How can we prevent future hunger in Somalia? Start by empowering Somalis themselves

Abdiaziz Adani Drought, Food security, Participation and Leadership

The news that over eight million Somalis are set to be in hunger crisis next year must trigger massive prevention efforts alongside the emergency response, says Abdiaziz Adani of Oxfam in Somalia. And that must include unlocking the huge potential of local organisations to build famine resilience.

Oxfam worker inspecting a recently rehabilitated borehole in the Sanaag region of Somalia, which provides free water to the surrounding community (picture: Oxfam)

The recent IPC announcement on the latest hunger figures for Somalia shows how our country remains on the brink of famine, with the number in hunger crisis projected to breach eight million by 2023.

The immediate focus will obviously be to scramble to provide emergency assistance to the millions already in hunger crisis. Alongside these essential efforts, however, humanitarian actors and governments will be asking themselves: how can we prevent this vast tragedy happening again?

In this blog, I look at what effective famine prevention looks like and argue that, to be successful, such prevention must be led by the Somalian organisations who are best placed to understand immediate needs and the optimal local response. A big part of building resilience will be to address the root causes of hunger in Somalia, particularly in the south-central and south-east regions of the country, which are at high risk of famine.

Humanitarian action to prevent famine is not new. However, the context in which it is being implemented has changed with overlapping pressures and crises including conflict, volatility in food prices and climate change. This makes rethinking how we do prevention more crucial than ever.

The elements of effective famine prevention

Crucial elements in effective famine prevention include:

  1. Early warning systems for impending droughts and contingency planning for the most vulnerable areas to help to mitigate the impact of drought on food security. This includes supporting initiatives to enhance public awareness of the likelihood of future crises and boosting preparedness among vulnerable groups.
  2. Diversifying livestock holdings and investing in drought-resistant animal feed varieties. Droughts can be especially devastating for pastoralist communities, who rely on their livestock for food, income, and cultural significance. By diversifying their livestock holdings and investing in drought-resistant forage varieties, they can reduce their vulnerability to drought.
  3. Public investments in water infrastructure, such as large-scale groundwater pumping.

    It is essential that “resilience” is not limited to responding to a current crisis but prevents problems from happening in the first place. A big part of that is improving the ability of communities to bounce back when drought occurs. That means also:
  4. Investing in long-term programmes that help people become more self-sufficient, providing them with alternative sources of income through programmes that support the creation of employment;
  5. Strengthening and building infrastructure that boosts access to healthcare and other essential services; and
  6. Building the ability of local governments to respond to crisis in their own areas and address the root causes of hunger in affected local communities.

Finally, the humanitarian “emergency response” needed goes far beyond Somalia’s borders to a broader, big-picture response that challenges the policies and actions of rich countries that are driving conflict, global inequality and climate change, all of which have devastating consequences for people in Somalia.

Local humanitarian actors are crucial to successful prevention – but they face too many obstacles

Local organisations are crucial to ensuring successful implementation of the above elements of effective prevention in Somalia. They have the most up-to-date information about the needs and challenges in their communities, and they know exactly what responses would be most effective in responding to drought and food shortage. That means international donors should be assisting local humanitarian actors in Somalia, ensuring that funds are used efficiently to boost the local actors best positioned to react to escalating humanitarian needs.

But too often this doesn’t happen and local NGOs in Somalia remain chronically underfunded. There are still too many obstacles to them getting the funding that would empower them, including:

  • A complex web of donor rules and bureaucracy that makes funding hard to access: To receive funding from international NGOs, local NGOs must meet strict criteria, which may be difficult for smaller, less-resourced organisations.
  • Top-down setting of priorities: International NGOs often offer funding only if projects meets specific priorities set by them (and not by communities). That means if a local NGO initiative does not fit with these priorities, it misses out on funding.
  • Lack of flexible funding: Donors need to provide flexible funding options to local NGOs so they can respond immediately in the ways they see fit. Such funding comes with far fewer strings than conventional donor funding meaning it can be used for several purposes, such as relief and rehabilitation efforts and operations. Such funding also needs to offer both short- and long-term support to strengthen local organisations and actors that already have the capacity to respond to increasing humanitarian needs and to give them the financial security that will sustain their work for the future.
  • Too much focus on quantity not quality: Too often, excellent local projects miss out on funding because they are too small. Yet the only way to build such excellence is to provide the funding that will allow these projects to grow. That means an important way to strengthen local organisations and actors will be to change funding criteria to foster promising local resilience projects, however small.

The unfolding mass hunger crisis in Somalia shows we urgently need to overcome these obstacles and find better, localised ways to prevent famine and famine-related deaths in Somalia. It’s time for all international actors to focus on building the resilience of Somali communities through local actors, supporting the Somali organisations who can contribute to sustainable economic growth and development. When we do that, we will not only help to prevent famine but also ensure that the gains made in famine prevention will be maintained for years to come.


Abdiaziz Adani

Abdiaziz Adani is Policy & Advocacy Manager for Oxfam in Somalia