Amanda Sperber in Kismayo
Friday April 15, 2022
The UN this week issued a stark warning on Somalia,
projecting that 350,000 children could starve to death without urgent action.
The country is in the middle of a drought that is already
killing people. Some regions in the Horn of Africa are the hottest they have
been since satellites started recording data 40 years ago, according to an
analysis by the World Food Programme.
Humanitarian aid organisations have spent billions over the
years in this east African nation yet few Somalis have felt any real impact.
“They spend all their money on overhead and salaries and we are left with
pennies,” said Hodan Ali, director of the durable solutions unit for the
Benadir regional authority, which contains Mogadishu, the capital.
Among a multitude of other costs, money has been spent on
security and salaries – in dollars, in the lower six figures for non-Somali UN
staff – and logistics, everything from fuel for cars and generators, to
laptops, to secure conference rooms. Cash chunks have also gone to the Somali
government for “statebuilding”. The government has yet to mount a coherent
response to the drought, establishing a committee only in February.
All this before money reaches the bare necessities for
civilians: food, water and medical supplies. Even the much-lauded direct cash
transfer schemes, which many organisations now use as a better, more nimble way
of getting help to those in need, come with huge costs for measuring their
effectiveness. Consultants are paid in the range of $600 (£450) a day. These
processes are considered necessary to prove to donors that money is not going
to al-Shabaab, the insurgent group that controls swaths of Somalia and is
embedded with much of the population.
Abdulahi Abdishakur (who goes by Nadeef) is one of a few
Somalis mobilising direct aid. Like many, he feels bewilderment and anger with
the UN and international aid agencies, which are seen as wasting time and
money, complicit with the Somali government, and prone to misallocating
resources and getting waylaid by politics.
Nadeef raises money from the diaspora to buy water from
private companies that have drilled wells, and then to get it on to trucks. He
does his planning from Iowa, where he settled with his immediate family in
2005, spending between $100 and $400 to organise water trucks to supply a
remote village. He has relatives across Somalia and visits nearly every year.
“You can bring water for very little, but the politicians
are focusing on elections,” said one Somali, referring to the protracted
political crisis. They asked to remain anonymous but said they knew of water
trucks that could be obtained for as little as $150, although it is now getting
Adam Abdelmoula, UN humanitarian coordinator for Somalia,
does not deny the problem. “The absence of a functioning government for so many
decades allowed humanitarian actors – including within the UN and among
non-government organisations – to devise whatever interventions they deemed fit
and implement them without any government oversight,” he said.
“This led to what could be described as a culture of
‘humanitarian impunity’. Given how long those practices prevailed in Somalia
and the weak coordination capacities of the newly reconstituted government,
some of that culture still lingers on and at times makes it difficult to bring
the humanitarian and development actors to work together along the nexus lines
to achieve collective outcomes for the benefit of Somalis in need.”
The Gedo drought relief committee (GDRC), a group that
supports people in the west of Jubaland – in southern Somalia – has raised
nearly $200,000 and funded nearly 600 water trucks, as well as distributing
food, according to a member who requested anonymity for security reasons. The
GDRC has been able to get the water to areas controlled by al-Shabaab, places
where neither the government nor international groups can safely go.
“We the committee can raise funds for the affected,” the
member said. “When we have enough cash we contact well-known clan elders and
they convince al-Shabaab they [the civilians] need assistance the most. So we
send them the money and they buy water and report back.”
According to the GDRC, no international aid group has been
near the people it has supported, although a member does recall that one
assessment was conducted last year. “They come just in time to gauge the
mortality rate,” said Adam Aw Hirsi, a former senior government official who is
now on the national drought relief committee, set up in February.
It is difficult to show the GDRC at work because al-Shabaab
does not allow the use of smartphones. A few photos have been smuggled out, one
published here, of a child in the Balanbaal area, controlled by al-Shabaab.
International organisations are helping only the few who
reach camps for internally displaced people (IDPs) in government-controlled
areas, said the GDRC member.
“They are helping, but the question is, who do they have
access to help? The plight caused by this drought is far greater than some few
families gathered in an IDP camp. The people that really need assistance are
those that are in hard-to-reach areas whose livestock have been depleted and
have nothing left,” they said.
A failure to consult with people does not help, said Aw
Hirsi. “The aid organisations failed to closely coordinate with the local
actors on the ground and elsewhere. Close coordination will prevent a gap in
aid allocation and delivery, and overlap in resources. Our committee has raised
an alarm on both government and aid organisations’ shortcomings.” Drought
relief money needs to go straight to “local hands-on actors” to have any
impact, he said.
Politics also hampers relief efforts. The country is mired
in an electoral struggle and there’s deep distrust between regions. Mursal
Khalif, minister of international cooperation in Jubaland, has claimed that at
least one plane loaded with humanitarian aid has not been allowed to leave
Meanwhile Nadeef’s GoFundMe campaign in the US has raised
more than $20,000. He has spent half on sending 70 water trucks across
Jubaland, and half on food distribution.
The UN agency Unicef has not given a figure for how many
water trucks it has sent out but says 110,000 of the 1.2 million people it has
targeted have been reached. About 6.4 million people are in need of water and
sanitation assistance. The agency says it needs $18m to meet its trucking target,
and other support such as water supply systems and boreholes.