A Somali woman and child wait to be given a spot to settle at a camp for displaced people amid a drought on the outskirts of Dollow, Somalia on Sept. 20, 2022. AP/PA Images

Peter Power Climate change risking famine in Somalia and beyond as global leaders dither

The head of UNICEF Ireland says children may face famine in Somalia while powerful governments stall on climate action.

ABRA JOURNEYED FOR weeks, seeking safety from an unrelenting climate-induced drought. As our team meet her, she sits with her young son in front of their new home.

A hut bound together by sticks, old sheets and discarded plastic. She looks quietly down at the crumbling red ground as she speaks of her loss.

Together with her seven children, Abra had set off on the long and perilous walk towards one of the many camps springing up around the Somali capital of Mogadishu. Her children were exhausted, and their defences against disease were low.

They had fled a patchworked countryside of scorched farms. Of animals perished and crops withering. Of nothing left.

And as she whispers her memories, she shares that one of them did not make it.
The journey was too hard and they died on the way.

Will to live

Yet, despite everything, Abra retains a steadfast resilience. The first wave of climate terrors might be stalking the people of Somalia, but Abra emits a kind of raw tenacity – a resolve not to give up.

I recently returned from visiting the worst affected areas of Somalia and Abra’s story is just one of many we encountered. Somalia, like Ireland, tragically knows the horrors of famine. However, this is not like the crises of the past. This is new. Up close the disaster is localised. But its fingerprints and future implications are global.

If declared in the coming months, this will be a famine driven by climate change. Already children are dying. Dying because of the excesses of others. Dying due to lifestyles they have never experienced. They are the early causalities of a global disaster, that is not of their making.

Somalia is responsible for only 0.01 per cent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions but is ranked as the fourth worst-affected country in UNICEF’s global children’s climate risk index.

The children we met live on the frontline of a climate catastrophe. Their fragile communities, long challenged by insecurity, hostile environments and limited resources, are the most vulnerable.

Their suffering is not just a disaster in the present. It forebodes a wider coming storm. It is a mirror to an unspeakable upheaval on the horizon for the world’s children – an era of seismic change no border can hold back for long.

The drought in Somalia is of a kind unseen in decades. Over seven million Somalis have now been affected by four consecutive failed rainy seasons. And there are dark whispers about the projections for 2023.

Global responsibility

During our recent visit, we saw UNICEF teams working tirelessly to hold back the tide and to support children when they needed it most. With water, therapeutic food and other life-saving supplies. This is helping, and more is urgently needed. However, as a global community, we also need to think beyond the short term. We must address the cause.

Tragically, the global community is failing children in Somalia, and across the world. The fact that COP27 did not result in agreement on a more ambitious, accelerated energy transition to keep the 1.5-degree temperature limit within reach increases the risk that children everywhere will face even greater threats in the years ahead.

There were positives achieved at COP27, namely in the decision to establish a fund to compensate countries for irrevocable loss and damages, and the recognition of the global right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, however, we must acknowledge that the picture of the future that awaits us is darkening.

We are simply losing too much time. Unless we soon see a massive global step-up in action to curb emissions, along with adequate climate financing, the world will be condemning millions of children to a climate-changed future – for which they are unprepared and unprotected.

Times of dryness and deluge are the pattern of life for Somali families. But they’ve never seen a drought like this. A drought that lingers rainy season after rainy season. You can sense people’s desperation and in fact, in one school we visited children had been sent home to pray for rain.

Without rains, their animals and crops can not survive, and without them their land becomes inhospitable.

For many Somali families, livestock is their way of life. It is what they have known and mastered for centuries. Yet, now this trail of tradition, snaking back through the generations, is at risk.

Rural communities are drifting apart, displaced to urban areas in search of life-saving support. The patter of home, and their pride in its rituals, are being swallowed under the encroaching dust.

Climate change is making this ancient lifestyle untenable and many fear it will disappear forever. We know that many families are never going home and now drought is taking their children.

Their needless death demands a response. It screams out as a wake-up call. As emissions globally continue to rise with each passing day, we sleepwalk further into a wider and more intractable tragedy.

In Somalia, the projections are stark. Hundreds of thousands of children are at risk of death within the coming months. Famine nears as the world dawdles. Mothers carry children for hundreds of kilometres in search of refuge, as we tinker at the edges of business as usual.

The time for us to respond as a global community is today. Not only for the children of Somalia but for all our sake.

Peter Power is the Executive Director of UNICEF Ireland


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