Why Somalia’s drought and looming food crisis require an innovative response

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Updated 22 September 2022

Why Somalia’s drought and looming food crisis require an innovative response

Why Somalia’s drought and looming food crisis require an innovative response
  • Presidential Envoy for Drought Response tells Arab News “famine could be here as soon as October”
  • Abdirahman Abdishakur says “humanitarian support is vital but it cannot be a permanent solution”

NEW YORK CITY: Just a few months ago, Somalia was promised a new era. After a peaceful vote and an equally peaceful transfer of power, many had hoped that a line had been drawn under decades of clan divisions, factious politics, heightened tensions between Mogadishu and the regions, and a persistent extremist presence.

In recent years, Somalia recorded encouraging economic growth as well, lifting the hopes of the international community further. 

A new president, whose election had crowned a period of hope that saw the drafting of a new provisional constitution, the establishment of a federal government, and the subsequent formation of five new federal member states, had promised to focus on national reconciliation and on further political and financial reforms.

James Swan, the UN special representative to Somalia, had told the Security Council that Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s presidency offered a “long-awaited opportunity to advance urgent national priorities.”

Yet it is not because of this progress that Somalia is set to be a major focus of this year’s 77th session of the UN General Assembly. Once again, the country finds itself facing a state of alarming emergency resulting from multiple, overlapping crises.

The UN’s World Meteorological Organization has predicted that the Horn of Africa is likely to face a fifth consecutive failed rainy season over the months of October to December. Somalia is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change and is ill-equipped to cope with this drought, the worst it has experienced in 40 years.

There is no end in sight, many say. Five years of drought have depleted the country’s water levels, leading to crop failure, with agricultural production falling 70 percent below average. More than 3 million livestock have perished. The animals that remained are now emaciated.

And getting aid to those in need remains a tremendous challenge. Some areas are hard to reach owing to poor road infrastructure. Others are under the control of Al-Shabab, an uncompromising, unpopular group with links to Al-Qaeda.

A mother gives water to her child at a camp for displaced persons in Baidoa, Somalia. Hungry people are heading to Baidoa from rural areas of southern Somalia, one of the regions hardest hit by drought. (AFP)

A deadly insurgency by Al-Shabab against the federal government has resulted in humanitarian aid convoys being attacked. In a vicious cycle, the scarcity that Al-Shabab is exacerbating is in turn leading to more young Somalis being vulnerable to recruitment.

Then came the war in Ukraine, the reverberations from which have been deeply felt in the Horn of Africa. The resultant spike in global grain prices has pushed millions of Somalis to leave their homes and look for food, carrying starving and malnourished children on the way.

Only those who are physically capable of leaving have left, however. As for the most vulnerable, the children, Somalia’s newest generation, they are perishing.

“Food insecurity is a global problem,” Abdirahman Abdishakur, Somalia’s special presidential envoy for drought response, told Arab News.

“The whole world has been affected by disruptions to global supply chains of grain, fertilizer and fuel arising from the conflict in Ukraine. Much like the rest of the world, Somalia has also been affected.

“The difference for Somalia is that this crisis is coming on top of many others that the country has been reeling from for decades.”

UN reports indicate that some communities, particularly agro-pastoral populations in Baidoa and Burhakaba districts and displaced people in the Baidoa town of the Bay region, will experience famine starting in October if aid is not immediately scaled up.

Abdishakur is in New York City to lobby and urge donors, the international community, and the Somali diaspora to support the drought response “before it is too late.”

Various UN bodies, including children’s fund UNICEF, the World Food Program, and the Food and Agriculture Organization, have repeatedly warned that the emergency shows no signs of letting up.

In a statement, the FAO said that “without action, famine will occur within the next few weeks,” adding that drought-related deaths had already been occurring and the toll could be much higher in hard-to-reach rural areas, compared with the number recorded in camps for displaced families.

During the famine of 2011, 340,000 Somali children required treatment for severe acute malnutrition, James Elder, UNICEF spokesperson, said in Geneva, Switzerland. “Today it’s 513,000. It’s a pending nightmare we have not seen this century.”

Abdirahman Abdishakur, Somalia's special presidential envoy, has called for an immediate global response to the country's food crisis. (Supplied)

According to the FAO, approximately 6.7 million people in Somalia will likely endure high levels of acute food insecurity between October and December this year, including more than 300,000 who have been left “empty-handed” by the country’s triple emergency and who are expected to fall into famine.

Abdishakur said: “Needs have escalated, and funds remain below what is required. The window for the international community is literally now. If the world doesn’t scale up assistance, famine could be here as soon as October.”

Although such dire predictions have thrown Somalia into the limelight, famine projections were actually made back in March.

“Many governments have increased their funding over the course of the drought, and we are very grateful. However, the need for adequate levels of funding to contain the initial emergency was not met, allowing the situation to spiral into the crisis we are experiencing today,” he added.

Now, Abdishakur is leading a call for a more aggressive humanitarian response to the crisis to save as many lives as possible.

“The sheer severity of the situation demands a more aggressive, innovative, and tangible reaction from the international community,” he said. And he called on the international community to “rally in the spirit of humanitarian diplomacy” and increase their contributions “before it’s too late.”

“No one should be dying from starvation in 2022. In this world of staggering wealth, skills and knowledge, there should be enough support to go around,” he added.

A child sleeps in a makeshift tent at Muuri camp in Baidoa, one of 500 camps for displaced persons. (AFP)

It is not the first or even 10th time that an emergency appeal has been made for Somalia to donor countries, and Abdishakur noted that it would not be the last if the same approach continued to be taken each year by Somalia’s government or the international community.

He said: “I do not want to be knocking on doors again in five years’ time or ever. Around 1 billion dollars is spent on aid to our country annually yet needs continue to increase. Humanitarian support is vital during a crisis, but it cannot be a permanent solution.”

Somalis are aware of the progress they had begun to get a taste for, but now fear that their country’s full potential will not be achieved.

According to experts, had that potential been utilized, Somalia could have contributed to food security and sustainable energy production in the Horn of Africa and the world.

As the presidential envoy for drought response, Abdishakur is advocating a new way of working aimed at ultimately ending the cycle of hunger and suffering that focuses on long-term adaptation to, and mitigation of, climate change.

Along with the urgent funds needed to save lives, he has called for investments that focus on fighting food insecurity, help foster livelihoods, and build infrastructure, especially roads.

He said that between 20 and 40 percent of agricultural produce in Somalia was lost in transportation because of poor roads.


• A famine is an acute episode of extreme lack of food characterized by starvation, widespread deaths, destitution, and extremely critical levels of acute malnutrition.

“Somalia needs partnerships that make its people thrive by continuing to live their traditional way of life with some added climate-adaptive and mitigation practices,” Abdishakur said

“Somalia has resources. We have minerals, rivers, wind, and natural gas. We have the longest coastline in Africa. We have a large agro-pastoral population, who live off ample pasture and export livestock to global markets when drought is not scorching their land.

“To break away from recurrent crises, we need the international community to understand the importance of building the resilience of our people to climate, economic, and security shocks.

“Along with urgently saving lives, international engagement in Somalia must contribute to livelihoods, develop vital modern infrastructure like roads and irrigation channels, and help families adapt to a new climate reality.”

Looking to the future, Abdishakur said: “We know that our government has a long way to go but we are committed to ending this crisis and stopping the cycle, including through improvements to the way we function, our transparency, and accountability.

“Our request to the international community, and any group with relevant expertise and resources, is to work with our government to urgently save lives today and make sustainable investments in the Somalia of tomorrow.”

Muslim World League and Columbia University launch interfaith research lab

Muslim World League and Columbia University launch interfaith research lab
Updated 11 sec ago

Muslim World League and Columbia University launch interfaith research lab

Muslim World League and Columbia University launch interfaith research lab
  • The project will develop training programs to address biases in communities and classrooms, and prevent discrimination and extremism

NEW YORK: The Muslim World League, in partnership with Teachers College, Columbia University in New York, on Wednesday launched the International Lab for Research and Leadership in Interfaith Collaboration and Coexistence.

Its founders said it aims to be a center of excellence for research, leadership and training to help combat all forms of hate and radicalization based on religion, race or ethnicity.

The Muslim World League has provided a grant to support the work of the lab, which will include the development of innovative, evidence-based training programs to address biases in communities and classrooms, along with the advancement of groundbreaking research to help foster and enhance coexistence and collaboration.

The officials who attended the signing ceremony for the project on Wednesday included Muslim World League Secretary General Mohammad Al-Issa, Teachers College President Thomas Bailey, Archbishop of New York Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Park East Synagogue Senior Rabbi Arthur Schneier, and members of the US Congress.

“The Muslim World League is dedicated to fighting hate speech and intolerance in all its forms,” said Al-Issa.

“We are honored to support the new International Lab for Research and Leadership in Interfaith Collaboration and Coexistence because it will expand that battle and, through training and research, will help eliminate discrimination and extremism before it can take root in young children.”


Majority of British Muslims live in most deprived areas of England and Wales: Data

Majority of British Muslims live in most deprived areas of England and Wales: Data
Updated 17 min 33 sec ago

Majority of British Muslims live in most deprived areas of England and Wales: Data

Majority of British Muslims live in most deprived areas of England and Wales: Data
  • 61% of Muslims live in the lowest 40% of areas ranked by deprivation
  • Campaigners call on policymakers to end ‘cycles of poverty’

LONDON: The majority of Muslims are living in the areas of England and Wales with the worst levels of deprivation, the UK Office for National Statistics revealed on Wednesday.

Muslims now account for 6.5 percent of the population in England and Wales, some 3.9 million in 2021, according to the latest ONS census. 

However, the data showed 61 percent of them live in the lowest 40 percent of areas ranked by deprivation score, The Guardian reported.

Tower Hamlets, considered one of the most deprived areas, had the highest percentage of Muslims in England and Wales in 2011. The census in 2021 shows that they now account for 39.9 percent of the local population. 

Meanwhile, only 4 percent of Muslims live in the 20 percent of areas least deprived.

Policymakers have been urged to address the “cycles of poverty” that have affected generations of British Muslims, the numbers of which have increased by 1.2 million in the last decade.

Muslim Council of Britain Secretary-General Zara Mohammed told The Guardian: “We’re now the second or third generation (of Muslims).

“There’s more of us here, and yet we’re still in these cycles of poverty and deprivation.

“I think part of that is down to socioeconomic conditions where people are housed, and the economic opportunities available.

“There’s something to really be said about what our politics and policies are doing to help those who are really suffering.

“There’s all these stereotypes and tropes around Muslims, but the reality is that people are actually in cycles of poverty. And these need to be broken.”

Sufia Alam, head of the Maryam Centre and programmes at East London Mosque in Tower Hamlets, told The Guardian: “I have worked for almost three decades in this borough and it’s one of the poorest in London and indeed in the country.

“Even though it’s a rich borough as well as a poor borough: We’ve got Canary Wharf on our doorstep.

“The (census data) are not surprising because of so many factors that we’ve often talked about: Islamophobia, cultural biases that exist, racism within institutions from education all the way to employment.

“I remember talking about the same thing in the 2011 census. Nothing’s really changed.”


Saudi solar project to help Bangladesh meet clean energy goals, mitigate power crisis

Saudi solar project to help Bangladesh meet clean energy goals, mitigate power crisis
Updated 37 min 33 sec ago

Saudi solar project to help Bangladesh meet clean energy goals, mitigate power crisis

Saudi solar project to help Bangladesh meet clean energy goals, mitigate power crisis
  • ACWA Power signed power plant agreement with Bangladesh earlier this week
  • Bangladesh has for months been struggling with acute energy crisis

DHAKA: A 1,000-megawatt photovoltaic power facility planned in partnership with a Saudi power giant was expected to help Bangladesh resolve its energy crisis, authorities in Dhaka said on Wednesday.
Bangladesh, which is dependent on imported liquefied natural gas, has been struggling with an energy crisis for the past couple of months.
On Monday, the Bangladesh Power Development Board, an agency under the Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources, signed a memorandum of understanding with Saudi Arabia’s ACWA Power to set up a 1,000-megawatt solar power facility in the South Asian country.
“It’s a first track initiative to resolve the ongoing energy crisis to some extent,” Mohammad Hossain, director general of the BPDB, told Arab News.
He estimated that the project would comprise up to five power plants, cost around $3 billion, and would not take long to complete.
“It doesn’t take much time to implement solar power plant projects ... If everything goes well, we can expect within the next two years that these solar plants will be able to go for production.”
Authorities are now looking for appropriate land where the solar farm could be established.
“It can be on public land or ACWA Power can also propose some private land,” Hossain said. “Based on that we will conduct a feasibility study of the project.”
The facility would also help Bangladesh achieve its target of generating 40 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2041. With a total installed electricity generation capacity of 25,700 megawatts, the country’s current power generation mix comprises only 3 percent renewables.
“This kind of 1,000-megawatt project will help us to meet the target,” Dr. SM Nasif Shams, director of the Institute of Energy at the University of Dhaka, told Arab News.
“If we can secure this Saudi investment in the renewable energy sector, it will be a very positive thing for Bangladesh.”
The project would not only contribute to Bangladesh’s clean energy goals but also to its energy resilience.
Since mid-July, the government has been resorting to daily power cuts amid high global prices driven up by Russia’s war in Ukraine. Industries have been forced to remain idle for several hours a day as they do not receive sufficient power to run their operations.
In early October, some 80 percent of Bangladesh’s 168 million people were left without electricity after a grid failure, which occurred when more than one-third of the country’s gas-powered units were short of fuel.
“Considering the present situation, it’s difficult to import fossil fuel from foreign countries,” Shams said.
“If we can generate our own energy using renewable sources like sunlight or wind, this is always positive as we don’t have to import fossil fuel. And it’s also environment friendly.”

EU proposal would send proceeds of frozen Russian funds to Ukraine

EU proposal would send proceeds of frozen Russian funds to Ukraine
Updated 30 November 2022

EU proposal would send proceeds of frozen Russian funds to Ukraine

EU proposal would send proceeds of frozen Russian funds to Ukraine
  • Moscow says seizing its funds or those of its citizens amounts to theft
  • "Russia must ... pay financially for the devastation that it caused," Ursula von der Leyen, president of the EU's executive said

BRUSSELS: The European Commission proposed a plan on Wednesday to compensate Ukraine for damage from Russia’s invasion with proceeds from investing Russian funds frozen under sanctions.
Officials in the EU, United States and other Western countries have long debated whether Ukraine can benefit from frozen Russian assets, including around $300 billion of Russia’s central bank reserves and $20 billion held by blacklisted Russians.
Moscow says seizing its funds or those of its citizens amounts to theft.
“Russia must ... pay financially for the devastation that it caused,” Ursula von der Leyen, president of the EU’s executive said in a statement.
“The damage suffered by Ukraine is estimated at 600 billion euros. Russia and its oligarchs have to compensate Ukraine for the damage and cover the costs for rebuilding the country.”
European Commission officials said that one short-term option for Western nations would be to create a fund to manage and invest liquid assets of the central bank, and use the proceeds to support Ukraine.
The assets would be returned to their owners when sanctions were lifted, which could be part of a peace agreement that ensured Ukraine received compensation for damages.
“It’s not easy so it will require strong backing from the international community but we believe it is doable,” one official said.
With regard to the frozen assets of private individuals and entities, seizing these is usually only legally possible where there is a criminal conviction.
The Commission has proposed that violations of sanctions could be classified as an offense that would allow confiscation.
Von der Leyen also said that the Commission was proposing the establishment of a specialized court, backed by the United Nations, “to investigate and prosecute Russia’s crime of aggression.”
Moscow denies its invasion, which it calls a “special military operation,” constitutes aggression, a war crime under international law.

At least 16 killed, 24 wounded in north Afghanistan blast - local media

At least 16 killed, 24 wounded in north Afghanistan blast -  local media
Updated 30 November 2022

At least 16 killed, 24 wounded in north Afghanistan blast - local media

At least 16 killed, 24 wounded in north Afghanistan blast -  local media

KABUL: At least 16 people were killed and 24 others wounded Wednesday by a blast at a madrassa in Afghanistan's northern city of Aybak, a doctor at a local hospital said.

There have been dozens of blasts and attacks targeting civilians since the Taliban returned to power in August last year, most claimed by the local chapter of the Daesh group.

A doctor in Aybak, about 200 kilometres (130 miles) north of the capital Kabul, said the casualties were mostly youngsters.

“All of them are children and ordinary people,” he told AFP, asking not to be named.

The Taliban, which frequently plays down casualty figures, said 10 students had died and “many others” were injured.

“Our detective and security forces are working quickly to identify the perpetrators of this unforgivable crime and punish them for their actions,” tweeted Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul Nafay Takor.

Images and video circulating on social media -- which could not immediately be verified -- showed Taliban fighters picking their way through bodies strewn across the floor of a building.

Prayer mats, shattered glass and other debris littered the scene.