Child Soldiers in Somalia
Among Somalia’s numerous human rights crises is the recruitment of child soldiers. Not only is Somalia one of the countries with the most child soldiers, but its living standards are not improving. This article discusses five facts about Somalia’s child soldiers, along with hopeful measures which could improve the situation in the foreseeable future.

5 Facts About Child Soldiers in Somalia

  1. Somalia possesses the largest number of children who have died during war in the world. Somalia’s ongoing civil war led to drastic measures, including child recruitment into armed forces. In 2017, Somalia recorded 931 children killed at war, along with 2,127 children used in conflict. Additionally, Somalia verified the recruitment of 6,163 children between 2010 and 2016.
  2. There are many different ways to recruit child soldiers. Children’s rights in Somalia rank a 3.6/10 on the Children’s Rights Index. This ranking places Somalia in the Black Level for children’s rights, within the worst conditions in the world. This is due to several prominent factors, including the lack of education, forced displacement, sexual abuse and lack of food. All of these things happen to the majority of child soldiers in Somalia. Children as young as 9 years old suffer enlistment into Somali armed forces, both willingly and forcefully. According to reports, a majority of these children actually recruit themselves voluntarily. Often, militant groups trick child soldiers into believing that they are helping their country by doing so. Additionally, in many cases, militant groups kidnap these children and forced them into armed services. The abduction of children occurs strategically. The children targeted usually congregate in places where they are vulnerable and in large numbers, including churches, schools and orphanages. Others choose them based on their height and physical conditions.
  3. Militant terrorist organizations recruit most child soldiers. Many believe that Somalia’s government willingly allows the military to recruit children. However, this is not true. Contrary to popular belief, it is not the military that recruits these children, but, instead, terrorist groups fighting against the Somali government. The most prominent of these groups, Al-Shabaab, defines itself as an independent militant group that broke away from the Union of Islamic Courts. Al-Shabaab often demands teachers, elders and rural communities to provide them with children 8 years old and older to help them fight. Al-Shabaab has taken the most extreme measures, such as beating, raping, torturing and killing people who refused to give away their children. Over the past 10 years, Al-Shabaab recruited thousands of children to be child soldiers. In total, Al-Shabaab recruited 70% of all child soldiers in Somalia.
  4. Militant groups choose child soldiers for various strategic reasons. One might question why groups like Al-Shabaab target children since children are physically weaker than adults and lack fighting skills. However, targeting children as recruits supports Al-Shabaab’s goal to oust Somalia’s government. Firstly, children are likely to be more vulnerable than adults. Others can easily persuade them to fight for their country, thus making them believe that their contribution is voluntary and will benefit Somalia. The children who become child soldiers do not only serve as frontline fighters. Militant groups use many children as looters, spies, messengers or informants. Additionally, the physical weakness of children makes them prone to sexual assault from their terrorist leaders, who entrap some children as sexual slaves. Lastly, children present better targets than adults since they require less food and water to live. Groups like Al-Shabaab feed child soldiers just enough to survive and function in the war while remaining weak enough for physical manipulation.
  5. Organizations working against child soldiers in Somalia are making progress. The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) is an organization that supports residents from areas liberated from Al-Shabaab. Recently, its work focuses on helping residents resettle after losing their homes in battle. Since child soldiers have a high risk of re-recruitment unless properly reintegrated into society, its initiative to take on such a difficult issue demonstrates progress. The AMISOM Civil Affairs Officer, Christopher Ogwang, speaking about recent developments, stated, “Our responsibility is to do reconstruction where necessary. We are also extending our services to rehabilitate social facilities like schools, hospitals and police stations.”

Concluding Thoughts

In the end, this treacherous issue will not undergo resolution overnight. However, organizations like AMISOM are doing their part in saving Somalian children from becoming child soldiers. The rest of us can contribute to the struggle by keeping informed about these issues and spreading information. Doing as little as this can help take a huge step towards saving child soldiers in Somalia.

– Andra Fofuca
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

National Payments System in SomaliaThe Somali government recently secured support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank to create a central payments system that will aid in rebuilding Somalia’s economy. Millions of Somalis have suffered for the preceding two decades as a result of insufficient economic infrastructure. The combination of economic distress due to widespread counterfeiting, displacement as a result of climate-related pressures and the ensuing threat of al Shabaab, an al-Qaeda affiliated terrorist organization, has left Somalia decimated. The national payments system in Somalia presents a glimmer of hope in the fight against widespread poverty in Somalia.

National Payments System

A national payments system simply refers to the infrastructure within a specified country or locality that allows for commercial and financial transactions to occur. This includes a network of banks and a messaging and routing system. The system protects the information and transactions of the public, secures their finances and acts as an avenue into the global economy. A national payments system is essential to the efficacy of national economies and their involvement on a global financial scale.

Until recently, Somalia existed without a national payments system. Domestic financial transactions largely used the U.S. dollar given the prevalence of counterfeit currency in the use of Somali shillings and that little to no domestic financial infrastructure was in place. This financial foundation hamstrung the Somali people and economy to the whim of exterior powers that provided such infrastructure in its most rudimentary form. During this period, Somalia has been in civil war, riddled with environmental decay and stifled by the threat of al Shabaab.

All of the aforementioned conditions created an economic situation in which 64% of the population lives in absolute poverty in Somalia. The national payments system presents a monumental step toward economic progress.

What the Future Holds

With the introduction of a national payments system in Somalia, the Central Bank of Somalia Governor Abdirahman M. Abdullahi stated that “the impact on the economy will be unprecedented. It will boost trade and business… and will enable more financial inclusion in a secure and safe manner.”

The Central Bank of Somalia has also issued its first Visa card and its first mobile phone-centered financial system. During this time, the government has additionally increased its regulation and production of the Somali shilling. All these financial advancements have boosted the IMF’s predictions of Somali economic growth to 2.9% in the next year.

Further Humanitarian Developments

In addition to the progress brought by the national payments system in Somalia, the Somali government has recently passed election and healthcare reform bills to increase equity in their political and social infrastructure.

The National Elections Security Committee, a newly founded governmental body, has begun work on a new initiative to guarantee that at least 30% of the electorate consists of Somali women. The committee has additionally begun numerous programs to protect election integrity and voter privacy.

Support from international bodies ranging from the World Bank to the IMF is essential to the efficacy of domestic progress in Somalia. On the other hand, it is important to note from where the motivation for such changes has arisen.

It was not international groups that began the charge for Somali advancement. Rather, the impetus for this progress came from domestic pressure, not foreign assistance. Through the example that Somalia set, one can easily grasp the potential for self-sufficient humanitarian growth. All the changes are recent and will hopefully be immediately impactful in the global and domestic effort to end poverty in Somalia.

– Jonah Issac Stern
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in SomaliaHuman trafficking is the illegal transport and use of coercion or fraud to exploit people. Usually, this involves traffickers using the victims for labor or services. Trafficking occurs globally and each country varies in its intersections of trafficking and its measures to counteract it. In Somalia, human trafficking has become a pressing issue.

Facts About Somalia

  • Somaliland is a self-declared independent country in northwestern former Somalia.
  • Puntland is an autonomous region to the east of Somaliland striving to be part of a federal Somalia.
  • Much of the remaining southern portion of Somalia is engaged in a civil war. This has been ongoing for the past three decades, leaving the population vulnerable and displaced.
  • Al-Shabaab is a terrorist group that controls rural areas in southern Somalia, where it collects taxes, attacks schools, infiltrates mosques and forces victims into trafficking.

Human Trafficking in Somalia

Specific data is difficult to obtain and verify, especially about the trafficking routes traffickers use in Somalia. In general, trafficking routes go from Southern Somalia to Somaliland or Puntland. If Somalia is not the final destination, victims then travel to Yemen or Kenya to reach northern destinations.

Internally displaced persons (IDPs), ethnic minorities and children are the most at risk for becoming victims of trafficking in Somalia. There were an estimated 2.6 million IDPs in 2019. Poverty creates economic and familial pressure to seek employment, usually in the form of labor. Traffickers lure victims with jobs or transport them for free before demanding payment at the destination. Traffickers recruit women and children to work as domestic laborers or in the sex slave trade. Thus, networks of traffickers grow in complexity as they use social media and travel agencies to recruit young and vulnerable victims.

Al-Shabaab plays an important role in southern Somalia, where the group forces victims into serving in al-Shabaab’s military or marrying al-Shabaab militants. People living in the regions under al-Shabaab’s control are at an even greater risk of becoming victims of trafficking. One of the biggest concerns relating to al-Shabaab is the use of child soldiers. Other actors, such as the Somali National Army or clan militias, have also recruited children to join the cause.

Government Actions

Although the government has taken action to address crime in general, it has taken minimal actions against human trafficking in Somalia. Law enforcement lacks adequate staff and training, preventing a greater response to protect victims. While there are laws that criminalize labor trafficking and slavery, there is not enough response at the ground level to prevent trafficking. In 2017, Somaliland drafted a human trafficking law, but it did not pass. However, Puntland ratified a framework that prohibited trafficking in the same year.

Somalia does not pool statistics on trafficking between federal and regional governments and organizations, therefore, it is difficult to create programs and laws to effectively prevent human trafficking and support victims. Meanwhile, NGOs offer the most support for victims by taking steps to identify victims and supporting them after their trafficking experience. Victims receive care through the Migration Response Center. Preventative measures vary widely between areas of Somalia, depending on the available resources.

One NGO is Action Africa Help International (AAH-I). It is an African-led organization working to improve community well-being and access to healthcare and education. Some of its current projects include distributing relief supplies and providing vocational and business training. In addition, AAH-I is educating women and youth in self-reliant income strategies.

Raising Awareness About Human Trafficking in Somalia

The Federal Government of Somalia recently held campaigns and events to raise awareness about trafficking. It also “finalized a national employment policy to guide the creation of jobs and a draft national labor code on responsible labor practices, to include the prohibition of forced labor.” For instance, the United Nations, the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Women and Human Rights Development held training workshops for officers and soldiers, providing education on “child rights and child protection.”

Human trafficking in Somalia is a significant issue, with many factors playing into it. However, the aid of the country’s government, the Migration Response Center and Action Africa Help International should all help reduce human trafficking in Somalia going forward.

Madeleine Proffer
Photo: Flickr

Food insecurity crisis in SomaliaSomalia’s climate consists of sporadic periods of intense rainfall between long periods of drought. So far in 2021, a devastating mix of severe droughts, intense floods and locust infestations in Somalia have devastated crop production and livestock herds, leading to a hunger crisis. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated the previously high rates of poverty in the country and have contributed to the food insecurity crisis in Somalia. USAID is aiming to combat the hunger crisis in Somalia by providing food assistance while also targeting assistance efforts to limit malnutrition among children and pregnant women.

Causes of the Food Insecurity Crisis in Somalia

Typically, heavy rains strike Somalia between April and June and again between October and December. During the two rainy seasons, extreme rainfall and flooding regularly displace Somalis across the country. However, in 2021, the rainy season ended in May instead of June. This early end caused intense droughts in Somalia.

Rainfall in some areas of Somalia has amounted to only half of the year-to-date average. As a result, deficit farmers in the south and northwest of Somalia have not been able to access water supplies adequate to plant Somalia’s staple crops. Moreover, pastoral households’ inadequate access to water has decreased the size and productivity of livestock herds. The subsequent meat, milk and crop shortage might surge food prices in Somalia.

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network projected that the Somali yield of cereal crops in 2021 will be up to 40% less than the yearly average. The drought has already decreased the food and water intake for farmers and pastoralists across Somalia, and low crop and livestock yields in the late summer harvest will lead to lower incomes for farmers and pastoralists. This will limit the purchasing power of Somalis employed in the agriculture sector. Altogether, the drought and subsequent low-yield harvests could extend the risk of a food insecurity crisis in Somalia past the summer.

The State of the Somali Food Insecurity Crisis

The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) scale is a system that governments, non-governmental organizations and the U.N. uses to analyze the severity of food insecurity situations. The IPC scale ranges from minimal (IPC Phase 1) to famine (IPC Phase 5). By the middle of 2021, the IPC expects 2.7 million Somalis to encounter at least the crisis level of food insecurity (IPC Phase 3). Specifically, the analysis expects 2.25 million Somalis to be at the crisis level of food insecurity while another 400,100 will be at the emergency level of food insecurity (IPC Phase 4).

COVID-19 in Somalia

While the COVAX initiative and the Somali Federal Government have started the vaccination campaign against COVID-19 in Somalia, the virus continues to devastate the fragile economy. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the poverty rate (percent of the population below $1.90/day, 2011 PPP) in Somalia was at 69%. The poverty rate among Somalis in rural areas was at 72%.

Further, the worldwide COVID-19 induced lockdowns have limited employment opportunities for Somalis working in foreign countries. Consequently, Somalis working internationally are not able to send much money back to their families in Somalia, which heavily supports consumption in the country. Moreover, Somali businesses have reduced their full-time staff by an average of 31% since the pandemic first struck Somalia.

Lastly, a global reduction in demand for Somali livestock has decreased Somali livestock exports by 50% since the beginning of the pandemic, which further weakens the income of already impoverished Somali pastoralists. Thus, the global economic downturn resulting from COVID-19 threatens to intensify the food insecurity crisis in Somalia.

US Aid to Somalia

On June 24, 2021, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) announced a pledge of $20 million in assistance to Somalia. USAID’s aid pledge to Somalia was part of a larger USAID plan to provide a total of $97 million to African countries to combat the health and socioeconomic ramifications of the pandemic. The U.S. aid plan will focus on tackling the food insecurity crisis in Somalia and will supply the country with staple crops like sorghum and yellow split peas. The funding also aims to limit the malnutrition of children and pregnant women.

The aid package builds on a U.S. commitment of $14.7 million in June 2021 to provide drinking water, fight malnutrition and support victims of gender-based violence.

While Somalia’s struggle with poverty and malnutrition is a longstanding and complicated issue, assistance from the U.S. and the rest of the global community could prevent a famine in the short term and boost the country’s economic development in the long term.

– Zachary Fesen
Photo: Flickr

Female Genital Mutilation in SomaliaAs of 2021, 98% of women between the ages of 15 and 49 have experienced female genital mutilation (FGM) in Somalia. The deep cultural roots of the practice make FGM difficult to eradicate, necessitating significant cultural shifts to end this human rights violation against girls and women. Female genital mutilation is a unique form of gender-based violence that older women tend to promote and carry out on their daughters. Many communities do not see the traditional practice as a form of abuse as some cultures view it as a way for mothers to protect their daughters.

Reasons Women Choose FGM for Their Daughters

  1. Controlling Sexuality. Female genital mutilation in Somalia and other countries is considered a way for mothers to discourage sexual activity by making intercourse less pleasurable, more painful or significantly difficult. Some mothers do it in the hopes of ensuring “premarital virginity and marital fidelity.”
  2. Guaranteeing Marriage. By ensuring that young girls do not engage in sex, potential suitors are significantly more likely to wed the girls. Doubts of a girl’s virginity are enough to completely ostracize and shame the girl as well as ruin any prospects of marriage. Marriage, according to the beliefs of many traditional communities, brings long-term protection and economic stability. Therefore, parents view genital cutting as a means of increasing marriageability and reducing the economic burden on the family with one less child to feed.
  3. Enhancing Femininity. Some cultures view the natural form of female genitalia as ugly or too masculine and seek to change the appearance to enforce beauty standards.
  4. Coming of Age Ritual. Many women see genital mutilation as a rite of passage that they underwent, and as mothers, they feel obliged to pass the ritual down to their daughters in the name of tradition.

Regardless of the reason, mothers typically view female genital mutilation as a way to protect their daughters. Proper awareness about the myriad of consequences to young girls’ long-term health is necessary to show that FGM causes more harm than any possible social benefits.

Person-Centered Communication in the Fight Against FGM

The fight against female genital mutilation in Somalia requires comprehensive cultural shifts and collaborative efforts from community leaders, governments and the health sector. While global efforts have made progress to slowly decrease rates of female genital mutilation and most experts agree that healthcare professionals are essential to the fight, it is still somewhat unclear how best to incorporate the medical field into the efforts. A new approach called Person-Centered Communication (PCC) is showing a lot of promise in the present.

Researchers are conducting a six-month study in Guinea, Kenya and Somalia across more than 180 prenatal care centers that are incorporating this method of anti-FGM action into employee training. Person-Centered Communication aims to pioneer a way to strengthen healthcare workers’ relationships and conversations with patients as a way to prevent female genital mutilation in the first place. It primarily focuses on training nurses and midwives to utilize their “double perspectives.” This includes medical professionals who treat the severe health impacts of FGM and community members who put a lot of cultural significance on the practice, in order to communicate the inarguable harms of FGM to patients without judgment.

PCC functions on the notion of mutual respect in which healthcare workers use medical, cultural and psychosocial training to treat patients as their equals while having productive conversations to discourage female genital mutilation in Somalia. Preliminary findings show that this gentle, judgment-free approach is successfully shifting the mentality around female genital mutilation. While the COVID-19 pandemic presents an increased risk to girls enduring genital cutting due to access to healthcare becoming more difficult, PCC initiatives have doubled down to continue making progress in Somalia.

Promising Results

As the study progresses, experts are seeing very promising results, primarily attributable to the double perspective of healthcare professionals. Because the health professionals come from the same or similar communities as the young mothers and understand the cultural significance of FGM, the professionals have an easier time convincing pregnant women to not cut their daughters. Approaching the conversations with mutual respect, kindness and an understanding of the culture and the good intentions surrounding female genital mutilation makes young mothers more receptive to conversations about why women should abandon practices of genital mutilation.

This is incredibly monumental as one of the most difficult aspects of addressing FGM is deep cultural roots and the ineffectiveness of outside judgment and pressure. Person-Centered Communication training in the medical field holds significant potential for decreasing female genital mutilation in Somalia by changing cultural and societal views through discussion and understanding.

– Jaya Patten
Photo: Flickr

Clean Water in SomaliaSomalia is facing an ongoing humanitarian crisis that has affected millions. Over 70% of the country’s population is currently living in poverty, with more than 4.8 million people suffering from food insecurity. Political instability, armed conflict and extreme weather coupled with the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic has caused the country’s GDP to decrease by 1.5%. Extreme weather caused over $3 billion worth of damage to Somalia in 2018 which was more than 50% of the country’s GDP. The current state of Somalia has only deteriorated with the need for humanitarian support increasing. Food insecurity, malnutrition and access to clean water in Somalia are major issues requiring continued humanitarian attention.

Access to Clean Water in Somalia

The United Nations has reported that over 2 billion people globally lack access to clean water. UNICEF reports that only 52% of the population of Somalia has access to a water source. With such a low percentage of the Somali people having readily accessible clean water, preventable diseases become a greater threat. Access to clean water in Somalia means improving sanitation, hygiene and decreasing susceptibility to diseases like cholera, diarrhea and respiratory infections.

Save the Children has reported that droughts have left 70% of Somali families lacking access to clean water. The survey gathered responses from over 630 families in 18 provinces of Somalia. Droughts have led to crop failures resulting in more people struggling with food insecurity. Without access to clean water, women and children face an increased risk of health-related issues, like preventable diseases and childbirth complications.

Providing Clean Water in Somalia

Mercy-USA for Aid and Development is a nonprofit organization from Michigan that has been working in Somalia since 1997. The United States-based nonprofit has projects spanning several countries including Syria, Kenya and Yemen. The programs in Somalia are developing self-reliance skills through education, skill training and food and water assistance. In order to combat the crisis of accessibility to clean water in Somalia, Mercy-USA is building wells for the Somali people. The organization has built over 700 wells, which have provided clean water to over 750,000 people. The organization can build a new well for $3,500 which can provide water to an entire community.

CARE International is a non-governmental organization based in Switzerland that has been providing humanitarian aid to Somalia since 1981. The organization has been helping mitigate the damage that extreme weather like floods and droughts have had on Somali agriculture. CARE’s programs in Somalia have helped over 250,000 people through improvements to clean water accessibility, sanitation and hygiene. The organization works with local authorities and international organizations to treat preventable diseases like acute watery diarrhea. CARE International has provided over 10,000 people access to clean water. The organization’s ongoing projects include efforts to improve agriculture, sanitation and develop local businesses.

Looking Forward

With extreme weather displacing communities and damaging agriculture, more people are finding themselves without access to clean water in Somalia. The Somali government is working to expand assistance and opportunities to those suffering from the effects of poverty with the support of humanitarian organizations like Mercy-USA and CARE International. The poverty rate is expected to remain at 71% as the Coronavirus pandemic further exacerbates food insecurity and displacement. Continued humanitarian support is necessary to improve the situation of the Somali people and ensure everyone has access to clean water in Somalia.

– Gerardo Valladares
Photo:Flickr

Somalia's Poverty Crisis
Once ancient Egypt’s “Garden of Eden,” Somalia is facing extreme poverty amidst a civil war and growing corruption. With a growing number of pirates and terrorists, the country’s youth are at extreme risk. This article lists five facts about Somalia’s poverty crisis, how these forces are plaguing the nation and what some are doing to improve conditions.

5 Facts About Somalia’s Poverty Crisis

  1. Piracy: According to Gale General, Somalia is a haven for pirates. This is because there is no national army or police force to prevent piracy; rather, crooked regional and local warlords are happy to receive tribute and grant franchises. This factors into why national crises and famines occur in Somalia. Unfortunately, there are few options for shipping companies trying to avoid or dispel pirate attacks. There are, however, options to end Somalia’s pirate problem. The hiring of private security for vessels would prevent attacks but is costly and the International Maritime Bureau discourages it. Another option is to avoid the Gulf of Aden completely, however, this is also expensive as it would make transportation 20 to 30 days longer. The last option is the most possible: for shipping companies to operate an insurance-laden vessel.
  2. Poverty Among Youth: According to UNDP statistics, Somalia has a poverty rate of 73%, with 70% of the population being under the age of 30. Meanwhile, 67% of Somalian youth do not have employment. Save the Children reports this rate is among the highest globally. These statistics do not come without good news. Nearly 69,000 young Somalians converted to social transfers to increase their purchasing power. This translates to nearly 10,000 households, 3,000 of which include children under the age of 5. Forty thousand Somalians received asset protection, better food security and general life improvements. Translating to about 6,000 households, they are now able to promote sustainable, strong and peaceful livelihoods. All of this occurred in 2015 alone.
  3. Education: Among the struggles many Somalians face is difficulty accessing education. Somalian children usually begin their education later, though this is due to cultural influence rather than poverty. However, the number of schools is so sparse that the distance alone is a major obstacle. Although, in 2015, 3,000 youths received free education and employment promotion activities, which has indirectly helped 20,000 individuals. From the first half of the year, 65.8% of youths who have graduated from Technical & Vocational Education Training centers found good jobs that met their new expertise.
  4. Health: Life expectancy in the country is horrifically low, averaging about 52 years from birth. Civil warfare and instability have made it difficult for humanitarian aid to reach people in need. Groups have experienced limitations in providing health care and other basic needs due to excessive looting, threats by Al-Shabab directed to aid workers and a lack of security. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and Parasitic Control and Transmission, 3 million children require regular treatment for intestinal worms and 300,000 more for schistosomiasis. By the time Médecins Sans Frontières International left Somalia, nearly 2,000 staff members provided free primary health care, malnutrition treatment, epidemic response and immunization campaigns. In 2012 alone, 59,000 Somalians received vaccinations. Currently, the World Health Organization (WHO) has a commitment to expanding coverage for vaccine-preventable diseases, reducing HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis cases and strengthening healthcare programs.
  5. Civil Unrest: Al-Shabab is a terrorist organization fighting to enforce its distorted view of a fundamentalist Islamic state. The group has been one of the main causes of warfare and unrest in Somalia. When famine plagued the nation between 2010 and 2012, the group worsened conditions by putting pressure on humanitarian aid such as MSF. This resulted in 260,000 Somalians dead, half of which were under the age of 25. With the help of the African Union Mission, the Somalian government has since decreased Al-Shabab-controlled regions but roadblocks and checkpoints are still full of armed terrorists.

Looking Ahead

Despite the growth of terrorist organizations and attacks against humanitarian aid, many organizations have a commitment to providing foreign aid and helping during Somalia’s poverty crisis. WHO has dedicated its efforts to expanding coverage for vaccine-preventable diseases, building capacity for reductions in diseases and strengthening programs concerning health for women and children. It is also working on strengthening the health system and preparing for any outbreak and crisis responses. Save the Children also has three core areas for aid including sensitive social protection, sensitive livelihoods and transitions to work. To the dismay of Al-Shabab, these brave volunteers are too stubborn to abandon Somalia. One day, hopefully, the country will become the “Garden of Eden” once again.

– Marcella Teresi
Photo: Flickr

Somalia is located in the Horn of Africa with a population of more than 15 million people. Today, more than 70% of the country’s population experience poverty. The people of Somalia struggle with food insecurity, vulnerability to human trafficking and youth unemployment among other challenges. One issue, in particular, is malnutrition in Somali children.

Food Insecurity

The most recent Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report on Somalia projects that 22% of the population or 2.7 million people will struggle with acute food insecurity in the coming months. The main factors contributing to food insecurity are locusts, floods, droughts and low amounts of rainfall.

Malnutrition in Somali Children

The current food insecurity crisis facing Somalia has placed more than 800,000 children at risk of acute malnutrition. Nutrition surveys taken in 2020 measured Global Acute Malnutrition levels of 36 population groups in Somalia on a scale increasing in intensity from Acceptable (IPC phase 1) to critical (IPC phase 4). Specifically:

  • Nine out of 36 population groups in Somalia faced critical levels of Global Acute Malnutrition. This means that more than 15% of the population of children in these regions are suffering from acute malnutrition.
  • A total of 28 population groups suffered from severe (IPC phase 3) levels of malnutrition. This means at least 10% of the population experienced acute malnutrition.
  • More than 34% of Somali children are in need of treatment for acute malnutrition.

Compared to years past, more populations have improved to phase 3 as their acute malnutrition levels decrease. Malnutrition levels have improved due to continued humanitarian aid efforts and accessibility to milk. The ongoing pandemic and seasonal challenges may lead to increased levels of acute malnutrition as food access decreases and the ability to get aid to at-risk populations becomes more costly.

Combating Malnutrition

Save the Children is a humanitarian organization that has been working in Somalia since 1951. The organization has helped more than 500,000 children by providing food, water and medical assistance to at-risk populations. With the COVID-19 pandemic threatening to cause further harm to Somali children, Save the Children has created an emergency fund to increase the amount of aid it can provide.

Action Against Hunger is another humanitarian organization that has been combating malnutrition in Somali children since 1992. In 2019, the organization had provided aid in the form of food, water and health services support to more than 600,000 people. The organization helped more than 20,000 children suffering from severe malnutrition and provided health services to more than 160,000 pregnant women. Action Against Hunger plans to continue supporting Somalia. It plans to expand existing health services for the Somali people and empower the Somali healthcare system.

With millions being affected by food insecurity and more than 800,000 children suffering from acute malnutrition, Somalia is in need of continued humanitarian support. Continual improvements to healthcare, food and water systems have improved the lives of millions of people. The ongoing pandemic and droughts are obstacles in the way of continuing progress in combating malnutrition in Somali children. With these issues, the need for continued humanitarian support only grows.

Gerardo Valladares
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 Vaccines for SomaliaIn March 2021, COVAX helped secure the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines for Somalia. According to The New Humanitarian, Somalia has one of the weakest healthcare systems in the world. Before the pandemic, Somalia was already struggling with political and economic concerns. The added effects of COVID-19 have significantly impacted the country.

COVAX Donation and Vaccine Hesitancy

More than 300,000 COVID-19 vaccines first arrived in Somalia on March 15, 2021. Donated by COVAX, a global effort to provide equitable vaccine coverage, the doses will prioritize “frontline workers, the elderly and people with chronic health conditions.” UNICEF reports that Somalia is one of the first African countries to receive vaccine donations through COVAX, an important act as the country moves into a new wave of infections.

Misinformation has contributed to vaccine hesitancy in Somalia, which may adversely impact a successful vaccination rollout. Somali people working in the medical field are making efforts to combat misinformation and build vaccine trust to ensure vaccine hesitancy does not present a barrier for Somalia.

COVID-19 in Somalia

COVID-19 cases in Somalia stand at more than 13,000 as of April 30, 2021, with more than 700 deaths. COVID-19 deaths and infections in Somalia are low compared to other African countries and the rest of the world, but slow vaccination rates are making it harder to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. More than a year after the first reported case of COVID-19 in Somalia, Somalia is facing a peak, with a death toll far higher than the peak of 2020. Only about 0.8% of 15 million Somali’s have been vaccinated so far.

The first cases of COVID-19 in Somalia were mostly travel-related cases, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In the past year, the WHO and partners have helped strengthen Somalia’s COVID-19 response by providing critical resources. These efforts contributed to creating three COVID-19 testing labs in Somalia. Furthermore, “73 rapid response teams were deployed for COVID-19 case investigation, alert verification and sample collection.” More than 7,000 healthcare workers received COVID-19 health training and 76 oxygen concentrators were provided to health facilities, among other efforts.

Vaccination Efforts for Preventable Diseases

Before the onset of COVID-19 in Somalia, WHO started the Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI), which aims to vaccinate Somali children against eight preventable diseases. This program helped control the 2017 and 2018 measles outbreaks in Somalia and helped citizens keep up with routine immunizations, mitigating the spread of common diseases across the country. In 2019, the initiative trained healthcare workers from more than 700 health centers in immunization practices and procedures.

Call to Action

As COVID-19 continues to threaten the world, vulnerable populations in developing countries are most at risk. Recognizing this fact, in June 2021, President Biden announced a plan to donate 500 million COVID-19 vaccines to countries in need through COVAX. The international community needs to come together in a collaborative global effort to ensure disadvantaged countries receive sufficient COVID-19 vaccines.

Monica Mellon
Photo: Flickr

USAID Programs in SomaliaSomalia is one of the most poverty-stricken countries in the world, plagued by frequent violence, widespread food insecurity and natural disasters. To address the nation’s incredibly precarious situation, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) programs in Somalia are expansive and well-funded. USAID programs in Somalia aim to provide humanitarian relief and reduce poverty in the area.

Causes of Poverty in Somalia

Droughts are partly responsible for the severe food insecurity in Somalia. From 2011 to 2019, Somalia experienced a devastating drought. The drought was so severe that it was even given a name, Sima. When it first started, it triggered a famine that killed 250,000 Somalians. In the years following, Sima devastated livestock populations in Somalia. Sima has also forced Somalians to relocate: in 2017, drought was responsible for displacing more than one million people. While Somalia has seen several devastating droughts over the past half-century, Sima has been the most catastrophic one yet.

Civil war and political unrest have also contributed to Somalia’s struggle with poverty and food insecurity. Since the collapse of the military regime led by President Siad Barre in 1991, Somalia has experienced near-constant warfare. The lack of a functioning Somali government has only made it more difficult for Somalians living in poverty and left the country increasingly reliant on foreign aid.

The numbers illustrate Somalia’s dire situation. In 2017, 6.2 million Somalians were experiencing acute food insecurity. Of that number, half were experiencing crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity. Since that time, the U.S. Government had increased funding to the country by more than double when it offered an additional $257 million to USAID programs in Somalia in 2019.

USAID Programs in Somalia

The functions of USAID programs in Somalia are wide-ranging and amounted to about $500 million in 2019. USAID’s proclaimed mission statement says “USAID strengthens the foundations for a more stable, democratic and prosperous Somalia while saving lives, alleviating human suffering and reducing the economic impact of disasters.” USAID programs cover several key humanitarian areas.

Firstly, the Office of Food for Peace (FFP) received $300 million in funding for the fiscal year of 2019. FFP aims to alleviate food insecurity among Somalia’s most vulnerable populations. A different initiative attempts to strengthen trust in Somalia’s Government while also working to counteract violent extremist groups. The Democracy, Stabilization and Governance initiative consists of five separate initiatives with separate goals.

The multi-donor trust fund contributions consist of four parts and aim to assist local governments in becoming more effective. Social services initiatives in Somalia work to improve education for marginalized communities. Lastly, economic growth initiatives in Somalia work to revitalize the Somalian economy.

Somalia’s struggle with poverty and food insecurity has been lengthy and difficult. Nevertheless, USAID programs have seen quantifiable improvements. For example, USAID provided access and benefits to alternative basic education for 20,248 students. Even with the positive progress, the U.N. predicts further issues in Somalia and that more foreign aid will be necessary to fully restore the country.

– Leo Ratté
Photo: Flickr