Somalia, drought and hunger: it’s time to end the cycle

As they gather together in London today, as well as in the months ahead, governments and leaders from around the world must take urgent action to avert a catastrophe in Somalia.

Over the last 15 years, Somalia has become infamous in Europe and North America for piracy, terrorism and hunger. In this time, regimes have fallen, new governments have emerged, and independence for Somaliland and autonomy for Puntland have redefined the nation’s politics.

This has added to the instability. A new report from Save the Children lists Somalia as the third-worst place in the world to be a child; conflict and fragility blight the nation – a fact that was vividly brought to life by the bombing in Mogadishu last year, which killed 500 people. This makes it a complex operating environment for aid agencies, while needs are skyrocketing.

However, positive shifts are taking place. The current government is reforming the economy and security sector, and a new relationship between state and citizen is starting to emerge. Somalia has a young and dynamic population, which is increasingly interconnected and moving towards urban centres – if managed effectively, this could unlock enormous potential. The future looks promising, but all of this could be derailed if we do not work together to consign hunger to Somalia’s history.

In February last year, following the third failed rain in a row, the UN Secretary General called on the global community to intervene and prevent mass starvation in Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen. In Somalia this prompted a response, led by UK Aid, which saved millions of lives and kept famine at bay. The actions of local organisations, international donors, and particularly the UK Government was nothing short of heroic.

But even after a year has passed, it still hasn’t rained.

Despite the generosity of the UK public, timely action from donors, governments and NGOs, and the cooperation and pragmatism of the Federal Government of Somalia, more than five million people are still in need of urgent assistance. A staggering 300,000 children are acutely malnourished – the most severe form of hunger – with that number projected to reach 1.2 million by the end of the year.

There is no doubt that aid in Somalia is working, but the severity and scale of the crisis continues to leave children vulnerable to starvation and disease.

Just last month, Suweys* was brought to Adodo hospital by her grandmother suffering from acute malnutrition at only six months old. After fleeing conflict and moving to live with family, the drought killed her family’s livestock and wiped out their livelihoods. Thanks to a Save the Children stabilisation centre, Suweys was able to recover. For Suweys and millions of Somali children, humanitarian assistance is the difference between life and death.

At today’s high-level conference in London, three things must happen to prevent disaster and ensure Suweys’ life was not saved in vein.

First, the international community must commit more funding and build on the infrastructure of 2017 to deliver water, food, vital medicines and education to those who need it. Last year, Save the Children reached hundreds of thousands of children and their families. Along with our partners, we need to reach at least the same number again this year. We know this is possible, but only if donors step up to the plate.

Second, championed by a global leader like the UK, emergency relief efforts must run parallel to long-term investment that supports recovery and builds resilience. In neighbouring Ethiopia, long-term solutions such as the Productive Social Safety Net Programme have helped to break the cycle of drought-related disaster. Leadership is required to invest in these solutions in Somalia, alongside urgent humanitarian assistance.

Third, additional resource – particularly from the World Bank – must be unlocked. The UK Government gave over £175m to the humanitarian response in Somalia last year. While this investment has saved countless lives, it simply is not sustainable. The World Bank’s International Development Assistance (IDA) contains precisely the level of resource required to build safety nets, resilience and drought response mechanisms – and to keep famine at bay. However, Somalia’s historic debt, accrued before most of its population was born, prevents it from accessing this cash. Donors must send a strong signal today that this triumph of bureaucracy cannot continue.

If we don’t get this right, millions of lives will be pushed to the brink and years of progress and investment will be lost.

The money spent last year developed local partners, built delivery infrastructure and demonstrated innovation and effectiveness. By building on this progress, we can save countless lives now – and deliver a safer, healthier and more prosperous Somali future.