The Somalia crisis is one of the world's most challenging mass displacement situations. The crisis was generated by a combination of droughts in the Horn of Africa, political unrest, and a civil war causing the displacement of a majority of Somali citizens. Hundreds of thousands of Somalis have fled due to political instability and dangerous conditions caused by the ongoing civil war that first broke out in the 1990s. Somalia collapsed into anarchy following the overthrow of President Siad Barre and his military regime in 1991. The preceding confusion caused by the coup and the lack of leadership allowed rival warlords to break Somalia into clan-based fiefdoms. In 2000, an internationally-backed unit government was installed but struggled to gain control and enforce order over the separatist movements occurring in the northern regions of Somaliland and Puntland. In 2012, a new government was installed and gained a semblance of control over the chaos that had engulfed Somalia. Unfortunately, permanent and continuous stability is still contested by the challenge posed by al-Qaeda-aligned al-Shabaab insurgents.
Civil War Complexities and the Threat of al-Shabaab
Since the collapse of the authoritarian regime in 1991, Somalia has struggled to effectively establish a functioning state and reliable government. As mentioned, the 2012 limited and indirect election brought a federal government to power, and by 2016 five federal member states had been established, but these states often engaged in conflict with each other. The government’s territorial control is limited, and the current government is contested by a separatist government in Somaliland and by al-Shabaab. Al-Shabaab is an insurgent group formed in the early 2000s with the goal of establishing an Islamic State in Somalia. Al-Shabaab was the militant wing of the Somali Council of Islamic Courts which took over most of southern Somalia in 2006. The key objective of al-Shabaab is to overthrow the central government and expel foreign government aid and forces from Somalia; the same humanitarian efforts and foreign aid which currently hold the hungry and displaced population of Somalia afloat. Al-Shabaab has conducted multiple high-profile terrorist attacks in Somalia and has increasingly used targeted assassination in an attempt to undermine Somali government officials and institutions. The terrorist attacks occurring in Somalia have caused a humanitarian crisis resulting in the internal displacement of millions of people within Somalia and neighboring states. Additionally, Somalia is already suffering from persistent food security, widespread political violence, protracted population displacement, and natural disasterssuch as floods and droughts. The continued political tension between clans andmember states, and violent political acts by insurgent groups such as al-Shabaab have had a multifaceted impact on Somalia and have exacerbated the humanitarian crisis already occurring.
Thirsting for Relief in Times of Drought
The civil war in Somalia is only one of the conditions forcing Somali citizens to become displaced persons and seek refuge in other countries. The Horn of Africa has seen three years of the worst drought conditions in history. Specifically, Ethiopia and Somalia have had five failed rain seasons since 2020, leading to 1.4 million Somalis being displaced and 3.8 million livestock dead. However, starting in March 2023, it appeared salvation had arrived with the beginning of a heavy rain season. Flash flooding occurred three years after extreme drought which put many residents’ livelihoods at risk and quickly turned fatal, killing dozens and impacting 300,000 people in Ethiopia and Somalia. More than 408,000 people have been displaced by flooding invading their homes. This flash flooding incident has turned catastrophic for Ethiopia and Somalia, only adding existing problems of displacement, and will not be enough to reverse the years of extreme drought that occurred beforehand in the Horn of Africa. Despite flash flooding, the Horn of Africa is still experiencing a devastating drought that is expected to be the worst in 40 years, following sporadic and poor rainfall patterns and changing climate conditions.
UNHCR and Refugee Aid Lifeline
The humanitarian crisis in Somalia has not gone unnoticed by the international community and there have been global efforts and funding provided by the United Nations Human Rights Council and United Nations Refugee Agency to aid Somalia during this trying time. When weather forecasts rolled in predicting heavy rains and potential flooding that would be exacerbated by El Niño weather patterns, the UN World Food Programme enacted a “flood anticipatory action program”. This program acted in tandem with the government of Somalia to deliver preemptive cash transfers and warning messages in districts projected to suffer from heavy rain and flooding. By sending warning messages and funds to families who were at risk of facing the full effects of unpredictable rain patterns and flash flooding, the UN World Food Programme supplied families with the information and means that they required to protect their families and homes before the floods hit. This precautionary and preemptive program and transfer of information and funds allowed the UN World Food Programme to protect many people and their families while also limiting the number of people who would require emergency assistance once the floods hit. The UN World Food Program was able to reach over 200,000 people and disperse $4.1 million in aid through the program.
Generations of Refugees
The UN World Food Programme has been crucial in providing aid to Somalis who have been affected by the flash flooding, even preemptively helping those who are expected to be impacted by it in the future. Before the floods, water sources were slim and livelihoods had been decimated by the prices of food and supplies that had risen drastically due to a combination of climate shocks and the ongoing political conflict and turmoil in the state. These conditions led to new displacement both internally and across borders, as well as worsening the circumstances of existing refugees due to drought conditions. Increased displacement numbers are not uncommon in Somalia.
Generations of Somalis have been displaced to the point where children have been born into refugee camps and have lived a life of exile since their conception. These children are generally part of camps and generations of refugees that are now categorized as protracted refugees. The UNHCR defines a protracted refugee situation as one in which 25,000 or more refugees from the same nationality have been displaced and in exile for five or more years in a given asylum country or location. The UNHCR is working to ensure these children still have a future and are provided an education and opportunity to attend college and escape the life of exile they are born into.
The UNHCR and UN Refugee Agency have provided aid and assistance that was essential to the Somali people to ensure their survival. The funding awarded to the UN World Food Programme allowed over 200,000 people to have a chance of survival and the knowledge and opportunity to relocate their families before a flood took their home, or worse, their life. However, without additional funding, the UN World Food Programme will struggle to scale future anticipatory action programs and will have to choose which struggling, urgent population to aid; whether struggling from political conflict, natural disasters, or food security. Lack of funding will limit the program's ability to make long-term investments that will aid in building resilience and providing resources to enable Somalia to adapt to the increasing climate shocks. The current funding gap in Somalia is $378 million from November 2023 to April 2024. With a quarter of Somalia’s population (4.3 million) still forecasted to face starvation by the end of the year, support of the humanitarian community remains their lifeline and last hope. The flash foods have only exacerbated the hunger crisis already worsened by the years of drought, lack of crops, and surviving livestock. With significant funding cuts, the World Food Programme may only be able to produce food assistance to less than half of those in need. Somalia needs to break free of the cycle of crisis-driven dependence on humanitarian aid, but they are currently in a position where the simple survival of its population remains the primary concern.