Somalia in need of humanitarian aid as it faces worst drought in decades

Somalia faces one of the world’s most acute humanitarian crises. The country is seeing its worst drought in 40 years, famine and an ongoing armed conflict. Humanitarian agencies warn nearly 8 million people, half of the population, are in dire need of assistance. Stephanie Sy discussed the challenges with Omar Mahmood, a senior analyst for East Africa for the International Crisis Group.

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  • Geoff Bennett:

    Somalia is facing its worst drought in 40 years, claiming tens of thousands of lives last year alone.

    Today, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was in its capital, Mogadishu, on his first official visit to the Horn of Africa in six years. And he called for massive international support for Somalia.

    Stephanie Sy has more.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Somalia faces one of the world's most acute humanitarian crises. There are many causes, climate change and drought as well as ongoing armed conflict.

    Across the Horn of Africa, 24 million people are extremely food-insecure. And, in Somalia, humanitarian agencies warn, nearly eight million people, half of the population, is still in dire need of humanitarian assistance.

    To discuss the challenges, I'm joined by Omar Mahmood, a senior analyst for East Africa for the International Crisis Group. He joins me from Maputo, Mozambique.

    Omar, thank you so much for joining the "NewsHour."

    There was a massive humanitarian mobilization last year that brought Somalia back from the brink of famine, and yet 43,000 people died, half of them children. Put that tragedy into context for us.

  • Omar Mahmood, Senior Analyst, International Crisis Group:

    Well, essentially, Somalia is going through a very difficult climatic period right now, because you have had five consecutive rainy seasons that have been below par.

    And that's essentially unprecedented. And there's a sixth one under way right now .The projections are that this will also be under par. Somalia is one of the most climate vulnerable nations out there and in the world. And, on top of it, you have a very pressing security situation, where it's even difficult to access some of the populations in need. So it all creates kind of a perfect storm.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    And that is the reason that nearly two million people today are living in camps specifically for displaced people within the country.

    We spoke to Mercy Corps country director Daud Jiran, who frequently visits the camps. And he described the situation.

  • Daud Jiran, Country Director, Somalia Mercy Corps:

    When you ask them, how do they really sustain themselves, they will tell you, they only cook the evening meal. So, imagine somebody with five young children, and all he gets is maybe a multipurpose cash of $80 a month to buy some food, and then trying to sustain those five children with that little food, which comes only in the evening, from day to day.

    And the rest of the time, they depend maybe on just water and hang around waiting for the next meal. That is significant.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    So, not even within the camps can children and families get enough to eat.

    When you were last in Somalia, Omar, how would you compare what you saw to last year, when the country was facing famine? Have things gotten better or worse?

  • Omar Mahmood:

    Well, I mean, it's basically a continuation.

    I think the concerns around famine and whatnot, some of the humanitarian response was able to avert that, but temporarily. That's still on the horizon. There's still concerns that, if the response isn't the same level as it was last year — and funding is always an issue here — that these kinds of dynamics could reemerge.

    There's no natural relief on the way, unfortunately, with the climatic conditions. So that's why the humanitarian response is needed to continue.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    And I want to go back to climate change.

    But, first, I want to ask you about the security situation, because we know that nearly a million Somalis who need assistance live under territory controlled by Al-Shabaab. How does that affect their access to aid?

  • Omar Mahmood:

    Well, it's quite difficult. For those populations that live under Al-Shabaab control either have to — have to suffer kind of under that way, or they make the choice to basically flee to these IDP camps.

    And that's where we see these numbers, especially in Southern Somalia, growing quite a bit. But that is, of course, a perilous journey. It takes quite a — quite a bit of time to get to some of these camps as well.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    And not a lot of food there all the time as well.

    Besides the urgent need for immediate food assistance, Secretary Guterres said today that Somalia needs the — quote — "conditions" to build resilience and also get on what he called a path toward development.

    I know you study policy in this region. Billions of dollars have gone into humanitarian aid there over the years. What other kinds of investments are needed?

  • Omar Mahmood:

    If you look at the vulnerability of Somalia to climate shocks and climatic changes, and how the intervals between these climatic changes is reducing over time, it basically increases the vulnerability of the country and the population.

    So, climate adaptation work can basically take that reality into context, rather than just simply responding to humanitarian response and developments, but kind of move the needle forward. And so there's a lot of kind of projects around, finding new water sources, digging deeper boreholes, rehabilitating the infrastructure around canals and other irrigation systems that already exist, but have kind of fallen out of repair.

    And so I think channeling some of that — some of that focus and work into some of those things can then also help for the future.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Omar Mahmood with the International Crisis Group.

    Thanks for joining us, Omar.

  • Omar Mahmood:

    Thanks for having me.

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