Image by EU/ECHO/Anouk Delafortrie
  • Blog
  • 9 September 2019

Resilience and vulnerability in the Somalia crisis: three key findings

Since 2011, Somalia has faced recurrent crises that have been complex and protracted, combining conflict and natural disasters and exacerbated by climate change.

Written by Henry Odhiambo

Engagement & Partnerships Manager

Since 2011, Somalia has faced recurrent crises that have been complex and protracted, combining conflict and natural disasters and exacerbated by climate change. The latest humanitarian assistance figures – as documented in our Key trends in global humanitarian assistance factsheet – demonstrate that humanitarian aid to the Somalia crisis has more than doubled in the last year, a dramatic increase that also puts the country into the top five largest recipients by volume.

These difficult and changing conditions have prompted people living in Somalia to change the coping strategies that they employ. In a recent report commissioned by DFID, we examined how livelihood and coping strategies changed as a result of the frequency and severity of shocks in Somalia and investigated local community perspectives on vulnerability. We also explored how access to aid and other external resources influenced these strategies, and how this related to the objectives and practices of humanitarian agencies.

Our study highlighted efforts in three areas that made Somalis better prepared for crisis in 2016 than they were in 2011. In July, we brought together over 30 development and humanitarian actors with active programmes in Somalia, including UN agencies as well as donors and NGOs, to discuss how our findings might be used to drive evidence-based interventions. These are our key findings, and the discussions that we had around how they might be applied.

1. Flexible support in the form of cash transfers and remittances helped recipients meet their basic needs, diversify their incomes and invest in assets.

In 2011, many people suffered due to delayed humanitarian assistance and were forced to resort to alternative sources of income – some of them harmful, such as the illicit sale of alcohol and khat (a botanical stimulant). Things were different in 2016. Investments in and awareness of cash transfer programming and remittances increased in the intervening years, and these resources helped communities to overcome the shocks experienced. For instance, they used the capital to invest in continued education and health services, or to diversify their sources of income beyond farming.

One reflection shared by attendees at our July meeting was that while our results showed that cash transfers and remittances both offered a similarly flexible form of support, the challenges actors face in implementing these interventions are very different. Some participants perceived negative impacts associated with cash transfer programming and distribution – for example, men appropriating cash transfers received by their wives and using the funds on non-essential items such as khat. Our study did not go into detail on how cash transfer programmes are being implemented in Somalia, a subject that needs more investigation and which we address in a new paper: Harmonising registrations and identification in emergencies in Somalia. The evidence from our present report shows that once resources have been received by households, they are able to make decisions on how to better prioritize their spending – and this was underscored by the development and humanitarian actors’ observation that, increasingly, remittances and crowdfunding are being used to build social infrastructure.

2. A more coordinated and local approach meant that more assistance was delivered faster and with better targeting.

Crisis mitigation efforts increased significantly after the 2011 famine, with a greater focus placed on sustainable and holistic drought mitigation approaches in the region. The Somali government, working in partnership with donors and humanitarian and development actors, made improvements to the country’s early warning system and developed collaborative disaster risk management plans. In 2016, although there is still undoubtedly room for improvement, people felt better prepared – and local communities were better able to make use of humanitarian cash transfers, remittance flows, and shared family resources.

The development and humanitarian actors at our July meeting cited improved need data and early warning information sharing as a top priority in driving coordination of response. It is critical that research findings are fed back to local communities and initiatives, and that these communities are empowered by international actors working in the country. Collaboration at every level on early warning systems was also identified as a key need by the group.

3. Efforts to discourage charcoal burning meant that fewer Somalis engaged in this illegal industry, instead preferring livelihoods that were more sustainable.

Curbing large-scale charcoal production and trade after 2012 prevented its lucrative profits from funding Al-Shabaab militants and conflict. It also limited the large-scale deforestation caused by the massive and unsustainable cutting of indigenous trees to produce charcoal for exports, an industry which reached $56 million at its peak in 2011.

Overall, a point of strong agreement during our discussion was that investing in resilience building programmes should be prioritised to cushion households from recurrent shocks. As captured in our report – and other publications, including the SomReP strategy document – resilience programmes help to create the necessary conditions for developing community planning instruments, social safety nets and strategies that enable the government and communities to provide early warning information. We hope that the findings of this report will help to inform next steps in Somalia and beyond.

Photo: EU/ECHO/Anouk Delafortrie Somalia crisis: After they saw their crops wither and their livestock die, almost 700,000 Somalis have fled their homes in search of humanitarian aid. In addition to the more than 1 million people previously displaced as a result of violence, almost one-eighth of the population is now uprooted. Most of the displaced are women and children.