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Outbreak of Locusts in Somalia Predicted to be Worse in 2021In the past several decades, Somalia has faced a variety of challenges, including foreign imperialism, religious extremism and a struggling infrastructure system. Literacy and education have long been areas of concern, as has access to food, water and healthcare. In 1991, President Muhammed Siad Barre was overthrown, and the country descended into civil war with various political and military factions vying for control of the country. Peacekeeping groups from the U.S. and the United Nations attempted to restore a central government and restrain violence, but they were met with opposition and eventually left, unsuccessful, in 1993.

A Destabilized Country and Poverty

There have since been many attempts to create a functioning national government, but for years progress stalled. The Islamic extremist group Al-Shabab gained momentum in the mid-2000s, causing huge amounts of violence and destruction in the region. They attacked national infrastructure, and at various points forced agencies who had been providing aid to withdraw. These tactics caused thousands to die, displaced thousands more and destroyed access to healthcare and education for many.

Human Rights Watch estimated in 2018 that over 2.5 million people were internally displaced, and agencies providing relief faced continued attacks and the inability to access those who need help. According to the World Bank, the poverty rate in Somalia today is roughly 70%, and “almost nine of 10 Somali households are deprived of at least one fundamental dimension: access to income, electricity, education or water and sanitation.” Life expectancy is low as well, figured to be roughly 53 years for men and 57 for women. These issues are both caused and compounded by the constant violence; the civil war deprived many of access to necessities like food and housing, and it continues to be a daily worry even with other equally pressing needs.

Locusts and Food Security

It is against this backdrop that Somalia is currently dealing with a plague of epic proportions. Every year, there is an outbreak of locusts in Somalia and neighboring countries, and locals are accustomed to their presence on some level. However, 2020 is entirely different: Warming temperatures and increased flooding over the last several years created ideal conditions for locusts to breed and reproduce, leading to two separate waves of locusts this year alone. By all accounts, this invasion is the worst in 25 years, decimating a country that was already ill-equipped to deal with a disaster.

The first infestation of locusts in Somalia numbered in the hundreds of billions, blotting out the sky and destroying crops, farmland and any other vegetation they found. The second was even more devastating—trillions of locusts descended on East Africa and wiped out any chance of a successful harvest. The LA Times reports, “In a single day, a swarm can travel nearly 100 miles and eat its own weight in leaves, seeds, fruits and vegetables—as much as 35,000 people would consume. A typical swarm can stretch over 30 square miles.” It is nearly impossible to deal with them individually, and a lack of centralized response has left farmers to fend for themselves in an attempt to mitigate economic loss and save what they can of the most recent crop yield.

These waves of locusts ruined economic prospects for many Somali citizens, and left many in debt, unable to sell their harvest or participate in the local economy. The U.N. Food and Agriculture division estimates that 100% of sorghum and maize—both vital to the Somali economy—were affected or harmed by the infestation. Experts also worry that they will return in the spring of 2021 if allowed to continue breeding and growing to maturity unchecked. The unprecedented quantities this year make it difficult to contain, and there is now only a short window in which to act. Avoiding another round will require a timely and focused response.

Moving Forward

The good news is that there are tangible solutions, and possibilities remain for Somalia to revitalize their economy and recover from this devastation. Pesticides are proven to contain the insects, and the challenge now is to deploy them in high enough quantities that it might have a tangible effect. Currently, Somalia lacks the political will and infrastructure to supply enough planes to be useful, but the U.N. FAO has been meeting with both West African and European countries in an attempt to gather the resources necessary to fight the locusts.

Scientists have been working to develop a worthy biopesticide over the past decade, and there is now a working product that’s “cheaper, more effective, longer-lasting in the desert and easier to store,” according to Science Magazine. Somali politicians and leading experts in the field from around the world have been working to provide relief, and although locusts in Somalia have not been seen like this in many years, there are reasons to be hopeful, given the scenario. If aerial spraying becomes financially viable and available, it could provide significant relief and a renewed opportunity for those who have been affected.

One FAO official commented, “We’re already partnering with NASA, with NOAA, with the European Space Agency, with Cambridge University… all of these different entities have their own expertise.” Ultimately, a solution to locusts in Somalia is within reach—and it requires a combination of pesticides, more accurate predictors of future outbreaks and cheaper methods of delivery for needed chemicals. If this can be achieved, it would be critical in the fight for food and job security in the country, allowing the economy to flourish and crops to grow.

– Leo Posel
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Somalia
Somalia, located at the Horn of Africa, is a country with colorful and diverse traditions, but harsh conditions. Life is not only affected by the climate, but also the treacherous political environment. In this article, the top 10 facts about living conditions in Somalia are presented.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Somalia

  1. Somalia has four seasons, two rainy and two dry ones. These seasons are combined with some of the highest mean temperatures worldwide. These conditions make farming incredibly difficult, in fact, only 0.05 percent of the land is inhabited by permanent crops. Most agricultural employment takes place through livestock. Somalia is also a large exporter of bananas, sorghum, corn, coconuts and rice. However, without consistent trade, much of this has gone to waste and has created a famine.
  2. There is virtually no infrastructure in many parts of the country due to the ongoing civil war. This affects the ability of a community to access clean water. Only 34 percent of individuals have access to sanitation services and, because plumbing is uncommon in many rural areas, 50 percent of individuals in these areas practice open defecation. Currently, progress on this issue is created through building wells, as well as implementing community programs to improve sanitation. Mercy USA has built over 580 wells in order to improve water access in Somalia. The WASH program is implementing underground wells that are attached to solar-powered sanitation systems.
  3. Another one of the top 10 facts about living conditions in Somalia relates to clean water access and adequate health care facilities. In 2017, there were over 79,000 cases of acute watery diarrhea or cholera alone. Only 6 percent of Somali residents have access to antenatal doctor’s appointments. The transmission of infectious diseases is amplified by the nomadic tendencies of pastoral clans, and the presence of large refugee camps. The WHO and UNICEF have been able to decrease measles outbreaks by administering vaccines to over 45,000 children in these camps. Nearly 50 percent of children under the age of 1 have been vaccinated for this disease.
  4. Women and children face danger on a daily basis. Armed men often take sexually violent acts against women and girls without prosecution. Children are recruited and indoctrinated by the terrorist organization Al-Shabaab. Somalia is ranked as one of the worst five places to be a woman in the world due to the widespread practice of Sharia law and restriction of gender-based freedoms. There is also limited access to health care and the prevalence of human trafficking. The Somali federal government did implement an incredibly comprehensive Sexual Offences Bill in May 2018, the bill that criminalizes sexual offenses.
  5. According to the WHO, the average life expectancy of a Somali individual is 53 years. The average expectancy of an individual to live a healthy life is only 45 years. Due to a lack of access to health care services and adequate sanitation, most adults die of infectious disease. Upon birth, only 9 percent of women are attended by a health professional. Maternal, neonatal and nutritional deaths account for approximately 18,000 deaths across both genders.
  6. The federal government only controls part of the country and formal economic activity is limited to the urban areas. Businesses are scarce due to the probability of looting and high inflation. It is 137 percent more expensive to live in Mogadishu, country’s capital, than in Tokyo. The main income of the country is international trade, but constant civil discourse prohibits this sector from experiencing significant growth. The new Public Financial Management bill should increase the government’s revenue security and control of expenses.
  7. There are two seceded states in the north: Somaliland and Puntland created after the civil war. Constant border disputes between the three regions have created unrest and violence. Around 2.1 million individuals have been displaced by federal government evictions, random acts of violence and climatic conditions. Foreign aid has made efforts to provide assistance to displaced peoples, but Al-Shabaab placed sanction prohibiting humanitarian organizations.
  8. The split between Puntland, Somaliland and the Somali Republic causes constant border disputes. There is no judiciary system to solve these issues and these disputes devolve into violent attacks. The influx of pastoral clans and refugees into major cities and ports during the dry season cause looting and disease.
  9. The government provides exponentially less health assistance than nongovernmental organizations. Regions within WHO jurisdiction have nearly twice the utilization of health services than regions without it. Maternal and child mortality rates are also much lower in these areas. Less than 50 out of 1,000 children die versus approximately 150 out of 1,000 in regions without aid. The Somali federal government has increased spending on health care services and has had 88 percent of the population for tuberculosis tested in regions without organizations’ assistance.
  10. Around 2.1 million people have been displaced internally in refugee camps. The surrounding countries have placed sanctions on incoming peoples seeking asylum due to limited resources. Those seeking asylum are also unable to travel across the disputed borders of Somaliland and Puntland because of convoys along them. With large numbers of people moving around so sporadically, it is also hard to create a consistent source of nutrition.

Poverty and civil war are rampant issues that result in many consequences for Somalia. Humanitarian aid is the main source of help in improving living conditions for over 5.4 million people that are in desperate need. Between the assistance of these organizations and the growing effectiveness of the federal government, the people of Somalia may have a decent chance to live in a comfortable environment.

– Emily Triolet

Photo: Flickr