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The realities of climate change are visible in Somalia amid famine and drought
This week, two other reports from UN agencies have compounded these woes. An analysis of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has found few countries have adjusted their climate commitments since a major United Nations climate conference held last year in Glasgow, Scotland. This year’s conference is scheduled to take place in Egypt next month. Another study by the World Meteorological Organization found that methane emissions are rising faster than ever. The evidence raises “questions about humanity’s ability to limit the greenhouse gas that is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the near term,” my colleagues reported.
Progress has been made – the world is weaning itself off coal, while the governments of major emitters, Australia and the United States, have recently enacted significant legislation to reduce emissions. But it’s not fast enough. “Global and national climate commitments are woefully insufficient,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a video message this week. “We need to close the emissions gap before climate catastrophe hits us all.”
Regardless of Guterres’ constant pleas, the necessary political urgency is not visible in much of the world. Even governments with well-meaning climate programs have seen their attention diverted by the war in Ukraine, the toll of the pandemic, volatile energy prices and inflation rocking the global economy. And so, my colleagues wrote, “the world is heading toward a future of unbearable heat, escalating weather disasters, collapsing ecosystems, and widespread famine and disease.”
“I traveled, talked to people whose lives have been destroyed by climate change.”
Moulid from Somalia asks for international solidarity with his country, which has experienced unprecedented droughts, putting millions at risk of starvation.#DearWorldLeaders pic.twitter.com/Nc6zxTmXSi
— UNDP Climate (@UNDPClimate) October 25, 2022
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In some places, that future is now. The Horn of Africa and many parts of East Africa are in the grip of a devastating drought. A fifth consecutive rainy season has failed and analysts expect the sixth – starting next March – to also be a misfire. As fields lie fallow and millions of cattle die of thirst, there is a staggering hunger crisis in countries across the region. According to the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), some 22 million people in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya are at risk of starvation.
In Somalia, in particular, aid groups and international observers are warning of the imminent onset of famine. Conditions appear worse than in 2011, the last time famine was declared in the war-ravaged country, when some 250,000 people died. Every minute, a Somali child is admitted for medical treatment for malnutrition, a spokesperson for the UN children’s agency said earlier this month. There are harrowing stories of mothers and families trudging through barren terrain in search of medical assistance for sick babies. Thousands may already be dead.
Nearly 8 million people, or about half of the country’s population, have been affected by the drought. Up to 6.7 million people across the country could face food insecurity by the end of the year. The failure of successive harvest cycles has been accompanied by inflationary pressures created by the pandemic and war in Ukraine, as well as continued instability in Somalia as the fragile government battles the entrenched insurgency of the Islamist extremist group al -Shabaab.
“We don’t know where the end is,” Michael Dunford, WFP’s regional director for East Africa, told me, warning of the need for the international community not only to heed the ongoing crisis, but also future cycles of drought and suffering. to come as the effects of global warming disproportionately affect regions like the Horn of Africa.
“It’s not about climate change — the climate has changed. And we won’t go back even once the rains start,” he said. “It’s a crisis in which we are well and truly in the middle and I don’t know where the bottom is.”
I covered the last famine in Somalia ten years ago. It’s about to happen again.
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The added tragedy of the situation is that these communities most at risk have played little or no role in creating the conditions that are fueling global warming today. It’s “a population that, above all, hasn’t attracted that,” Dunford said. “What is happening today…in the region is impacting a vulnerable population that has not contributed to greenhouse gases.”
“Somalis are the victims of our behavior, the victims of our habits – not theirs,” Martin Griffiths, the UN’s humanitarian chief, said this week. “And yet we haven’t even managed to get them the money we nobly promised some time ago for exactly that kind of purpose.”
UN agencies have indicated that Somalia alone needs around $2 billion in aid to avert the worst consequences. The WFP, which has been largely funded by the United States, provides more than 4 million Somalis with “lifesaving” food and cash assistance. But it needs more funding at a time when national governments are dealing with their own economic headwinds.
“We have never seen such a high level of demand,” Dunford said, pointing to the estimated 345 million people around the world who are currently acutely hungry. This is double what it was before the start of the pandemic. But the hidden role of climate change in the ongoing catastrophe, he added, means there is “a need for fairness” on the world stage. Dunford stressed the responsibility of the “industrialized world, Gulf states and others to step up and make the required contributions.”
The severity of the crisis was not unexpected, but the international humanitarian system was forced to catch up. “The war in Ukraine came at a very inopportune time,” Dunford said. He said they had recognized that the situation in Somalia continued to deteriorate and had started to advocate for the needs of the country. “And then everyone’s attention shifted to Europe. So we lost time and we lost focus,” he said. “The funding came late…and that meant we were starting further in our response than we wanted.
This delay will be measured in lives.