Somali grassroots organisation highlights link between climate and conflict to COP27

Somali Greenpeace Association
17 November, 2022
Somalia is experiencing one of its worst-ever droughts with its population in desperate need of sustainable, practical solutions. Khalid Abdille, program manager of the Somali Greenpeace Association, tells us about his successes to remedy the crisis.

Despite contributing to just 0.08 percent of global emissions, Somalia is ranked among the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world. 

A report published by the Somali national resources ministry, in collaboration with the UNFCC, estimates that temperatures will increase by between 3.2°C and 4.3°C by the end of the 21st century – something that will endanger the life of 60% of the population who live in rural areas as nomadic or semi-nomadic pastoralists.

Environment and Climate
Live Story

But, the effects are already being felt now.

Khalid Abdille is the program manager of a medium-sized grassroots association working for a green and peaceful Somalia, and he says that during the past years, the increasing droughts have already forced people to either leave their homes or fight for the scarce grazing land that is left.

With increasingly fewer possibilities to move to the big cities, the only option available is, many times, violence.

"We as SOGPA are trying to do a lot of capacity building and awareness with the communities. We are trying to educate them on different ways to store water – like digging holes and creating man-made lakes or water catchment areas during the rainy season"

Peace efforts and climate action: Two sides of the same coin

On October 30 the Somali terrorist group Al-Shabab carried out a series of bombings that killed at least 121 people in the capital, Mogadishu; it is just the latest event within a wave of extremism and inter-clan conflict that has been ravaging the country over recent years.

“It has been during the last five years when the effects of climate change have started to hit harder, that violent events have increased in number,” explains Khalid, a young member of the Somali Greenpeace Association (SOGPA).

“Herders are fighting for grazing land, as it has become really scarce,” he points out. “And these fights are just constantly becoming bigger. It will soon no longer only be two clans fighting each other, but whole states: an infrastructure that will inevitably render a sense of terrorism much easier.”

That is why his grassroots association sees peace efforts and climate action as two sides of the same coin.

This relationship is not striking for those who are working on solving the current issues in Somalia. The IOM Somalia Chief of Mission already stated in July 2022: “It’s becoming clear that climate change is exacerbating conflict and displacement in Somalia as farmers compete over limited natural resources to survive."

Make Somalia a Green Nation
Khalid Abdille is encouraging Somalis to fight for the preservation of their climate [photo credit: Somali Greenpeace Assocation]

Neglect by International NGOs

On paper, many international NGOs have now started adding climate programs to their peace agenda. The IOM itself says it is starting a project that will map pastoralist routes and identify future solutions to natural resource-driven conflict.

The ICRC too said it had already started working on improving the adaptability of crops with cooperative farms and established a veterinary training program for herders. Finally, UNEP says it is trialling environmental mediation.

However, the facts on the ground tell a different story, claims Khalid.

“To be honest, we have not seen any of these organisations working on this problem yet,” he told us. “Although some of them started to become aware of the complexity of these problems and are starting to plan how to incorporate some programs that focus on the adaptation to climate change; the majority have been reluctant to join us in the fight, and have preferred to focus on short-term humanitarian solutions.”

Environment and Climate
Live Story

That is why, for the last three years, this Somali grassroots organisation has been advocating for international NGOs to focus more on climate change problems than on humanitarian problems, because, as they themselves put it “these humanitarian problems are precisely caused in part by climate change.”

The alternative is grassroots

In the face of international support that seems not to adapt fast enough to the real needs local organisations have identified, they themselves are leading the change.

“We as SOGPA are trying to do a lot of capacity building and awareness with the communities. We are trying to educate them on different ways to store water – like digging holes and creating man-made lakes or water catchment areas during the rainy season. We are trying to educate them on resource-sharing, on the fact that two communities can live beside one another, and that they can share these resources without having to go to war.”

They claim these actions are already bearing fruit in some communities from the region where they operate, the lower Jubba, and that the positive outcomes of this type of action would drastically increase if bigger and international organisations in the field coordinated with local actors a bit more.

Of the challenges they face, one of the most important ones has to do with distorted expectations from the traditional leaders they try to bring together in order for them to mobilise communities.

“Sometimes, the traditional leaders ask for economic incentives, because they think that what we are doing is a project that was given to SOGPA by big NGOs. So, they ask for these in exchange for mobilising the community and conveying our message,” says Khalid. “But we are just a voluntary organisation that was founded by young volunteers, and who does not have that capacity.”

A capacity that big institutions have and that could instead be used to empower local actors already working to lift their country forward and knowing their context better than anybody else.

The message for COP

Unfortunately, these local voices are most often than not lost within big international discussions tackling both peace efforts and environmental action. Especially in this last field, there is a pattern of constant underrepresentation of indigenous peoples and local communities.

Society
Live Story

Last year’s most important climate conference, COP26, was said to be the whitest and most privileged ever, as activists and community organisers from the Global South had been excluded. Held in Glasgow, the United Kingdom, these Global South voices – which are the most affected by climate change – were not funded nor assisted, and policymakers are thus unable to listen to their important messages.

This year, COP is likewise lacking considerable representation of Global South communities in spite of it having been dubbed ‘the African COP’. According to a recent article by the Guardian, many of these countries will barely have young representatives – if they have some at all.

Khalid will be from the very few who are going to be able to represent their country in the ongoing conference, and because of the experience of his association working on the frontlines of the issue, he has a message he will spread everywhere he can:

“We cannot just close our eyes and ignore the problems created by the link between climate change and conflict any longer. The world has to come together, and it has to take action now.”

Bianca Carrera is a freelance writer and analyst specialising in Middle Eastern and North African politics, as well as environmental matters, at Sciences Po Paris. She has written for Al Jazeera, Oxfam, elDiario.es, and others.

Follow her on Twitter: @biancacarrera25