDP-supported Enhancing Climate Resilience of Vulnerable Communities and Ecosystems in Somalia project. This five-year project works in semi-autonomous states in Somalia: South West State, Galmudug State, Puntland, and Somaliland, which unilaterally declared itself an independent republic in 1991.

Building climate resilient systems can help people with food security, support the restoration of livelihoods, promote basic services to build resilience to recurrent shocks, and catalyze more sustainable solutions.


Deqa’s story changed when she attended a training on integrative farming techniques organised by the government of Somaliland in partnership with UNDP.

Facilitated by the project, in partnership with the Somaliland Ministry of Environment and Rural Development, trainings have been conducted to introduce new ways for the pastoralist and farming communities to adapt to climate change – with an emphasis on reaching the women and youth among these communities.

“When I attended the training my life changed. We were trained on crop rotation, fodder production and small-scale business management. I had to abandon growing tomatoes and sorghum, now I plant high-yield fodder grass that has a high demand. My income has tripled and we have even formed a co-operative society.”

The training that Deqa attended brought together the entire Qoyta community and united the three separately established cooperatives (Danwadaag, Nasiiye and Barwaaqo) under one umbrella: the Qoyta Women’s Cooperative. The Qoyta Women’s Cooperative now has 100 female members. The cooperative’s main activities include rearing livestock, producing fodder, and growing cereals, vegetables and fruits.

After the training, which included advice on crop rotation, farmers in Qoyta village started planting tomatoes and vegetables, where previously they would only plant grass for animal feed.


Additional activities designed to strengthen the agricultural resilience to climate change of the Qoyta farmers in Somaliland and other selected project sites include implementing water harvesting schemes in the form of berkeds (sub-surface water tanks), distribution of solar lanterns to communities, and the creation of shallow wells and community water-storage ponds that can be used for basic human and livestock needs.

These water harvesting measures are supplemented with embankments and check dams that climate proof the communities and their infrastructure against floods. Infrastructural improvements targeting pastoralists include rangeland and habitat improvement works that protect against water and wind erosion. Pastoralists have also revitalized and modernized the traditional rotational grazing systems by considering the carrying capacity of the entire ecosystem - both in normal and drought years.

Alongside the physical infrastructure, the knowledge and capacity of communities to monitor and manage their resources is being enhanced through the project.

Through the project, vulnerable Somali communities in pilot areas are experiencing enhanced climate-resilience and improved adaptive capacity in the ecosystems on which they depend.

By strengthening and implementing climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction at the local and national level, the project is working to create a more climate-resilient nation, respond to this humanitarian crisis and protect the greening shoots of peace that point to a brighter future for the people of Somalia.

Immediate humanitarian assistance is needed now, but in the long-term, building climate resilience in Somalia will require sustained investment in new technologies, capacities at the national and local level, and strong institutions that can withstand the impacts of climate change and prevent another humanitarian disaster.

For more information on the project, please visit: Enhancing Climate Resilience of the Vulnerable Communities and Ecosystems in Somalia.