It makes business and survival sense to help Somali nomads prepare for climate change argues Liban Ahmad
The 1997 drought in Somalia did not raise alarm bells about the impact of climate change. The 2017 drought has put climate change mitigation agenda at the centre of political discourse. The impact of climate change on the Somali economy is two-fold: 1- recurrent droughts severely affect nomads, who lose their livestock 2- reduced livestock population affects export earnings. Those two impacts translate into nomadic migration into towns and cities, and less government goods such as security, education and health. No Somali government has ever paid attention to the fact that Somali nomads depend on seasonal rains. Response to 1975 Dabadheer drought necessitated the relocation of many nomadic families to inter-riverine areas in the south. This strategy has paid off environmentally. There were fewer nomads whose reduced livestock population had posed overgrazing problems.
Climate change mitigation is urgent
Wealthy livestock traders have reaped benefit from increased livestock population. Traders buy livestock from nomads at a cheap price and sell it to Gulf countries at a steep price. No investment has been committed to nomads whose toil directly contributes to wealth of the business and political classes.
Climate change does not solely account for the suffering of Somali nomads. Exploitation and lack of political will to better the lot of nomads are equally devastating causes. Another overlooked fact is the contribution of nomads to life in towns and cities. Somalis say magaalo miyi baa lagu deggan yahay ( urban people are dependent on the countryside ). Meat and fresh milk consumed by people in towns and cities come from the countryside. Without the hard lifestyle of the Somali nomad price of meat and fresh milk would be too expensive to buy. A malnutrition crisis would subsequently overwhelm underfunded health services in towns and cities.
To mitigate the impact of climate change on Somali nomads, Somali political and business classes have to agree a transformative agenda. This agenda should aim to empower nomads. It will reverse the exploitative relationship between nomads and political-business class. A Nomadic Regeneration Plan will commit investment to nomadic communities in Somalia. The investment will have two components: buying livestock for families who lost livestock, and training them in the management of their livestock to prevent overgrazing and susceptibility to drought. The plan will give Somali nomads bargaining power they don’t have now. The alternative is to stick to the old policy of looking upon nomads as a community on the margins of society. The slow disappearance of a lifestyle that has enriched life in pre and post-colonial territories Somalis live is not irreversible.
The plan will contain environmental regeneration scheme aimed at genuinely modernising the countryside as a part of national development initiatives. Nomads will utilise the new, environmentally friendly skills they will have gained to look after shared pastures. Instead of being at the mercy of droughts, nomads will be able to take an active role in mitigatng climate change impact. The long term impact of the plan will range from livestock feed ventures to employment opportunities for nomads whose livestock rearing expertise will be highly sought . Without decentralisation such a plan will not take off. Centralisation was reactive and suitable to an era when the government owned almost all the means of production. The need for such a plan is urgent given the intense land-grabbing going on in the Somali countryside. Businesses are snapping up land outside towns, denying nomads access to meagre pasture during dry seasons. It makes business and survival sense to help Somali nomads to prepare for climate change