Climate change is killing Somalia––and it’s not their fault


Graphic by Shirah Lister

Sophia Ibrahim

For the last 30 years, Somalia has been known as a “failed state.” It’s topped lists about countries most dangerous to travel to and has been seen as a hopeless cause; a land of pirates, war, and terrorist organizations—mainly Al Shabab. Countries think the main reason Somalia looks the way it does today is because of war, what we Somalis supposedly did to ourselves. But, climate change is to blame, too.

Growing up Somali, you are constantly surrounded by stories passed down generation to generation. A country known as the land of poets and dreamers was once surrounded by vegetation and tropical forests but is currently dry and arid. Global warming is causing Somalia’s climate to change; the land previously filled with stories and a deep connection to the Earth is now home to drought and mass starvation. Somalia, a place that used to be lively and rich with culture derived from the land, is dying.

Somalis were traditionally nomadic pastoralists, dependent upon the land to grow crops and feed their animals as they moved from place to place. Two-thirds of the country live in rural areas and are entirely dependent upon the land and rainfall for their survival. There are normally four seasons, gu (the rainy season between April and June), deyr (a second rainy season between October and December), and dry seasons in between. Two years ago, deyr produced less rainfall than usual, and the following year, gu had the same fate. In a country that is so dependent upon its crops, the food insecurity and economic downfall have been devastating. This change in weather and land is solely due to global warming and climate change.

Climate change and global warming have been used interchangeably. They’re different, but both crucially important to pay attention to. While both are caused by increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide due to the burning of fossil fuels and greenhouse gasses, climate change deals with “a change in global or regional climate patterns,” and global warming deals with the warming of the atmosphere. Both terms cite carbon dioxide and greenhouse gasses as one of the most powerful contributions to these phenomenons. In 2017, Somalia accounted for zero percent of global CO2 emissions. They are among the least to blame for global warming and climate change, yet among those suffering the most.

Last summer, a report by the UN estimated that the drought Somalis were experiencing––and are still suffering the consequences from––could’ve claimed up to two million lives by the end of the summer. There are 15 million people living in Somalia. That’s 13 percent of the entire population left to die within a year, from a drought they weren’t the cause of. 

Somalia is still recovering from the civil war that began almost thirty years ago. Many, including my father, fled the violence to safer areas: refugee camps in Kenya or places like America or the Netherlands if they were fortunate enough to do so. Many, including my father, haven’t returned since. Why would Somali refugees go back to a place that resembles nothing like the paradise of their childhoods, with many starving and some turning to violence to make ends meet? With the population of native Somalis diminishing and refugees adapting to new lives in the Western world and forgetting their culture, the Somalia of the past is a distant memory for some, and a legend for most. The history of Somalia is being erased, the land its poems and stories took place is disappearing alongside it. 

Somalia won’t begin to truly improve once its land is restored. But, with the few types of vegetation left going extinct due to heatwaves and lack of water, land restoration is merely a dream in times like these. Unless fossil fuel emissions cut drastically, and the 100 major corporations responsible for 71 percent of global emissions find sustainable and environmentally conscious alternatives to continue production, Somalis will continue to die, and our country along with it. •