Somali Drought is a Symptom of Global Food and Freshwater Insecurity

A girl collects water in Ethiopia. Drought is currently devastating populations across much of eastern Africa. (Photo: © Robin Moore)

Somalia is experiencing the worst drought in 60 years; an estimated 3.7 million people across much of eastern Africa are at risk of starvation in what has quickly become a humanitarian crisis. This natural disaster is compounded by the impacts of a politically-divided country with rebel factions unwilling to allow foreign aid into the most affected areas.

In response, many Somali people who have lost their livestock due to the drought are seeking help in refugee centers in Kenya and Ethiopia which are unable to cope with the daily influx of poor, desperate people.

Thankfully, this week the World Bank provided $500 million in emergency aid and the United Nations’ World Food Programme began to airlift nutritional supplements to Mogadishu.

Not to belittle the dire situation in Somalia, but this is a symptom of a larger problem: food and freshwater insecurity issues that are plaguing populations across the globe. The cause is decades of unsustainable development and overconsumption that have eroded our planet’s natural resource base. Tropical deforestation in particular has exacerbated a rapidly changing climate and shifting rainfall patterns.

These events can no longer be ignored or passed off as random; unless something is done to restore the natural balance provided by healthy ecosystems, these extreme weather events will increase and ultimately affect us all.

In the developed world, it can be easy to take for granted the clean water that runs from our taps and food available in our shops without appreciating the natural ecosystems that provide these bounties. People in developing countries have a much closer relationship to nature, from the fuelwood they collect to cook with to the rain that feeds rivers, waters crops and produces pasture for livestock.

These inextricable connections form the basis of CI’s efforts to help promote food security and maintain healthy freshwater systems around the world. To do this, we must understand the exact financial values of the services nature provides, including freshwater provision, climate regulation, pollination and waste decomposition.

We all rely upon these natural systems to live — and when they fail, we all suffer.

John Watkin is a grant director for the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), including CEPF’s portfolio in Eastern Africa and Madagascar. CEPF is a joint initiative of l’Agence Française de Développement, Conservation International, the Global Environment Facility, the government of Japan, the MacArthur Foundation and the World Bank.


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