Famine threatens, as politicians fight for control

In Somalia, half a million people have been uprooted from their homes. One of them is Fatuma Ali.

A sleeping mat, a metal bowl and two battered old cooking pots are all that remains of his former life. She and her six young children were forced from their home in southern Somalia when their farmland dried up and their livestock were killed in the drought.

They now live under the sparse shade of an acacia on the edge of a camp in Jubaland state, home to thousands more uprooted by three successive failed rainy seasons. It took them 10 days to travel 190 km.

Fatuma, like many others, came to this camp near Luglow settlement in the hope of getting help from the government, but so far she has received none. Instead, she relies on rice handouts from her neighbors in the camp to feed her children. Some days she cannot find food and they are hungry. “Before, we were farmers,” says Fatuma, holding her youngest child, Abdi, who is only 40 days old.

We have no shelter, no water, and barely enough to cook for the children.

“But there was no rain and we couldn’t farm anymore, so we came here. I left everything behind me. We don’t have blankets for the kids – we don’t have anything,” she said. The UN has appealed for $1.46 billion to help 7.7 million people – half the population – who need humanitarian assistance, but so far the agency has only received only 2.3% of this amount.

Halima Ahmed arrived at the camp two weeks ago with her husband and seven children. The family shares a small stick tent wrapped in plastic bags and torn sheets. They left their home after their herd of 90 cattle died of thirst and disease, and they now survive on occasional sacks of grain provided by the government.

“We had a great life before,” she says. “Economically we had enough and we were happy, but now we are struggling. We have no shelter, no water, and barely enough to cook for the children. Some days they go to sleep hungry. Life is very tough.

Livestock in Somalia have perished due to the ongoing drought (Photo: Fred Harter)

Last month, 50 NGOs signed an open letter calling on the international community to step up the response “before it’s too late”. “Local humanitarian officials say they have never seen such drought and their greatest concern is impending famine if funds are not received immediately,” the letter said.

Drought is already claiming lives: Save the Children doctors say eight children in one camp died of starvation last month.

Complicating the response to the drought is the political crisis that has gripped the country since February 2021, when President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, better known as Farmaajo, postponed elections and imposed a law in Parliament that would extend his term of two additional years.

The election fiasco

Shootings broke out in the capital, Mogadishu, prompting talk of a civil war as security forces threatened to split along clan lines. Farmaajo has since backtracked and elections are proceeding slowly – so far the status of around 80% of the 275 seats has been settled – but deep political divisions persist, notably between Farmaajo and his prime minister, Mohamed Hussein Roble. . Voting was also hampered by delays.

This humanitarian drought crisis is a man-made disaster.

The situation is a far cry from the whirlwind of optimism that greeted Farmaajo’s rise to power in 2017. In that election, lawmakers were chosen by delegates who had been selected by a conference of 14,000 clan leaders. Farmaajo was chosen by the new MPs and scored several political successes early on, such as securing budget support from the EU and pledges of $5.3 billion in debt relief from the IMF. and the World Bank.

Farmaajo also failed to organize Somalia’s first real election, a key undertaking. His initial nullification of the vote (he cited Covid-19 and the al-Shabaab insurgency) was seen as a brazen power grab, and the election now follows the same format as that of 2017.

Politicians focus more on electoral issues.

“He failed at every level,” said Abdirahman Abdishakur, an opposition politician who is running against Farmaajo for president. “This drought-induced humanitarian crisis is a man-made disaster. This is the result not only of failed rains, but of a lack of leadership. There was no early warning system in place or emergency response.

The final deadline for the election was March 15, but no date was set for a vote that was to decide 16 seats in Gedo region, the hardest drought-hit part of Jubaland.

“Politicians are focusing more on electoral issues than on the impact of the drought,” said Abdikani Jama, economic adviser to the prime minister. “Unfortunately, Somalia has lost donors, who are tired, and there is no appetite to continue supporting the country. This means the drought is not getting the attention it should.

Al Shabaab insurgency

Farmaajo’s critics say he has focused more on consolidating his political power than on addressing pressing issues facing Somalia, such as the long-running al Shabaab insurgency. Over the past five years, the Islamist group has expanded its reach and mounted a major protection racket in Mogadishu as the government has failed to establish a viable national army.

“Security has deteriorated under Farmaajo,” said Omar Mahmood, Somali analyst at the International Crisis Group. “The priority has been the national agenda and the recentralization aspects of the government. Al Shabaab has really taken advantage of this, with the security forces pursuing political opponents rather than them.

Cash-strapped government

A Western diplomat recounts The Africa Report that the government has no plan to deal with the drought beyond the expectation of intervention by the international community. Donors are also reluctant to continue pumping money into the country while the political elite fights among themselves. The United States has threatened visa restrictions due to the political crisis and the IMF has said it will cut funding for Somalia if there are further delays in the elections.

Somalia has lost donors, who are tired, and there is no appetite to continue supporting the country.

Some partners have already suspended their budget support and the government is so short of money that it has resorted to the diaspora to pay the salaries of civil servants.

The last time Somalia was hit by drought, in 2017, a crisis was averted after the government moved quickly to raise awareness among donors and mobilize funds. However, the current situation is more like that of 2011-2012, when a severe drought turned into a famine that killed 260,000 people, due to a combination of international inaction, continued insecurity and strife. politics between elites.

Women queue for food and water in camps as farmland disappears during drought in Somalia (Photo: Fred Harter)

Worsening of the situation

The World Food Program (WFP) estimates that 40-70% of Somali livestock have already been lost due to the current drought. Things could get worse if the rains fail for a fourth time in April. “We have not received any additional funds,” said WFP spokesman Petroc Wilson. “Even those who gave us funds in the past, they are late… If this continues, the situation in Somalia is going to be [worse].”

Wilson sayss WFP does not have enough money to support people affected by drought. “These people who are affected by malnutrition, who have lost their livestock, we are not doing anything for them,” he says. “The situation is serious, and the longer you delay the response, the more you increase the cost of the response, the more you drive people to starvation. We are not starving yet, but we are gradually heading towards starvation.

An estimated 3 million people live in areas controlled by Al Shabaab and inaccessible to humanitarians. Meanwhile, as forecasts predict the displacement of a million more people over the next few months, newly uprooted families continue to arrive at Luglow camp in hopes of receiving assistance.

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