Position paper

Charting a path to drought resilience in Somalia

Published 21. Feb 2023
The intensity and the scale of the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in the Horn of Africa will likely result in irrevocable change. For millions of people, life will not return to how it was before.

A humanitarian catastrophe on an extraordinary scale is unfolding across the Horn of Africa. As of the end of 2022, 2 million people had fled their homes and 20.9 million people are experiencing significant food insecurity (IPC level 3 or above). In Somalia, 8.3 million people are expected to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse acute food insecurity outcomes between April and June 2023. 1.8 million children are facing the short and long term impact of acute malnutrition, including 513,550 children who are likely to be severely malnourished through July 2023.

Yet, the pathway to recovery in Somalia looks increasingly difficult, or even unlikely. Firstly, the humanitarian response in Somalia today is doing just enough to keep millions of people on the brink of famine, but not enough to curb displacement, malnutrition, health and food insecurity and excess mortality, that continue to force people into harmful coping mechanisms. Secondly, the current scale of the response is unsustainable, with funding unlikely to be maintained at the same level in 2023.

Finally, the Humanitarian Development and Peace (HDP) nexus, might be more damaging than we think to Somalia’s socio-ecological system. Indeed, in many instances, the humanitarian response does not consider local capacities, or the medium to the long-term impact of interventions — and in so doing undermines the resilience capacities of communities. And development aid, delivered in parallel to the drought response, regularly fails to recognize the need for shock-responsive, adaptable, and decentralised approaches, thus damaging local capacities to deal with increasing uncertainty and volatility. In other words, the “Do no harm” principles that are so very central to the humanitarian actors tend to be environmentally blind.

As a result, even if the next rainy season (March to May) was withing average, it will likely not be sufficient to change the humanitarian outlook for 2023 or of the following years. It has become evident, in 2022 more than ever, that the conceptual continuum of crisis, recovery, resilience and development is implausible in Somalia, as in many other protracted crises.

There is no “normal” to which the country can return. There is no “normal” that is conducive to development or graduation from poverty in Somalia. Hoping that the country will return to what it was a year ago – or 10, 20, 30 years ago - and that it will resume its development pathway is wishful thinking. So, finding a path out of this crisis will require reframing how our system, the Humanitarian Development and Peace nexus, plans and programs for protracted crises, by embracing a common priority to build local resilience to climatic shocks, and by taking a common commitment to address our systemic shortcoming with both intention and urgency.