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From delivering assistance to reducing needs: Resources to support resilience building an urgent priority in Somalia

17 Jul 2018


Op Ed by Justin Brady, the Head of Office, OCHA Somalia

There is a proverb that says, “A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit.” The author of the proverb was underlying the importance of a strong foundation for future generations to build upon. In the past three decades, few such trees have been planted in Somalia, leaving its people as one of the most vulnerable in the world to climactic shocks, that have grown more frequent and severe due to a changing climate.

In the absence of preventative action, Somalia has become synonymous with multi-hundred-million-dollar appeals for humanitarian aid that balloon to more than a billion dollars when drought takes hold.

Somalia is at a critical juncture, where it has made true progress on the political and governance fronts, but where these significant, yet fragile, gains have yet to translate into sustainable development. This is mainly due to a lack of strong governmental institutions since the collapse of the state in 1991. Years of conflict and instability have weakened the ability of the Government and humanitarian organizations to provide essential services to people in need.

But in 2017, when Somalia was able to stave off famine, it was evident that the fragile progress made has led to improved conditions for effective action. The collaborative efforts of aid agencies and authorities to fight the famine, was aided by timely and historic levels of support from donors.

This year, contrary to earlier forecasts of a below average Gu rainy season, record levels of rainfall have seen Somalia emerge from a prolonged drought, only to have the pendulum swing in the opposite direction. Flooding affected over 830,000 people, nearly 300,000 of whom were temporarily displaced. The impact of the flooding has crippled the ability of affected families to recover from prolonged drought. An estimated 5.4 million people need assistance.

Somali women and a baby wait for humanitarian aid registration at a World Food Program center in Mogadishu. Photo credit: OCHA/Giles Clarke

The protracted conflict in Somalia defines the protection crisis, which is the heart of the humanitarian response in the country. At least 2.6 million Somalis have been displaced, and 1.7 million of those people were displaced between January 2017 and May 2018. Livelihoods have been disrupted across the country, while malnutrition and disease continue to stalk the population and cause mass displacement and disrupt livelihoods.

Meanwhile, the cost of delivering aid in Somalia, like anywhere else in the world, continues to spike. In 2017, donors provided US$1.3 billion for famine prevention, but 44 per cent of the Somali population remains food insecure, with half of them unable to meet their daily food requirements.

Another $1.5 billion is needed to meet their humanitarian needs in 2018. That is not all. Between 2010 and 2017, donors contributed $7 billion towards humanitarian aid. That’s an average of $875 million per year over those eight years.

There is no doubt that this incredible generosity from donors has saved lives, but most of the support was - life saving and not intended to strengthen the ability of disaster-prone communities to respond to and recover from shocks.

Resilience as an idea is not new to humanitarians in Somalia - it has been a standing agenda item since 2012. The initial interventions were aimed at the household level, but the gains in governance and security already mentioned, now open the door for more systemic resilience efforts. Unfortunately, growing donor interest in resilience has yet to be matched with the resources required to implement it. The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) estimates that, in Somalia, for every $100 spent on humanitarian response, only $0.08 goes towards disaster risk reduction. Put simply, aid is funded to avert humanitarian catastrophes, but not to extricate people from the margins of vulnerability. The persistence of high levels of need is evidence that the humanitarian situation in Somalia cannot be solved just by humanitarian interventions.

Somali women fetch water at a water project implemented by SOYDA - funded by Somalia Humanitarian Fund. Credit: OCHA

While insecurity and other obstacles to development have not been completely eliminated, opportunities now exist to implement longer-term investment strategies and to build-up the country’s resilience to the recurrent shocks that cause so much suffering and undermine development. Recent examples show that doing so improves aid efficiency, increases cost effectiveness and establishes a good starting point for long term development programmes. More importantly, it allows people to fend for themselves with dignity.

During the famine prevention effort in 2017, the Federal Government of Somalia, with support from the United Nations, European Union and World Bank embarked on a process to create a Resilience and Recovery Framework (RRF) to not only make governance and aid systems more resilient to shocks but to also implement efforts to make generations of Somalis famine-proof.

Humanitarian and development partners are ready to cooperate on immediate and long-term solutions to alleviate the impact of the drought and the recent flooding. For example, in areas where humanitarians are responding to severe water shortages like Baidoa in South West State, development partners have provided assistance with drilling boreholes.

If you strip away the emotion and images of children on the brink of death from starvation, there lies a business case for RRF that supports the resilience and long-term development approach. For example, the groups of humanitarian organizations who provide response related to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in Somalia have consistently argued that the cost to provide 20,000 people with water through trucking for one year is $2.8m, which is the same amount needed to set up a water distribution network to provide for the same population, for over a 15-year period with regular maintenance.

Early aid action can save an estimated $220 million on the cost of humanitarian responses over a 15-year period, according to a recent study commissioned by United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The study found that if the avoided income and livestock losses (as a result of early response) was taken into account, an early humanitarian response could save $460 million, or an average of $31 million per year.

Credit: OCHA/G.Clarke

When disaster is completely avoided, and would-be-losses are incorporated, programmes that support building resilience could save $595 million, or an average of $40 million per year, according to the study.

On the other hand, a resilience-building intervention, such as strengthening the agricultural system to feed the country’s people, can result in an increase in income of $405 per household per year, reducing the net cost of humanitarian response by an estimated $155 million over 15 years. Ultimately, when early reaction and resilience building interventions are combined, they could save up to $794 million, or an average of $53 million per year.

Similar savings can be found across other humanitarian interventions. However, the funds being spent to truck water or feed a child cannot simply be transferred today to investments without sacrificing those currently in need. The cost of shock-proofing water systems, agricultural improvements, flood mitigation and durable solutions for the internally displaced must be incurred in parallel to humanitarian interventions.

Only when this paradigm shift takes shape, supported with adequate funding and approached with long-term goals in mind, will Somalia plant the trees its people so rightly deserve.