Somalia’s recent history has been marred by instability, poverty and violent conflict. After a civil war in the 1990s, the country remains without an effective central government, with Islamic group Al-Shabaab, as well as other non-government groups remaining threats to the Transitional Federal Government’s authority. A 2012 peace agreement paved the way for the latest iteration of UN involvement in the region, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), which seeks to improve the peace and security situation, as well as improve human security.
The effect of climate change on security in Somalia is significant. The civil war in the 1990s was in part caused by tensions between clans over access to natural resources. Today there are three main threats to UNSOM’s mandate to protect peace and security.
Firstly, and typically for the Sahel, tensions between farmers and herders are increasing. Temperature and precipitation patterns are being upended by climate change, causing traditional herd grazing routes to become unviable. Naturally, this has led to increased conflict with farmers over access rights and resources. Given that 94% of Somalia’s nomadic population already lives in poverty, there is very little room for them to manoeuvre.
Secondly, extremists and other violent groups are gaining recruits from internally displaced people with few alternatives. Climate related phenomena, along with the long running conflict, resulted in Somalia already having 2.6 million internally displaced people (IDPs) in August 2019. Flash floods in 2018 resulted in over 200,000 IDPs and climate change has destroyed many people’s livelihoods. Many cities now host hundreds of thousands of IDPs. Al-Shabaab uses these refugee camps as recruitment grounds by exploiting the appalling living conditions and social tensions. Furthermore, Al-Shabaab and other groups use narratives based on grievances caused by climatic events like floods and livelihood destruction in order to strengthen recruitment drives.
Thirdly, the decreasing availability of cultivatable land due to climate change caused droughts and floods is causing increasing tensions between groups and the exploitation of vulnerable segments of society. Because a lack of land tenure rights is a sensitive issue in Somalia, the loss of land caused by climate change often effects poorer or minority groups more, as elites simply seize land when it suits them. The resultant displacement and marginalisation are contributing factors to inter-group conflict. This is also a powerful push that Islamic terrorist groups use in drawing new recruits.
“Building resilience to climatic events is critical for Somalia as the country stabilises after decades of conflict and commits long-term development for its people” – UNDP
In response, the Federal Government of Somalia developed the Recovery and Resilience Framework with UNSOM and several external donors. In the framework, the government notes that “exposure to repeated natural climate change-related shocks remains high”, in part because most aid is aimed at disaster relief rather than long term resilience building. The framework, which will invest a total of 810 million US dollars, seeks to address some of the root causes of the livelihood instability and lack of resilience to climate change that are risk factors for human security and armed conflict. Other programmes seek to increase community resilience too. The Somali government and international partners have begun rolling out the “Baxnaano” safety net programme, with the aim of helping society become more shock-responsive by providing dependable transfers. The “Shock Responsive Safety Net for Locust Response Project” is a similar programme but targeted at the protection of food security and livelihoods that are damaged by locust swarms (which are also made worse by climate change). The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) also finances climate adaptation measures that seek to improve community resilience to climate change. For example, a dam constructed by the fund in the Puntland region now provides a much welcomed water supply for pastoralists, reducing scarcity. Measures like these are essential for Somalia’s stability, and will only become more necessary in the future.
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Photo Credit: ANISOM Public Information/Flickr