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Scholar’s warn: Somalia may be on the verge of another famine

In 2011, the United Nations declared a famine in Somalia attracting the attention of major media outlets around the world. The 2011 declaration came during the month of Ramadan, which gave it added resonance in the Muslim community and resulting in massive fundraising efforts.

At the time, the announcement from the UN helped to mobilise people and governments around the world, but it was perceived as too little too late by the international community who said there was a significant delay in the scaling up of humanitarian assistance. It is estimated that 258,000 people lost their lives – mainly women and children – then in late 2016, warnings of another potential famine were issued. Memories of the tragic events of 2011 were still fresh, which helped mobilise funds earlier in comparison to 2011, although, scholars say, not early enough, as another 45,000 people died.

Credit: Farah Abd - Keyd Media
Somali women line up for food after fleeing droughts. Credit: Farah Abd - Keyd Media

Reflecting on these painful past experiences, scholars are warning of a possible new famine. Based on Somali and international observations, public reporting and consultations scholars have collected evidence that suggest that a significant part of the Somali population is facing a major food crisis. They are concerned that the humanitarian system will be too slow to respond, which could lead to the death of many Somalis.

What the scholars say

Nisar Majid, Guhad Adan, Khalif Abdirahman Research Associates at the LSE, and Daniel Maxwell Research Director at the Feinstein International Centre at Tufts University; are leading the research.

The four scholars have set out the basis of their concerns for Somalia.

Their research shows that today, similar to what happened in 2011, there have been at least two successive, severe rain failures combined with a very poor grain harvest. In addition, Somalia is rocked by political instability and conflict, while the international community has been distracted with the COVID-19 pandemic, both of which can slow down the humanitarian response and reduce the availability and distribution of funds.

The research highlights the early signs of potential famine in terms of social mobilisation and migration.

The Horn of Africa is also facing a new wave of instability due to the crisis in Sudan and the civil war in Ethiopia. Somalia’s own government and political elite are preoccupied with political squabbles and an election process that is diverting time and money away from social provision for the general population.

Somalis at home and abroad have already been responding to the evolving crisis. The epicentre of the current drought appears to be in what is known as the Mandera Triangle, where the corners of Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya meet. But there are also other areas suffering, including on both sides of the Somalia-Kenya border, as well as the main grain-growing areas in Southwest State.

Camel deaths in many parts of Somalia are also being reported and are another indicator of the severity of the situation. Camels are the most resilient animals when it comes to drought conditions; cattle, sheep and goats all die before they do.

Dangerous delay

Researchers say they cannot be 100 percent sure that there will be a famine in 2022, but there are already ominous signs and given the current circumstances in Somalia and abroad, the humanitarian response could potentially be severely delayed.

Given the rain failures and the early reports of immense food shortages, it makes far more sense to act early and mobilise resources now, to save lives, protect livelihoods and avoid having to organise an expensive famine response when it is too late.


Research Associate at the LSE

Research Associate at the LSE.

Research Associate at the LSE

Research Director at the Feinstein International Center at Tufts University

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