A New Approach Is Urgently Needed To End Somalia’s Chronic Nutrition Crisis

By Dr. Mohamed Abdi FarahSpecial Adviser on Health and Nutrition, National Coordinator for SUN, Office of the Prime Minister, Federal Republic of Somalia and a Member of of the Global Nutrition Report Stakeholder Group

Recent estimates suggest that over 8 million Somalis will be facing a food insecurity crisis by mid-2023. Around 1.8 million people were internally displaced in 2022 alone, primarily due to the effects of five years of drought and the ongoing conflict with the Islamist militant group al-Shabaab, with food ranking top of their needs on arrival in new locations.  

At the heart of this challenge is a complex nutrition crisis. Somalia is grappling with prolonged water shortages and is recovering from numerous environmental and economic shocks. While recovering from the damage wreaked by major flooding in 2019-20, the country was hit with a locust infestation which decimated crops. The impact of these environmental catastrophes has been compounded by the economic effects of Covid-19, which significantly reduced remittances from relatives living abroad due to global lockdowns. The subsequent war in Ukraine effectively cut off the source of approximately 90% of Somalia’s wheat imports.

The 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan for Somalia identified a requirement of $2.3 billion, but funding amounted to around $1.5 billion, falling significantly short. With the looming threat of a sixth failed rainy season, plugging the gaps with short-term emergency funding is not enough. To end the recurring cycle of crisis, the root causes of Somalia’s food insecurity require a longer-term approach that aligns international support to improve nutrition with Somalia’s domestic plans for sustainable development. 

Reconsidering an emergencies-based approach

An increase in international humanitarian assistance last year, as well as the efforts of the national and local authorities, made a huge difference to tackling malnutrition and saving lives. Coordinated humanitarian response plans reached around 7.3 million people with critical humanitarian assistance, helping the country narrowly avoid famine. But the current emergency humanitarian response-based model, while invaluable in responding to immediate need, is a giant sticking plaster. To effectively address Somalia’s chronic food insecurity, donor funds and humanitarian response plans, prepared each year based on real-time nutrition levels, must be linked to longer-term milestones for nutrition (e.g. yearly targets and metrics for success) as part of wider national development planning. For Somalia, bolstering these national development plans and securing sustained financial support from the international community to implement them is critical.

Domestic coordination and international buy-in

In 2019 the Government of Somalia adopted a  five-year Multi-sectoral Nutrition strategy, aligning nutrition and wider development frameworks across the federal, state and district levels and defining outcomes against which progress can be measured. The international community’s support to help implement these domestic frameworks will be critical. The government continues to expend resources in the ongoing conflict with al-Shabaab, and faces the simultaneous challenge of rebuilding fractured state institutions after more than 30 years of war. To support development in this context, international donors need to target funds at ‘system building’ and increase the capacity of national institutions. This means coordinating efforts with Somalia’s national development plans and investments that can facilitate long-term, sustainable change.

The importance of accountability

Tracking these goals and implementing rigorous monitoring and evaluation will be critical going forward. Aid to the country has saved many lives, but a lack of formal accountability processes both domestically and for international donors means that there is little oversight of whether pledges of support are ultimately delivered. This problem is far from unique to Somalia. Seeking to remedy this, Somalia will this year launch a national Food Systems and Nutrition Council to independently coordinate and monitor the implementation of domestic frameworks. Ensuring accountability at all levels of government will improve monitoring of progress and ensure that actions taken are aligned with wider development milestones.

The Nutrition Accountability Framework is another key tool to support such efforts It provides the first independent and comprehensive platform for registering trackable nutrition commitments and monitoring nutrition action. As the 2022 Global Nutrition Report showed, so far more than 400 commitments have been registered worldwide by governments, including the government of Somalia, businesses, donors, civil society organisations and others, providing a baseline to monitor progress.

In Somalia, long-term commitments to improve nutrition, improved alignment between international actors and Somalia’s national development plans, and tracking whether pledged funds are actually delivered are all vital to delivering sustained and improved action on nutrition.

Image via UN