Tackling food crisis in Somalia

15 May 2017

Concern Worldwide’s Building Resilient Communities in Somalia programme, funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), has been working to help communities withstand disasters since 2013. Drought in 2016, which has since escalated into a catastrophic nationwide food crisis, has posed a severe challenge to communities in our programme areas. However, early indications are that our resilience work has been successful in reducing the impact of the drought and supported people to better adapt to extreme conditions. Moreover, our resilience programming has helped enable a faster and more effective humanitarian response. A ‘no regrets’ approach to early warning – based on probabilities of the scale of the disaster rather than certainties – has enabled us to provide support to communities months before conventional humanitarian actors. And by drawing on our understanding of the communities, developed through long-term engagement, we have been able to tailor our interventions in a cost-effective way to meet their complex needs, addressing the impacts of conflict as well as drought.

Fodder Field School-trained farmer standing in front of surplus fodder, produced ahead of the hard dry season to feed to his milk animals.
Fodder Field School-trained farmer standing in front of surplus fodder, produced ahead of the hard dry season to feed to his milk animals.
Fodder Field School-trained farmer standing in front of surplus fodder, produced ahead of the hard dry season to feed to his milk animals.
Fodder Field School-trained farmer standing in front of surplus fodder, produced ahead of the hard dry season to feed to his milk animals.

Building Resilient Communities in Somalia

Since 2013, Concern has been working in consortium with four other agencies1 to build the resilience of people across 22 districts of southern and central Somalia.The BRCiS2 programme aims to help communities withstand and absorb the impact of disasters, such as drought and localised outbreaks ofconflict, without undermining their ability to move out of poverty. A crucial aspect of the programme is an in-built flexibility which allows it to adjust and scale up different activities, depending on the needs of BRCiS communities who play a central part in the design and implementation of the programme. During times of relative stability, the BRCiS consortium focuses on longer term development activities, such as Disaster Risk Reduction and income-generating activities for the poorest people, but if the risk of a disaster starts to escalate, the programme is able to change its focus to meet urgent needs. This has been the priority of the BRCiS programme since June 2016 when weaker than usual April-June Gu rains began to place communities at heightened risk of food crisis. Since then, subsequent weak rains across Somalia have led to the most serious nationwide food crisis since the 2011 East Africa drought, putting more than 6.2 million people, half the population, in need of humanitarian assistance. Although the regions in which BRCiS operates have been badly affected, the programme has allowed us to respond quicker than conventional humanitarian actors without existing resilience programmes.

BRCiS communities have coped better with the current crisis than many neighbouring communities.

Benefits of Early Warning Early Action

Central to the BRCiS programme is the principle of Early Warning Early Action. The potential benefits of early action are clear: it can save lives and prevent suffering, it can reduce the need for a costlier humanitarian response and protect the development gains of communities. If we can respond quickly enough to the threat of a growing crisis – particularly a slow-onset food crisis – we stand a better chance of preventing it escalating into a disaster or reducing the impact on affected people if it does. Interpreting Early Warning signs Analysing the warning signs of drought is not an exact science; by the time, a fully developed picture of the needs and situation is available, the opportunity to act early has often already passed. Donors and agencies should therefore be willing to act on the basis of probabilities rather than certainties. Responding quickly to mitigate the likely impacts of a disaster in a way which is proportionate to the probability that the disaster will occur, is highly cost-effective over the long term. Through our BRCiS programme we use an approach which aims to strike an effective balance between gathering sufficient data to understand the developing situation, and responding as quickly as possible to people’s needs. It involves combining seasonal data from weather satellite reports3 which allows us to assess rainfall patterns, with information on other key factors which contribute to making people vulnerable. These include factors such as access to water resources or markets, vulnerability to conflict and levels of political and cultural inequality – information which is drawn, in part, from our longterm understanding of the communities built up through the BRCiS programme. Whilst this does not provide the degree of certainty which can be achieved by delaying response until the arrival of post-rain technical reports, we believe this approach provides a sufficiently robust basis for action.

This approach has allowed us to identify areas of growing vulnerability, which we term ‘Red Flags’, and deliver pre-emptive responses, months prior to conventional humanitarian actions.

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