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Somalia Faces Triple Threat of COVID-19, Locust Infestations, Drought

Q&A with CARE Somalia/Somaliland Country Director Iman Abdullahi on the multiple crises and how the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted women and girls.

Families line up to gather water at a CARE distribution point.

A family fills jerry cans with water.

An estimated 2.7 million people in Somalia/Somaliland are at-risk of food insecurity during the country’s current rainy season due to poor seasonal rains and drought, an increase in need of more than 65 percent, in a country already reeling from multiple crises.

Climate change, conflict, and the coronavirus pandemic in Somalia/Somaliland have created a multi-layered humanitarian crisis, which is increasing the vulnerability of people in the region.

“Communities in Somalia and Somaliland have told us that they fear a repeat of the 2017 severe drought,” says CARE Somalia/Somaliland Country Director Iman Abdullahi.

“We fear that more girls will be married off early as families look for ways to cope with the current harsh economic conditions.”

In response, CARE is supporting communities with water and disbursing cash to assist with immediate food needs. CARE is also providing primary health services, feeding programs for infants and children, and treatment for those with moderate and severe acute malnutrition. Sexual and gender-based violence has also increased during the pandemic and CARE is also supporting survivors with clinical and psychosocial support.

Abdullahi offers background on the crises, insight into how women and girls are disproportionately impacted and explains what is needed to respond to this complex situation.

Somalia is experiencing a very severe compounded crisis right now. Can you take a step back and explain how we got here? 

Somalia is currently facing triple shocks of COVID-19, a desert locust infestation, and the effect of the 2019-2020 floods, including the Gati cyclone in Bari-Puntland. The country has been very unfortunate to suffer from a combination of crises one after the other.

As Somalia was reeling from the floods in 2019 and 2020 that destroyed crops, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The global lockdowns and resulting economic hardships led to a great reduction in remittances. Most families in Somalia/Somaliland rely on these remittances from relatives working in other countries.

As if this was not enough, the country suffered from the desert locust infestation, which destroyed the few crops and pasture that had survived the floods. Now, due to below average rainfalls, more than 34 districts are facing alarming water shortages and the current dry conditions have been declared a drought. The worst-affected areas are in Somaliland, Puntland, Galmudug, Hirshabelle and Jubaland.

2.7 million people in Somalia/Somaliland are at-risk of food insecurity

Somalia is currently facing another serious surge in COVID-19 cases. How has the country managed during the pandemic and what are some of the biggest challenges facing Somalia in terms of COVID-19?

With a health system already at breaking point from years of instability caused by conflict and climatic shocks, COVID-19 is only making things worse.

In Somalia/Somaliland, deep-rooted stigma towards those who have contracted the virus has resulted in fewer people seeking medical support. To avoid this, those who test positive are keeping it a secret, making contact tracing nearly impossible and increasing the risk of spreading the virus.

Health centers are running out of oxygen and personal protective equipment as they struggle to cope with the recent spike in cases.

Health centers are running out of oxygen and personal protective equipment as they struggle to cope with the recent spike in cases. We have heard horrific reports of excavators now being used to dig graves to cater for the overwhelming COVID-19 deaths.

One of the major challenges has been widespread denial of the existence of the virus, which has led to many people not adhering to the Ministry of Health and WHO set guidelines and making it possible for the virus to rapidly spread. Despite this, we remain committed to raising awareness and supporting health facilities to cope with the recent surges in COVID-19 cases.

How are women and girls impacted by this situation, particularly given how they are disproportionately affected in emergencies by hunger, gender-based violence, and exposure to disease through their care-giver roles? 

Women in Somalia/Somaliland have been disproportionately affected by the current humanitarian situation. With many families struggling to put food on the table, many girls have been forced out of school as the families cannot afford to pay school fees.

When schools were closed during the lockdown, there was an increase in the practice of female genital cutting, which greatly impacts the physical and mental health of girls. We fear that more girls will be married off early as families look for ways to cope with the current harsh economic conditions.

As more water points dry up, women and girls are forced to walk long distances to get water, putting them at risk. In addition, the burden of caring for COVID-19 infected family members has fallen on the shoulders of women, increasing the risk of them contracting the virus.

What are the immediate needs and how can people help? 

The health system in Somalia/Somaliland needs equipment and oxygen to cope with the rising COVID-19 cases. Communities need food and water to survive.

We urge donors to increase funding so we can implement a rapid and robust response to these multiple crises. We have the ability to avert a potential humanitarian catastrophe, and we can’t do it alone. We call upon the global community not to ignore the looming crisis here, and to donate or support in other ways so we can save lives.

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