10 August 2023

Interview with Christophe Hodder: climate security in Somalia

Somalia has in recent years been ravaged by the effects of a multi-year drought driving food insecurity and conflict across the Horn of Africa and pushing millions to migrate to urban settings in search of food and safety. PSI recently sat down with the Climate and Environment Advisor for the UN in Somalia, Christophe Hodder. We asked him about his work and the environmental challenges that Somalia will face in the coming years.

Could you introduce yourself and explain the work you do in Somalia?

My name is Christophe Hodder and I was the first Climate and Environment Advisor to a Special Political Mission. In the early 2018-19s discussions happened around climate, peace and security in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), that resulted in United Nations Assistance Misson in Somalia receiving a mandate to consider the adverse effects of climate change on stability in Somalia. I advise the leadership of the UN in Somalia as well as the government in Somalia on the interlinkages between climate and security. I have three sort of roles. One is a mainstreaming awareness raising, second is supporting coordination on climate adaptation and water management across institutions, and third is to help implement approaches to climate, peace and security, around things like nature-based solutions. It ranges from stabilisation interactions to climate financing and how you bring them all together to make a wider adaptation approach that is conflict sensitive.

Do you see a recognition from your partners in Somalia of the challenges that they face, and what is being done to adapt?

The current president of Somalia has made stabilisation and the push against militant groups such as Al-Shabaab a priority. But he has also recognised the impacts of climate change as the second major priority. There has been a lot of work around how the Ministry of Planning and Finance works around increasing climate financing. They are also linking this to the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) status and there has been a lot of work around debt relief.

There is a transition happening in stabilisation efforts with the fact that the African Union (AU) troops are on drawdown. The question now is if governmental institutions are strong enough to withhold or withstand the resurgence of militant groups, and can they keep a political dialogue going on that creates lasting change? The biggest problem is that climate change exacerbates instability and competition over resources and that then causes further instability.

Is the government able to tackle this sort of poly-crisis in action?

I think that there is a lot of positivity on one side, however challenges remain. Because of the recent advancements and gains that the government has made, there is a lot of geopolitical interest in Somalia, especially from the Gulf States. This is where state building and peace building is a balancing act. While you focus on the security and rule of law aspects, you also have to build the systems to support good governance and secure the financing for it.

This is where the HIPC status, debt relief, and investments from the World Bank and IMF, as well as investments from bilateral partners, come into play. These will be critical for both the security and rule of law systems, but also the wider climate adaptation work. Now, the question is whether climate adaptation is addressed quickly enough? Like, for example, the UN and the Somali Government invested about 8 million dollars in flood defences last year and still suffered from flooding. But that is because we modelled out a one in 20 year projection for rainfall, but actually we received a one in 100 year rain season. So we are outstripping the models for climate change. The question again is are we not investing enough in the adaptation measures for vulnerable communities, which then plays into the hands of militant groups and limits the ability of the government to build stable systems? We probably are not, and that is where we need to work on increasing climate financing and trying to get the money desperately needed to help communities to adapt.

So would you say that there is a prioritization in some way of short term aid?

I think that there is a philosophical debate around short-term versus long-term aid.  

On one hand, we need to save lives now with regards to climate change, last year we had close to half the population in dire need of humanitarian assistance. Climate change exacerbates the drive for short-term responses, and because the imperative is to save lives now, we focus on the short term. That means we then take away some of the longer-term adaptation.  This includes investing in nature-based solutions, such as rewilding and protecting ecosystems, specifically protection of the riverbanks and moving people that are located in floodplains to areas that are safe. It takes a lot of investment and time, and actually it means that if you do that, you do not have enough resources for the short-term responses to save people’s lives. This is where it becomes complicated, and this is where there is this philosophical debate about how climate change is driving this pressure between short term and longer term adaptation. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report specifically says that short-term interventions actually contribute to longer term maladaptation.

How do you conduct short and long-term adaptation projects in active conflict zones, what challenges do you face?

As an example, we have a situation where we are trying to do some environmental mediation around a clan conflict that has flared sporadically for the last 10 years. We have seen in this area that the conflict dynamics increase when there is a lack of resources. What we are trying to do is to mediate or find longer-term environmental adaptation approaches to those conflicts, and resolve some of these dynamics. This is for example where grazing areas are shrinking because of the droughts and herders are coming into conflict because they are trying to graze over the same land. Conflict is multidimensional and there are many aspects at play, that raises questions of how you can attain concrete goals like constructing sand-dams or swales for adaptation projects.

It takes a longer period of time, and that is complex because sometimes you cannot access these areas due to contested control over territory. This makes it harder to invest in longer-term solutions. But the paradox is that you have to invest in longer time periods to reduce those conflicts. You cannot deal with it only from a political perspective because then it will just continue.

Linked to this, do you see challenges related to collaboration between different levels of government and how does this factor into the projects you work on?

I think that part of the issue is that various groups and institutions have differing priorities and approaches. This creates silos, and by creating silos you cause problems of collaboration. There is a lack of understanding towards the systems that lead to building the approach. If I was to only focus on climate change adaptation we would probably lose a lot of progress on some of the military aspects and vice versa. It is not just climate and military, there is education, health, job creation, etc. It is multifaceted and it has to be a systems approach. But a part of the problem is that when we focus on things like stabilisation or the climate we do not see it as the wider system.

You mentioned it earlier that your modelling didn’t quite foresee the 1 in a 100 year rains. Could you comment a bit on how you prepare and respond to disasters?

I worked very closely with the UNEP as well as with Adelphi to create a weathering risk report for Somalia that shows projections to 2080. We know with fairly high levels of scientific confidence what 2080 is going to look like. I have been spending a lot of time with donors, the government, communities, and the UN, to get people to understand what the future looks like by then so that people are aware of that, because a lot of this is about awareness raising.

We have recently done an assessment looking at the above average rainfall plans and where they are likely to fall. We have been working with the humanitarian country team to do El Niño preparedness, a lot of this work is about placement of sandbags, breakage of the rivers, floodplain management, and early warning systems. Obviously there is still a lot to be done, there are many questions of whether we have the right systems and funding in place to cope and if we can pre-emptively work in displaced sites that are in at risk areas to move people to safe areas. There is very little funding for the wider humanitarian setup. So we are just not ready for the climate financing. There is very likely to be gaps that have a major impact.

You paint a picture of aid-structures and institutions not being prepared for these crises. What do you think needs to change with these institutions to make them able to accept these resources to implement them successfully?

Part of the problem is that there is a fatigue for humanitarian funding, and I think that there needs to be a move to this nexus thinking, where we can provide sandbags but at the same time we also need to do preparedness, such as; nature based management of floodplains, the wider urban planning, and internally displaced persons (IDP) settlement plannings. But all of these take huge amounts of time and money, which you cannot do without governance and stability.

What needs to change is that we need to get much more climate adaptation financing to really deal with the effects of climate change. This also feeds into the discussion about loss and damage and reparations. Funding should link to bigger world bank and climate adaptation funding, this should be climate smart. A major issue is that we still invest in traditional economic investments like roads that are non-climate sensitive. We need to be sure that we do this programming where we can do short term and lifesaving interventions, whereas at the same time work towards longer term development.

What do you see as the most at risk areas that really should be the target of this aid?

I see two clear targets. The first target is an acknowledgement that temperatures are locked in and we are already over the 1.5 degrees threshold. Pastoralism as we know it is changing and there will be enormous pressures on urban centres due to migration. A big focus should one be an investment in deep ground water drilling systems to support these migratory trends, and Somalia does have significant reservoirs.

The second should be investment in the protection of riverine and agricultural areas, for example in Jowhar off-stream areas and some parts of Jubaland. There should also be a big investment in rewilding and getting the ecosystems back up to scratch, and there just is not enough funding on that.

You referred to urbanisation and its issues. Could you comment on the struggles that come with dealing with IDP’s due to climate change and what can be done to help them?

Displacement is a massive issue, civilians are pushed from their homes due to a deteriorating climate, where last year 71% of all new displacements were due to climactic shocks. One of the things is that we have to see that climate change is exacerbating and driving conflict. This is changing the pastoral, agricultural, and urban environments. But one thing that is important to understand is that we can do interventions that can reduce the pressures on displacement. We have several projects that we are trialling, using concepts like nature-based solutions, and the hope is that if you can intervene early enough and really look at ecosystem stability then that would reduce the pressures on displacement. And looking at the actual “where” of where people are placed is stable is really important of local governance.

Urban environments are not ready for people. Often they move into areas that are environmentally unstable. I visited sites in Kismayo where communities have moved onto land that was actually a sand dune. The UN provided water points, but within a year, they were under sand. We have got to think about the environmental sustainability of where communities move to, to make sure that urban planning can provide the right types of interventions.

How do you think the international community should respond to these concerns, do they need to reform their approach?

I think that again it is complicated, and I understand that in current contexts it is difficult when prices are rising and there is not real drive for green economic change. First of all the legal route would be interesting to investigate. There are now more studies that link the drought in the Horn of Africa to climate change, and I think if there is more scientific evidence, then you can promote legal arguments that say polluting countries are partially responsible. The legal route can lead to reparations. I think this has to happen because that is the only way that they can drive countries to change their polluting principles. Some countries are falling quite short, and it is only the international political pressures that can force them to act. Somalia needs 55 billion dollars for its adaptation, and we only received 2 billion of humanitarian aid last year. So, we are way off from the needs of adaptation in Somalia.

Photo credit: UNDP Climate/ Flickr