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Crisis looms as conflict and climate change threaten Somali herders

Climate change - cleanbuild
Credit: Getty Images

Does climate change directly cause armed conflict? While this is a subject of debate for scientists, politicians, and researchers, what cannot be overlooked is the role of climate change in domestic conflict.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) believes there is a strong connection between the two. In fact, the ICRC has warned that conflict and the growing climate crisis are forcing Somali herders to abandon their way of life.

Since the country is largely dependent on livestock rearing and agriculture, the livelihood of Somali pastoralists is at risk even as unstable weather patterns, floods, and droughts increase in frequency. More so, conflict, Covid-19, and the recent locust infestations have made matters worse.

New footage from the country has surfaced exposing the struggles facing herders. One herder, Ahmed Mohamud, reported that he has lost 50 of his 70 camels while other herders have lost all their livestock.

“There’s no food. The ground is dry,” he said. “This country is known for its refugees. If you lose your animals, you sign up as a refugee, that’s what we say. So, there are many people who lost their animals and signed up as refugees.”

On the one hand, the recurrent nature of climatic shocks means that herders stand little to no chance of recovery. On the other hand, the instability created by conflict further weakens their ability to adapt and find alternative grazing areas.

Another herder, Mohamed Hassan Gure, said, “The latest drought, 2021, is the one that destroyed the animals. Before they recovered from the previous drought they were hit by others. Like the locusts. The locusts ate the pastures.

“So the animals did not get anything to eat and that is how they died. There was nothing to give them. They didn’t have anything to feed on. We were left with 50 animals. Out of the 50, 30 were killed by the rains. Now 20 are left.”

He added, “Only God knows, but we wonder whether our way of life is in danger. If the droughts continue and the animals get fewer, this way of life is in real danger.”

What makes their expressions poignant is not just the losses they as well as many others have incurred, but beneath their hopelessness and despair is a resounding cry for help.

Beyond conflict, Somalia gains additional threat

Almost three decades of conflict have shattered the Somali state’s institutions and turned about 2.9 million people into refugees. The country’s economy, largely informal, is based on livestock and remittances.

While fierce competition over scarce natural resources fuels more violence among clans, the UN’s Human Development Report states that 81% of Somalis live in multidimensional poverty, experiencing acute deprivation in areas such as health and education.

Even worse, Somalia has not gone unscathed from the devastating effects of climate change. On the contrary, the frequency of climate-related crises in the country is on the increase.

Since 1990 to date, more than 30 climate-related hazards, including droughts and floods, have hit the country- three times higher than similar events between 1970 and 1990 according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

The recurrence of such catastrophic events makes recovery difficult for these communities that are already struggling. Globally, Somalia is ranked as one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change by the ND-GAIN Country Index when it comes to its ability to improve resilience.

Describing the bleak situation of the nation, Abdallah Togola, Head of ICRC’s economic security program in Somalia, said that the country “is a perfect case of the disastrous consequences of the combination between climate change and conflict. And how climate change and conflict are working together to worsen an already disastrous humanitarian situation.”

He believes that these extreme weather events are due to global warming and climate change effects. Not only are all these factors more frequent, but he views them as worse in intensity.

According to the ICRC, over 11,000 Somali families affected by this year’s prolonged dry spell have received financial support totaling nearly CHF 900,000 to help them cope with the harsh conditions and loss of livelihoods.

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