Sad Dilemma: Somalia and Combatting Droughts

Everybody has seen pictures from Somali refugees these days who are suffering from a catastrophic drought. “In terms of the sheer numbers of people affected, this is one of the worst droughts the world has seen in a long time” says the country director for Save the Children in Ethiopia. Since 1991 when Muhammad Siad Barre had been ousted Somalia has been experiencing conflicts and civil wars. Today, an internationally backed government controls most parts of the capital Mogadishu whereas the rest of the country is controlled by the Al-Shabaab militias.

The people of Somalia are thus plagued by living in a failed state – Somalia has had held the no. 1 in a widespread failed states index four years in a row – and by being affected by one of the worst droughts in the past decades.

When I read the stories on the drought across the Horn of Africa it comes to my mind that I recently attended a meeting with Prof. Pedro Berliner from the Ben Gurion University of the Negev. Prof. Berliner and his team have developed an agroforestry system that derives advantage from the fact that even in extremely arid regions sometimes flash floods take place. Prof. Berliner and his team planted lines of trees in desert regions and between the lines they planted crops. The resulting effect is that the trees absorb the water of the flash floods. Without trees the water would just quickly evaporate because the soil is not absorptive enough. The most important consequence however is that the nearby crops also benefit from the water that the trees have been soaking up. Prof. Berliner is convinced that large scale agroforestry projects would work as well.

Now, the solution to severe droughts is near (See another interesting project here). But there is one dilemma in such projects and this is the reason why the obvious option of applying this project to Somalia does not work in the short term: Somalia is a failed state. Who should implement these projects? The government is not able do it since it only takes control of Mogadishu. The Al-Shabaab militia will not do it either. They only recently allowed aid organizations to deliver humanitarian aid in light of the recent drought. Before, they banned all humanitarian organizations.

The drought across the Horn of Africa and especially in Somalia is so depressing because it affects hundreds of thousands of people and at the same time there are solutions out there that just need to be implemented! Sad dilemma.