Hunger and water scarcity are perennial in many parts of Somalia, especially among communities trapped in the south’s20-year old warfare. But in the summer of 2011, images and stories of starving Somali people gained extraordinary public attention, turning them into a focus of the international community’s humanitarian and diplomatic efforts. The hunger levels in six areas in the country's south-central region hit the famine mark in July and August. A famine, as used in a five-level scale, is defined as a situation of acute malnutrition in more than 30 per cent of children, at least two deaths per 10,000 people every day and access to less than four litres of water a day.
For humanitarian agencies such as CARE, the focus was and still is on preventing deaths from malnutrition and concomitant diseases. The state of famine has been lifted in three of the six Somali areas, indicating that the international efforts and increased funding have helped to ease the situation. In addition to traditional western donors and agencies, charities from Turkey and the Gulf States also joined the aid effort, helping to contain the spread of famine.
But despite some progress, the magnitude of the crisis has not diminished in any significant way. While the number of people in famine has reduced, four million people across Somalia are still in urgent need. The UN estimates that today, 250,000 people are at risk of immediate death due to starvation. To make matters even worse, the conflict in southern Somalia has further escalated since the declaration of famine, making access to the affected communities even more difficult. The conflict now involves more Somali, regional and international armed forces than ever before in the history of the Somali war. Humanitarian access to most areas in the south remains restricted and insecurity is widespread. By all estimates, the current wave of hunger and displacement will continue till the end of 2012 while there are no signs of a peaceful solution to the conflict.
A challenging environment, yet tangible progress
Contributing to the international community’s response, CARE launched a region-wide emergency program in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. In Somalia, CARE has reached nearly 170,000 internally displaced families and vulnerable local communities suffering from the severe food crisis coupled with the prolonged conflict through non-food supplies, nutrition programs and water and hygiene projects, since July last year. At the same time, CARE continues working towards building the capacity of local Somali NGOs to help deliver aid speedily and effectively.
No progress without lasting peace
We believe that self-reliant, food-secure and skilled communities are better equipped to deal with recurrent droughts. However, given the context in south-central Somalia, where the food crisis is most severe, it is not possible to introduce and sustain similar long-term programs. As long as the underlying causes that keep Somalia mired in humanitarian crises year after year remain unaddressed, food and water scarcity will continue to prevail.
Humanitarian agencies find alternative ways of alleviating suffering: We partner with local, field-based Somali organisations and organise remote programming for urgent supplies. But one thing is certain: Without a lasting solution to the conflict, CARE and other organisations will again and again need to implement short term humanitarian responses. Yet CARE’s goal is to support the Somali population in preparing for future droughts and building resilience and self-sufficiency in the long run. This will not be achieved without peace.
Resilience, recovery and development
Long before the current crisis, CARE’s work in the relatively peaceful northern regions of Puntland and Somaliland had been focused on better natural resource management, climate change adaptability and livelihoods for the poorest communities. A large part of our work in Northern Somalia is focused on sustainable change that will make communities less susceptible to drought and conflict. Our urban youth livelihoods program helps marginalized youth raise their own income through secondary education, literacy training, vocational training and small business development. Many of these youth are IDPs from the South that are trying to build up a new life in the North. Others are drought affected pastoralists that have moved to the towns. Unemployment amongst youth is a major contributor to conflict in Somalia – and those youth that have a sustainable income will be less likely to join a militia, or for that matter be affected by drought. Our Rural Vulnerable women’s program is helping improve the lives of poor rural women vulnerable to the effects of drought. It aims to increase the ability of these women to save money through village savings and loans groups, which help them invest in alternative livelihood opportunities, and have more money available to salvage their livestock during a drought. The program also strengthens the ability of women to contribute to decision making at household and community levels and works with women and men to strengthen community mechanisms to reduce the risk of conflicts happening in their villages. It also works with the education sector to increase girls’ access to schools. Finally, through interventions in water, sanitation, food security and natural resource management, the program reduces the direct impact of drought on the livelihoods and income of rural women.