OPINION: Somalia’s food crises can be tackled by data-driven early action and investment

by Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, Mark Lowcock and Mahmoud Mohieldin | United Nations Monday, 4 November 2019 15:05 GMT

  • Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

While Somalia continues to make progress developing its economy, it needs to do even more to prepare for inevitable shocks

Mahmoud Mohieldin is the World Bank Group’s Vice-President for the 2030 Development Agenda, UN Relations, and Partnerships. Mark Lowcock is the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator. Oscar Fernandez-Taranco is the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support.

Our recent joint mission to Somalia took place after news broke that the country’s main harvest was to be the worst since the 2011-2012 famine.

But the data then also showed that a million fewer Somalis were a step away from starvation than had been projected three months earlier. So, what happened?

Early warning systems worked and led to early action. Donor support and Government leadership enabled a massive scale-up of assistance. The UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) quickly provided $42 million for the response, helping to catalyse more than a billion dollars in other funding.

Over the past 30 years, climate change, among other factors, has made drought more frequent and intense in Somalia. A drought in East Africa can now be expected to occur every two to three years as opposed to roughly every seven years a decade ago. Drought is often followed by flooding when the rains do come.

That means that poor families have less time to recover before the next shock occurs.

While Somalia continues to make progress developing its economy, including by diversifying its people’s livelihoods, it needs to do even more to prepare for inevitable shocks.

The United Nations and the World Bank are working together in three key ways to support Somalia in doing just that.

First, we are developing opportunities to act even earlier. We are piloting new ways of using this information to trigger the release of funding to implement pre-agreed response plans. Once triggered, the funds will support interventions such as the distribution of drought-tolerant seeds and the provision of cashto help the vulnerable.

Somalia is a front-runner in the roll-out of such anticipatory action as one of the first countries where the Famine Action Mechanism (FAM) framework – developed by the World Bank, the United Nations, NGOs and other partners – will be implemented. The [UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)] is already piloting anticipatory action financing under this model, where CERF and other funding would be released when early warnings begin to escalate.

Second, the United Nations and the World Bank are united with other partners to support the Government in the long-term development of Somalia. This includes diversification of people’s incomes and investments in healthcare.

The national Resilience and Recovery Framework is at the centre of these joint efforts, and we can continue to make progress if we invest in these efforts now.

The expected normalization of Somalia’s relationships with international financial institutions following nearly 30 years outside the international financial system will help. The coming months will be critical for it to qualify for the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative which will unlock further investment.

Already underway is the World Bank’s “Shock Responsive Safety Net for Human Capital Project” which is helping to address the immediate food security and nutrition crisis. The World Food Programme and the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, are partnering in the project.

The third way we are partnering in support of the Government is to help build peace, stability and address conflict that can threaten hard-won gains.

When visiting Baidoa in southern Somalia we saw the toll that years of conflict and recurring drought have taken on 2.6 million internally displaced people.There are almost 400 sites around the city of Baidoa alone which host some 360,000 displaced people.

We also saw in Baidoa one of the United Nations PeacebuildingFund-supported projects that is making a difference to address the triggers of conflict. Called Midnimo (or unity), this project is aiding reconciliation among displaced people and host communities. It is helping to solve grievances and is focusing on development priorities. The UN Development Programme, the International Organization for Migration and the UN Human Settlement Programme, UNHABITAT, are jointly implementing the project.

Our visit to Somalia convinced us that there is reason for optimism. We met with a Government committed to breaking the paradigm of repeated crises.

However, we also left Somalia with well founded concerns about imminent flooding. As of last week more than 270,000 people have been displaced by flooding across the country. Presently, two million people will not be able to eat even one meal a day if they don’t receive assistance. They need our urgent support.