Climate Refugees

Spotlight: Somalia

Somalia, Africa’s easternmost country, grapples with the repercussions of nearly three decades of protracted internal conflict and civil war, political instability, and low levels of socioeconomic development.230 All of these dynamics are exacerbated by the climate crisis.231 The crisis, in its varying forms and impacts, is felt throughout Somalia by way of drought, desertification, flooding, and water and food insecurity. These climate impacts force many Somalis into new and prolonged, internal as well as external, forms of displacement, including forcing people to leave their homes and land as climate refugees.

By June 2018, 2.6 million Somalis were internally displaced by a combination of conflict and disasters, and over an additional 800,000 were identified as refugees in the neighboring countries of Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Eritrea, and Yemen.232 In 2017, 892,000 people were displaced by slow-onset disasters including drought, which inflicted the highest number of forced relocations totaling 858,000 people, and 34,000 people displaced due to lack of livelihoods.233 Additionally, in 2018, 547,000 people were displaced as a result of drought and flooding.234 Researchers meanwhile believe that due to ongoing conflicts in the Horn of Africa, and the lack of accurate data and systems to track displacement, the reported numbers for displaced persons is likely an underestimate.235

Somalia’s economy is dependent on agro-pastoral and agricultural systems of production.236 Stable weather patterns and healthy rainy seasons are crucial for Somalis whose livelihoods depend on the land, particularly in rural areas.237 Yet over the last several decades, major droughts caused acute food insecurity, greatly impacting the stability and livelihoods of Somalis. These events have included a famine from 1991 to 1992; food crises from 1999 to 2000, 2006, and 2008, followed by another famine from 2011 to 2012; a food crisis in 2014; and a major drought and food crisis that nearly turned into a famine from 2016 to 2017.238 This crisis left more than six million people to survive on severely contaminated water and diminishing food supplies.239 People feared that the drought would lead to another famine, like the famine in 2011 to 2012 that killed over 250,000 people240 with over half the deaths being children.241

Across the Horn of Africa, drought, desertification, flooding, and other changes in rainfall patterns and rainfall distribution have led to devastating effects on the land, resources, animals, and people. These effects have been exacerbated by poor agricultural and pastoral practices.242 Practices such as overgrazing, or the clearing of land near a riverbank for livestock and agricultural use, cause rivers to change course and erodes nutrient-rich soil.243 Deforestation, by way of the acacia bussei forests being cut down to accommodate the booming charcoal industry and the clearing of mangrove trees, is accelerating sand dune encroachment and further contributing to desertification.

Furthermore, recurrent flooding and heavy storms impact Somalia almost every year, increasing the threat and reality of displacement for already powerless populations.244 In April 2018, over 830,000 people were impacted by flash and river flooding that forced 300,000 people to temporarily flee their homes and seek shelter elsewhere.245 Many Somalis who return home after being displaced, either those identified as refugees or internally displaced persons (IDPs), find themselves experiencing displacement yet again following their return home.246

To address the impacts of the climate crisis, the Government of Somalia in 2013 created the National Adaptation Programme of Action on Climate Change (NAPA). NAPA, reflected by Somalia’s commitment to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), identified sustainable land management, water resources management, and disaster management as priority areas to combating the climate crisis.247 In accordance with NAPA, the Government of Somalia—with support from the United Nations and several foreign government agencies—has developed projects that address climate risks. It has been working to enhance climate resilience of vulnerable communities through institutional frameworks and by engaging farmers and pastoralists in water and soil conservation and in monitoring and preserving water and land recourses.248

Since drafting NAPA, Somalia has ratified the 2015 Paris Agreement, and in 2018, submitted the Initial National Communication for Somalia to the UNFCCC.249 Despite Somalia’s commitment to developing action plans and strategies to alleviate climate crisis impacts, the government acknowledges that the country’s adaptive capacity is severely limited by the high level of poverty, low level of incomes, insecurity, and the need for economic development.250 As of yet, long-term climate adaption strategies have yet to be incorporated into national or sectoral budgeting or policies,251 and it hinges upon Somalia finding the lasting peace and normalcy

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