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Humanitarian Watch

How a rapid response helped to avert famine in Somalia last year

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Concern Worlwide — In our ‘thought leadership’ series, Concern’s Humanitarian and Resilience Senior Policy Officer, Alexander Carnwath, and Resilience Programme Manager in Somalia, Dustin Caniglia examine the effectiveness of early warning systems and rapid response in helping to avert famine in Somalia last year and their continued importance in 2018.

Fears for the worst

When Somalia was cited as one of four countries on the brink of famine in early 2017, it brought on a grim sense of déjà vu. Between 2010 and 2012, a combination of drought and conflict led to a devastating famine, in which an estimated 260,000 people lost their lives. Five years on, there were fears that a similar situation was unfolding all over again.

A year later however, and the picture is not as bleak as had been feared. The humanitarian response, with aid targeted at some of the worst affected areas, has so far succeeded in staving off widespread famine. The situation remains severe and, following four consecutive poor rainy seasons, there is a huge and ongoing demand for humanitarian assistance with an estimated 6.2 million people in need. But the predictions that were made at the start of the year of a disaster on the scale of the last famine have not yet materialised.

Early Warning System: Identifying the signs

This is thanks in part to a more rapid reaction by the humanitarian community than in 2012, and Concern has been one of the agencies focusing particularly on ensuring a timely response.

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Early Warning Early Action (EWEA) – identifying and responding more quickly to the signs of coming crisis – is a central part of the DFID-funded Building Resilient Communities in Somalia (BRCiS) programme which Concern is implementing together with Norwegian Refugee Council, International Rescue Committee (IRC), Save the Children and CESVI. It systematically monitors conditions in its programme areas and includes a mechanism to trigger a rapid localised response when signs of a potential crisis emerge.

Rapid response
Most of Somalia depends on two annual rainy seasons for agriculture and livestock production, and when, as early as June 2016, there were signs that the April to June Gu rains were not performing well, BRCiS began responding with cash transfers of $30 per month to 803 of the poorest households in Gedo.

In November, as the subsequent Deyr rains appeared to be failing and the probability of disaster had therefore increased, Concern increased the amount to $50 per month and doubled the number of recipient households to 1606, now including the poorest 20 percent of households.

By January 2017, with the failure of the rains confirmed, Concern was able to increase the cash transfers to $60 per month with newly accessed emergency funds from DFID and ECHO. Despite the crisis, markets continued to function and food remained available for purchase, minimising displacement to urban centres.

Increased resilience

Our approach to EWEA meant that by the time the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU) – the leading source of food security and nutrition surveillance in Somalia – indicated the possibility of famine in Somalia for the first time in a report published on 16 January, 2017 Concern’s BRCiS Programme staff had already been responding to that possibility in half of its target communities for seven months.

Ongoing discussions with the BRCiS target communities and observations by Concern field staff, suggest that as a result of this early action, the villages in which BRCiS operates are faring considerably better than might have been expected. While over 900,000 households have been displaced across the country since November 2016, none of the BRCiS villages have experienced significant numbers of people leaving due to the drought. In fact, even though BRCiS communities were originally targeted as the most vulnerable in their respective areas, most have since become hosts to displaced people from nearby and previously “better off” villages.

Averting future crises: early and effective response

It is important, of course, to keep these successes in perspective. BRCiS programme was a pilot through which Concern supported fewer than 30 villages, a number that pales in comparison to the 900,000 people forced to leave their homes and seek refuge in urban centres due to the food crisis. But this does show what can be achieved in mitigating the impacts of major slow-onset disasters in Somalia.

With millions of people still affected by food crisis in Somalia, it remains imperative to learn the lessons of the past two years and continue to respond to emerging needs early and effectively, in order to continue to keep famine at bay.

Humanitarian Watch

‘People were screaming’: troops destroy $200,000 aid camps in Somalia

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More than 4,000 people are homeless two weeks after security forces demolished camps sheltering internally displaced Somalis

Two weeks after being forcibly evicted from their shelters, thousands of vulnerable families are still living rough in the outskirts of Mogadishu.

Somali security forces went in and destroyed 23 camps for internally displaced people, housing more than 4,000 Somalis, on 29 and 30 December last year according to the UN.

People say they woke up to bulldozers and soldiers demolishing their shelters. “We were not even given time to collect our belongings,” said Farhia Hussein, a mother of nine. “People were screaming and running in all directions. Two of my children went missing in the chaos. They are twin sisters, aged six – thank God I found them two days later.”

Hussein, 46, came to the city nine months ago from the Shebelle region. “I was a farmer but I lost everything to the drought and I cannot go back now because the security situation is terrible there,” she said. “I never thought my own people would treat me this way in Mogadishu, I felt like a foreigner in my own country.”

The UN office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs (Unocha) said the destruction included health and sanitary facilities, schools, latrines and water points, at a cost of more than $200,000 of donor money.

Witnesses say the police and military personnel involved in the clearances beat up anyone who tried to resist or question them.

Omar Mohamed, 54, and his eight children now share a makeshift shelter with other families in a nearby camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs). “It was a nightmare. At least my children are alive. I saw a mother who lost her eight-month-old child because of hunger and heat. They were literally sleeping under the sun in the open air,” he said.

Mohamed Ismail Abdullahi, district commissioner of Kahda, where the demolitions took place, said: “The eviction was done for the safety of the IDPs since the area they settled was a disputed private land and the eviction order was issued by a High Court, although there was not a proper notice and it was not well coordinated.”

Aid workers and journalists were not allowed to film.

“Security forces stopped reporters from taking photos. It was done quite swiftly and there is not much [reporting] of the eviction in the local press,” said aid worker Abdiaziz Hussein.

Land and property disputes by powerful local clans have been increasing in the city, thanks to booming real estate developments. Displaced people, who mostly come from smaller clans, are often caught up in the middle of the dispute.

Famine, conflict and drought displaced one million people throughout Somalia last year alone. Most end up in large towns and cities like Mogadishu where they face being constantly moved on.

In 2015, similar large-scale destruction of such settlements took place in the same Kahda district, with more than 21,000 people forcibly removed from their makeshift shacks.

The district commissioner said only about 600 families had been rehoused so far and they were working hard to shelter the remaining families.

“We managed to secure land, at least for the coming four years, and will hopefully renew the lease or find an alternative solution but our priority now is to help build shelters for those who lost their properties in the eviction and we call upon all parties including the federal government, the UN and other aid agencies to support these people,” he said.

Farhia Hussein has been taken in by another displaced family whose camp was not affected. “Imagine sharing a small tent with another family of ten. We are basically sleeping in the open air. There are many charities here but there is not enough support.”

Abdiaziz Hussein, who works with a local organisation in the camps, said thousands were in difficulty. “They cannot go back to the camps because the police are still there, guarding the emptied settlements to stop people from coming back,” he said.

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Humanitarian Watch

Somalia: UN voices deep concern at reported destruction of housing for displaced persons

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2 January 2018 – A senior United Nations official in Somalia expressed deep concern over reports of the unannounced destruction of settlements for internally displaced persons (IDPs) as well as humanitarian infrastructure in Mogadishu.

“I am deeply saddened to learn of evictions, without prior notice, of internally displaced persons, in Banadir region,” Peter de Clercq, the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Somalia, said in a statement issued on Monday.

“Some of these displaced people have walked long distances from different parts of the country fleeing drought and conflict,” he continued, pointing out that on 29 and 30 December, over 23 IDP settlements, housing over 4,000 IDP households, were destroyed.

Mr. de Clercq, who is also UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, added that personal property and livelihoods have also been lost as people were not given time to collect their belongings before the destruction started.

“Families, including children, women and the elderly are now living in the open,” he underscored.

In addition to engaging with authorities to ensure a solution for the newly displaced people, humanitarians are mobilizing resources to provide life-saving assistance to the affected people.

“I am equally concerned that when everyone is seized of the agenda of improving the lives of Somalis, humanitarian and development installations are being senselessly destroyed, including schools, latrines, water points, sanitation centres, shelters and other related investments generously supported by donors,” said Mr. de Clercq.

Throughout Somalia, more than two million people are now displaced due to drought and conflict, including one million newly displaced in 2017 alone. These people constitute one-third of the 6.2 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.

“I call upon all parties to protect and assist all civilian people who have fled conflict and drought and that have already suffered so much. Humanitarians stand ready to cooperate with and support the authorities in this regard,” Mr. de Clercq stressed.

Malnutrition rates there are surging and have reached emergency levels in some locations, especially among internally displaced people. Displaced people lack access to food, shelter and basic services, and also face the most serious protection-related risks, such as physical attacks, gender-based violence and movement restrictions.

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Humanitarian Watch

Close to 4,000 Somali families out in the cold

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Thousands of displaced persons have been forcefully evicted from their homes on the outskirts of Mogadishu. The United Nations says that close to four thousands IDP households have been destroyed and families are now living in the open.

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