Ministry of Trade PS Geraldine Ssali in Anti-Corruption court dock Ministry of Trade PS Geraldine Ssali in dock at the Anti-Corruption

How climate crisis fuels Al-Shabaab insurgency in Somalia

Al-Shabaab fighters

What you need to know:

  • Somalia faces a disproportionate impact from the consequences of the climate crisis.
  • Climate crisis in Somalia has indirect regional and international security implications.

Somalia's climate crisis security nexus is a complex issue exacerbated by environmental challenges, social upheaval and resultant security threats.

Somalia is highly vulnerable to climate-related disasters, such as droughts and floods, which often occur in a cyclical pattern. For instance, prolonged droughts parch the land, making it prone to flash floods when the rains finally come.

This leads to widespread devastation and permanent displacement of agro-pastoral communities in the affected areas. In essence, the family who lost a child to dehydration and lack of water last week loses another child or an elderly person to flash floods or a deluge caused by excessive rainfall this week. 

The communities in this quandary are vital to food production in Somalia. The agro-pastoralist hamlets and villages along and between the Jubba and Shabelle rivers, which produce most of the food crops consumed in Somalia and sometimes exported, encounter an arduous task in managing the impacts of the climate crisis.

Extended periods without rain or destructive floods compel them to abandon their herds and farms and seek shelter in nearby urban areas, overwhelming small towns. This influx then pressures larger towns and, if not intervened, strains the capital city, Mogadishu. 

In the rare intervals when rainfall becomes stable, rainy seasons are back on schedule, and flood risks are reduced, repatriating internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Mogadishu to their original villages is nearly impossible. This results in the permanent loss of food production for the country and, with it, the communities' traditional way of life.

Despite Somalia's minimal contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, the country faces a disproportionate impact from the consequences of the climate crisis, experiencing the most severe effects, resulting in frequent humanitarian crises and revolving threats to its stability and security.

Additionally, the climate crisis in Somalia has indirect regional and international security implications, notably in the context of recruitment by armed groups such as Al Shabaab, arguably the most lethal and formidable Al Qaeda affiliate outside the Arab Peninsula.

The high levels of unemployment and excessive urban dropouts resulting from the climate crisis provide fertile ground for recruitment efforts by armed groups and criminals seeking to exploit disenfranchised Somali youth.

Al Shabaab, in particular, benefits from the pool of jobless and vulnerable young people, leveraging their frustrations and lack of livelihood opportunities to perpetuate its agenda of extremism and endless violence.

The climate crisis-induced erratic movements of pastoralist communities in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti pose a regional security challenge as it has the potential to wreak havoc on the largely unmanned porous borders between these countries.

This movement of people and animals can overwhelm the already meagrely resourced border police, local administrations, and customs officials, creating vulnerabilities that can be exploited by criminal elements and armed groups, further destabilising the already unstable region.

On the international scale, the sudden disruptions and severe loss of lives and livelihoods resulting from the climate crisis in Somalia and the Somali-inhabited neighbouring regions in Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya, have the potential to instigate large-scale migrations of populations, particularly the youth, who seek refuge in other countries.

This includes dangerous journeys on foot and by boat, with near-suicidal will to reach Europe, the Americas, and, to a lesser extent, the Middle East. 

Addressing the complex climate-insecurity nexus in Somalia and its immediate neighbourhood necessitates a comprehensive strategy that considers the interconnectedness of environmental issues, societal vulnerabilities, and large-scale security threats. 

Commitments and assurances made regarding compensating for the loss and damage suffered by nations impacted by global warming at the most recent handful of Conference of Parties (COPs) notwithstanding, there appears to be little substantial change in the crisis landscape, particularly in Somalia, where the impact is most severe. 

Instead of serving as a means to achieve a goal, the COPs seem to have morphed into an end in themselves. It has become a continuous cycle of one COP leading to another, with no concrete solutions.

To effectively address this crisis, it is essential to convert the declarations and pledges into dollars and projects. In addition, the cumbersome bureaucracy and barriers to accessing global funding for climate crisis mitigation and adaptation must be greatly reduced, if not eliminated entirely.

In this light, policy practitioners in Somalia and relevant international institutions must work together to conceive and implement well-informed initiatives that aim to lessen the negative impacts of climate change, promote tailored sustainable economic opportunities, and strengthen community resilience.

Furthermore, prioritising investments in education, employment generation, and conflict resolution mechanisms can play a vital role in tackling the root causes that facilitate the manipulation of marginalised populations by terrorists, pirates and other criminal outfits. 

Only by developing and implementing a realistic and comprehensive strategy that integrates efforts in environmental preservation, social advancement, and crisis identification and management can those who hold the hilt and purse strings bring about sustainable solutions that protect the welfare and safety of not only the Somali population but also that of the broader region and the global community.

Forewarned is forearmed. 

Author: Dr Adam Aw Hirsi (PhD) is the Director of Foresight for Practical Solutions and the immediate former Minister of State for Environment and Climate Change of Somalia. He can be followed on @X: @JustAwHirsi