Climate Change, Peace, And Security: A Comprehensive Analysis Of The Crisis In Somalia

Somalia, recognized as the world’s hungriest country by the Global Hunger Index in 2021, has been grappling with one of the most severe droughts in its history for over a decade. This dire situation can be partially attributed to La Niña, a meteorological phenomenon that cools the surface waters of the Pacific Ocean every two to five years, leading to reduced rainfall in the Horn of Africa region. However, it is crucial to acknowledge that climate change has significantly exacerbated the frequency and severity of La Niña’s impacts in this region. Before 1999, this phenomenon occurred roughly every five years, but now, it occurs twice as often, according to some scientists. Moreover, Somalia finds itself entangled in a multifaceted humanitarian crisis, further exacerbated by an enduring civil war that has spanned more than three decades. The political landscape remains paralyzed due to the Federal Government of Somalia’s inability to effectively collaborate with regional governments, resulting in a prolonged deadlock. Additionally, the presence of the Al-Shabaab terrorist group since 2007 has added to the country’s woes.

In this analysis, we will delve into the intricate interplay between climate change, peace and security, and their mutual impact on Somalia. We will examine four key aspects: livelihoods, migration and mobility, military and armed actors, and the political landscape.

The Somali livelihood deterioration:

The livelihood in Somalia is marked by extreme poverty and a state of underdevelopment. According to the NGO CONCERN, nearly 70% of the population lives below the internationally defined poverty line, meaning a person earns less than $2.15 per day, a percentage which is significantly higher in rural areas. This dire economic situation can largely be attributed to the state of the formal economy, which has been severely hampered by a prolonged civil war and the federal government’s inability to effectively regulate economic activities across the entire nation. The risk of businesses falling prey to looting is high, and fluctuating inflation rates continually disrupt the market. As a stark illustration, the cost of living in Mogadishu, the country’s capital, is a staggering 137% higher than in Tokyo. Adding to this already challenging scenario is the impact of the war in Ukraine, which has further exacerbated poverty levels in Somalia. Ukraine plays a vital role as one of the primary wheat exporters to Somalia, Sudan, and South Sudan. With a 36% increase in the cost of the food basket in Somalia, many residents find themselves at a critical juncture where they must decide between selling their assets or living without access to adequate food.

As highlighted by Somali leaders during their testimony for the 2013 National Adaptation Programme of Action on Climate Change, this dire economic situation tends to exacerbate conflicts among farmers who find themselves competing for limited demand, often driven by dwindling resources. Additionally, the adverse effects of climate change, particularly recurrent droughts, have a profound impact on these farmers, as they result in less profitable crops. As the population becomes increasingly impoverished, individuals are more susceptible to resorting to violence or affiliating with armed groups as a means of safeguarding their livelihoods. This unfortunate trend serves to compound and perpetuate the overall insecurity within the country.

Migration and mobility in Somalia

Migration and mobility patterns in Somalia are intricately intertwined with the dynamic interplay of climate change, peace, and security within the country, compelling Somali people to leave their homes. Firstly, climate change plays a pivotal role in driving people to seek alternative places to live, particularly as they shift from rural to urban areas in search of a more adequate living environment. A striking example of this occurred in June 2019 when the cumulative impact of several years of drought brought crops to failure, forcing the displacement of 53,000 individuals from the hardest-hit communities. This trend is likely to exacerbate existing conflicts. Indeed, the climate-induced migration disrupts clan-based organizations, leading to escalating tensions among various groups and providing proximate causes for conflicts. Moreover, it imperils the social bonds within clans and undermines communal security, making internally displaced persons (IDPs) more susceptible to seeking refuge in terrorist organizations such as Al-Shabaab.

Military and armed actors

At the same time, the current climate crisis deeply impacts population security due to diminishing natural resources, enabling armed groups to exploit people’s distress. These groups do so by offering more effective services than government agencies (FGS or FMS) during food and water shortages[4]. For example, Al Shabaab seized parts of southern Somalia during the 2000-2004 drought, extorting farmers and selling resources at higher prices to fund themselves[5], thus hindering governmental aid relief[6]. Additionally, they recruit based on promises of better living conditions. Furthermore, civil war has destroyed critical infrastructure, limiting access to sanitation, clean water, and healthcare facilities. In 2017, Somalia witnessed over 79,000 cases of acute watery diarrhea and cholera. Armed groups exploit this water shortage through tactics like inundation or scarcity to expand their influence in the country.

The Somali political situation

Somalia’s political landscape has been shaped by an evolving civil war, which, as of 2023, still persists. This conflict initially arose when nationalist groups took a stand against Said Barre’s dictatorship. After the first confrontations, the country became fragmented into various groups, hindering cooperation between the federal government and different regions and leading to events such as Somaliland’s 1991 declaration of independence and Puntland’s autonomy in 1998. Furthermore, the “4:5 formula,” which mandates equal representation in government for the four main clans (Dorad, Hawiye, Dir, and Rahanweyn), has contributed to political inefficiency. This inefficiency was exemplified by the government’s inability to hold presidential elections before President Farmaajo’s term expired in February 2021, leading to a legislative extension of his term and subsequent violence in April. Somalia’s intention to return to direct elections in 2024 appears ambitious given the ongoing crisis and raises doubts about its feasibility. The country is engaged in another battle against terrorism, with Mohamud’s declaration of a “total war” against al-Shabaab in August 2022 coinciding with a 41 percent surge in al-Shabaab violence targeting civilians that year. On top of that, the climate crisis, particularly drought, indirectly exacerbates the civil war by fueling local conflicts. The clan-based political landscape may exploit dwindling resources due to climate-related challenges, disproportionately affecting minority groups. While climate change isn’t the sole cause of the drought, it exacerbates the situation of human insecurity in the country at the expense of a hungry and unsecure population.

Here, it becomes clear that existing human insecurity arising from fragile livelihoods, the ongoing civil war, and unstable politics is worsened by climate change. This intensifies tensions among social groups and strengthens terrorist organizations, further heightening insecurity. Thus, the FGS should perform regular climate-related security risk assessments to protect the already vulnerable population. Facilitating dialogues within different clans can also help prevent climate-related tensions from turning violent and curb the opportunistic actions of groups like Al-Shabaab. The UN system and international partners must also provide financial and operational support for the FGS’s risk-related initiatives. This includes bolstering regional institutions like IGAD’s Conflict Early Warning and Response Mechanism (CEWARN) and the IGAD Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC), along with adequately resourcing the African Union (AU).


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