I Worked For Oxfam For Eight Years

Its Aid Is Vital But The Sector Must Change. Over the last few weeks, I’ve felt ashamed and conflicted

Maya Mailer Former Oxfam policy advisor in South Sudan
23/02/2018 16:23 GMT | Updated 23/02/2018 16:23 GMT


Andres Martinez Casares / Reuters

I left Oxfam over a year ago, after eight years with the organisation. Over the last few weeks, I’ve felt ashamed and conflicted. I’ve had an instinctive urge to defend an organisation that I love, without wanting to excuse wrongdoing or minimise the pain experienced by the abused women.

As we are learning, what happened in Oxfam is not unique to Oxfam – this should be a wake-up call for the entire sector. If the current revelations lead to a transformational #MeToo moment, together with a deeper examination of aid, then that can only be a good thing.

I joined Oxfam back in 2008, in Juba, South Sudan.

I worked mainly with South Sudanese colleagues, as well as Ugandans, Kenyans, Brits, Australians and Pakistanis. It was gruelling work. Talking to communities, we made tough decisions about how to address mammoth need. We sweated into keyboards in sweltering offices to comply with endless donor deadlines. And we danced with villagers around Oxfam-drilled boreholes, the women of the village telling us that, at last, they no longer had to walk for hours to collect water.

We visited Oxfam’s programme teams to provide support in the remotest of locations – and yes, we travelled in 4x4s. This was the only way to reach homes in the deep bush, where Oxfam had water, agriculture and livestock projects. But the sturdy Land Rovers sometimes still got stuck. We’d all pile out, as the driver reminded us to watch out for snakes and landmines.

We toiled, and nobody worked harder than the South Sudanese staff, even as they carried the trauma of war and endured repeated bouts of malaria.

My lasting impression of that time is of collective endeavour – of shared pride when we were able to make a difference, of shared frustration when we could not.

In numerous visits across Africa and the Middle East, I saw how people’s lives were ripped apart by crises, and I saw the value of aid. Not just the physical benefits of water, food and shelter, but the softer ones, too, of Oxfam’s work on women’s rights or support to civil society. The importance of standing in solidarity, bearing witness, just being there.

I also saw the messiness and limitations; the constant moral dilemmas, compromises and unintended consequences. And ultimately how only political action, not aid, could end violence. This is precisely why Oxfam’s dual mandate – being operational and campaigning on the causes of suffering – is essential.

I was involved in difficult discussions about the approach Oxfam should take in conflict contexts. Like many of my colleagues, I would fight from the inside for what I thought was right. Inevitably, at times, I fundamentally disagreed with the ultimate decision, but I knew, at least, it had not been taken lightly.

And this, for me, is the beating heart of Oxfam: a self-critical organisation, agonising as to how to live up to its values and its best self.

Despite being a younger woman, often in male-dominated settings in the ‘field’, I never encountered sexual abuse. Throughout, my Oxfam experience was of working in a respectful, nurturing environment (where my bosses, women and men, supported me with the work-life juggle and to rise across two maternity leaves).

But just because I didn’t see any abuse doesn’t mean it wasn’t happening. I suspect that I was protected, at least partly, by my nationality, race, and, as the years went by, relative rank. I know that some of my colleagues in Oxfam, and probably even more so in the wider sector, had entirely different experiences.

I commend the courage of women in the sector who are speaking out, privately or publicly, anonymously or otherwise. Please keep speaking. We need to hear you. And you need justice.

We know that sexual abuse is endemic in society – and charities are clearly not immune.

But systemic issues in the aid sector also facilitate abuse: the macho, adrenaline-fuelled culture of an emergency response; the unmanageable workload, burnout and high staff turnover that can result in poor oversight; the absence of rule of law in some disaster zones; and the imperative to get the job done. Perhaps above all, the inherent disparity in power between expatriates and so-called ‘locals’.

Perceived fundraising imperatives, in the face of strident attacks on aid, have meant that charities (and donors) have not spoken openly about the complex reality of aid. Slick communication material eulogises aid workers as heroes and their job as pure, noble and simple. Some charity bosses, invariably men, have internalised that narrative or expertly manipulated it to claim that they or their organisations are above reproach.

And among all this, the voices of women, of junior colleagues, of ‘locals’, have not been listened to as they should.

We face a watershed moment. It means all of us examining our privilege and power, relinquishing power, and taking personal responsibility to bring about change.

The sector should reform but it also needs the breathing space to do so.

Yes, it is right to decry the weaknesses in Oxfam safeguarding (even if improvements were made post Haiti) but with an acknowledgment that proper safe-guarding – like delivery of quality aid – requires bureaucracy and money.

Oxfam may have become unwieldy, but those who denounce it for being ‘too big’ are often loathe to recognise that one reason for growth is rising need: more and more people are affected by war and disaster. And yet when Oxfam campaigns on the drivers of suffering, it is accused of being too political.

There is no excuse for what happened at Oxfam or in any charity. But nor should it eclipse the vitally good, if imperfect, work that Oxfam has done and is doing. Right now, dedicated Oxfam teams in war-torn Yemen and Congo, and multiple other places, are getting up at the crack of dawn to help people in need.

While seeking to maintain this work, Oxfam has committed to listen and learn – I hope it does. And, I hope the sector follows suit, and it is given the space to do so.

Maya Mailer worked for Oxfam GB from late 2008 to early 2017, first as a policy advisor in South Sudan and then in the Oxford headquarters. She visited Oxfam’s programmes across Africa and the Middle East. In her last role with Oxfam GB, she was Head of Humanitarian Campaigns and Policy. She now freelances for the UK charity sector. She writes in her personal capacity.

Source Courtesy of:

The human right to water and sanitation

Resolution adopted by the [UN] General Assembly on 28 July 2010

The General Assembly,

Recalling its resolutions 54/175 of 17 December 1999 on the right to development, 55/196 of 20 December 2000, by which it proclaimed 2003 the International Year of Freshwater, 58/217 of 23 December 2003, by which it proclaimed the International Decade for Action, “Water for Life”, 2005–2015 59/228 of 22 December 2004, 61/192 of 20 December 2006, by which it proclaimed 2008 the International Year of Sanitation, and 64/198 of 21 December 2009 regarding the midterm comprehensive review of the implementation of the International Decade for Action, “Water for Life”; Agenda 21 of June 1992;(1) the Habitat Agenda of 1996; (2) the Mar del Plata Action Plan of 1977 adopted by the United Nations Water Conference; (3) and the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development of June 1992, (4)

Recalling also the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, (5) the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, (6) the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 6 the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, (7) the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, (8) the Convention on the Rights of the Child, (9) the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (10) and the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, of 12 August 1949, (11)

Recalling further all previous resolutions of the Human Rights Council on human rights and access to safe drinking water and sanitation, including Council resolutions 7/22 of 28 March 2008 (12) and 12/8 of 1 October 2009, (13) related to the human right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation, general comment No. 15 (2002) of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, on the right to water (articles 11 and 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) (14) and the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the scope and content of the relevant human rights obligations related to equitable access to safe drinking water and sanitation under international human rights instruments, (15) as well as the report of the independent expert on the issue of human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation, (16)

Deeply concerned that approximately 884 million people lack access to safe drinking water and that more than 2.6 billion do not have access to basic sanitation, and alarmed that approximately 1.5 million children under 5 years of age die and 443 million school days are lost each year as a result of water- and sanitation-related diseases,

Acknowledging the importance of equitable access to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as an integral component of the realization of all human rights,

Reaffirming the responsibility of States for the promotion and protection of all human rights, which are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated, and must be treated globally, in a fair and equal manner, on the same footing and with the same emphasis,

Bearing in mind the commitment made by the international community to fully achieve the Millennium Development Goals, and stressing, in that context, the resolve of Heads of State and Government, as expressed in the United Nations Millennium Declaration, (17) to halve, by 2015, the proportion of people who are unable to reach or afford safe drinking water and, as agreed in the Plan of Implementation of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (“Johannesburg Plan of Implementation”), (18) to halve the proportion of people without access to basic sanitation,

1. Recognizes the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights;

2. Calls upon States and international organizations to provide financial resources, capacity-building and technology transfer, through international assistance and cooperation, in particular to developing countries, in order to scale up efforts to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all;

3. Welcomes the decision by the Human Rights Council to request that the independent expert on human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation submit an annual report to the General Assembly, (13) and encourages her to continue working on all aspects of her mandate and, in consultation with all relevant United Nations agencies, funds and programmes, to include in her report to the Assembly, at its sixty-sixth session, the principal challenges related to the realization of the human right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation and their impact on the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

108th plenary meeting
28 July 2010



1 Report of the United Nations Conference on Enviro
nment and Development, Rio de Janeiro, 3–14 June
1992, vol. I, Resolutions Adopted by the Conference
(United Nations publication, Sales No. E.93.I.8 and
corrigendum), resolution 1, annex II.
2 Report of the United Nations Conference on Hum
an Settlements (Habitat II), Istanbul, 3–14 June 1996
(United Nations publication, Sales No. E.97
.IV.6), chap. I, resolution 1, annex II.
3 Report of the United Nations Water Conference, Mar del Plata, 14–25 March 1977
(United Nations
publication, Sales No. E.77.II.A.12), chap. I.
4 Report of the United Nations Conference on Enviro
nment and Development, Rio de Janeiro, 3–14 June
1992, vol. I, Resolutions Adopted by the Conference
(United Nations publication, Sales No. E.93.I.8 and
corrigendum), resolution 1, annex I.
5 Resolution 217 A (III).
6 See resolution 2200 A (XXI), annex.
7 United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 660, No. 9464.
8 Ibid., vol. 1249, No. 20378.
9 Ibid., vol. 1577, No. 27531.
10 Resolution 61/106, annex I.
11 United Nations, Treaty Series , vol. 75, No. 973.
12 See Official Records of the General Assembly, Sixty-third Session, Supplement No. 53
(A/63/53), chap. II.
13 See A/HRC/12/50 and Corr.1, part one, chap. I.
14 See Official Records of the Economic and Social Council, 2003, Supplement No. 2 (E/2003/22), annex IV.
15 A/HRC/6/3.
16 A/HRC/12/24.
17 See resolution 55/2.
18 See Report of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, Johannesburg, South Africa, 26 August–4 September 2002 (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.03.II.A.1 and corrigendum), chap. I, resolution 2, annex.


Source Courtesy of:
UN General Assembly, Sixty-fourth session, Agenda item 48
Distr.: General 3 August 2010

How creating a water poverty map for all of Africa can help sound policies

By: Hatem Jemmali

African countries are behind the global curve when it comes to providing people with clean water and sanitation services. A joint monitoring report by the World Health Organisation and UNICEF shows that 89% of the world’s population has access to clean water sources. In sub-Saharan Africa, the figure is 64%. Globally, 64% of people have access to decent sanitation services. But this is true for less than a third of sub-Saharan Africa’s population.
How creating a water poverty map for all of Africa can help sound policies

© franco volpato –

This lack of access can be fatal, particularly for children. The absence of clean water and basic sanitation is among the leading causes of mortality among those younger than five all across the continent. It also places a huge burden on Africa’s women. It is they who must walk long distances to gather water from streams, ponds and wells.

Research has also showed how unreliable water supply is simultaneously a cause and result of poverty. South African water researcher Dr Anthony Turton coined the phrase “water poverty” to describe societies that cannot cope with the problem of water scarcity.

This prompted the development of the Water Poverty Index by ecological and environmental economist Professor Caroline Sullivan in 2002. The index allows researchers to produce an integrated assessment of water stress and scarcity, linking physical estimates of water availability with socioeconomic variables that reflect poverty.

There’s wide agreement that the index is useful and reliable. But its indicators are not appropriate for all contexts. That’s why I set out to create a set of indicators that can be applied in the African context. These indicators include a country’s seasonal variability of rainfall; a nation’s water investments and how efficiently it uses water in agriculture and industry. Another indicator is a country’s Human Development Index, which takes into account factors like life expectancy, education and average income.

This allowed me to map Africa’s water poverty situation, giving a good sense of how different this is across countries on the continent.

My findings offer a transparent analysis for policymakers, governments and organisations that deal with water issues. They can use the information from the index to assess the opportunities and risks involved with interventions. They’ll also have a better understanding of the socioeconomic factors that affect different African countries’ water management policies rather than treating the whole continent as a homogeneous mass.

What will work in Seychelles, which has a low level of water poverty, will not necessarily be useful in Djibouti, whose water poverty levels are high.

New indicators for Africa

I chose 15 indicators from 22 variables to compute five components for the African Water Poverty Index: resources, access, capacity, use and

The results are mapped across a number of water poverty maps that I developed. They show that water poverty follows a complex, diverse spatial pattern. Africa’s most economically developed countries are also its most water-scarce. These are located mainly in northern and southern Africa and includes Libya, Algeria, Tunisia and South Africa. Water-rich but lower income countries are mainly concentrated in the sub-Saharan region – places like Gabon, Central African Republic and Congo.

This suggests that as some countries grow and attract more people looking for work, their water resources will become more pressurised. These countries must put long term, sustainable water management plans in place so they don’t run short of water – a scenario that would greatly hamper further economic development and growth.

The index also suggests what form these plans might take. North African countries, for instance, ought to pay more attention to improving the use of scarce water resources in agriculture and other sectors. Higher water efficiency and consumer conservation programmes are required.

In the sub-Saharan region, meanwhile, access to piped water and sanitation facilities remains generally very low. These countries may be “richer” in water than their northern counterparts, but this reality is not experienced by many residents. Anyone working in the water sector in these countries ought to be focusing on how to improve access to safe water and effective sanitation.

A useful tool

The ConversationMy hope in creating this Africa-focused index is that policymakers, politicians and development experts will be able to apply the data. Such a multi-dimensional assessment of water poverty for the continent could make a big difference to management and planning.

A Matter of Survival – Report of the Global High-Level Panel on Water and Peace

Report from Geneva Water Hub
Published on 14 Sep 2017 View Original




The Drama of Water

The world is facing the drama of water. Around two billion people lack access to safe drinking water. Most of them live in fragile, often violent regions of the world. In contemporary armed conflicts, water resources and installations are being increasingly attacked and used as weapons of war. Moreover, water scarcity is exacerbated in a world with a growing population facing human-induced climate change. Despite these problems, humanity will have to find ways to produce 50 percent more food and double its energy production by the middle of the century.

A fundamental rethinking of international water cooperation is essential, with the UN at the center of efforts for the necessary policy and institutional changes. The UN General Assembly should convene a full-fledged intergovernmental Global Conference on International Water Cooperation, with the aim of formulating a cooperation strategy and defining its specific priorities, and devising an action plan for the five-year period following the Global Conference.

Into the Abyss: Water in Armed Conflicts

The increasing tendency in a number of contemporary armed conflicts is to make water resources and infrastructure targets of attack or weapons of war, particularly in urban areas. These practices are flagrant violations of International Humanitarian Law and must be condemned. States have an obligation to respect and ensure respect for and compliance with International Humanitarian Law. The international community as a whole should assist humanitarian organizations since a permanent, long-term partnership between humanitarian organizations and local providers of services is of great importance for the effective protection or restoration of water infrastructure.

International efforts to maintain peace and security have to include effective policies for the protection of water infrastructure against all attacks, including terrorist attacks, while giving special priority to the humanitarian needs of affected civilian populations. The UN Security Council bears primary responsibility in this regard and should consider adopting, within its action for the protection of civilians in armed conflict, a resolution on the protection of water resources and installations in all the situations on the Council’s agenda.

An Ounce of Prevention: International Water Law and Transboundary Water Cooperation

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. International Water Law has developed a number of principles, norms and institutions that provide the basis of international water cooperation and result in greater stability and conflict prevention. The UN Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses (1997 UN Watercourses Convention) and the UNECE Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (1992 UNECE Water Convention) are the essential international instruments in this regard. The principle of equitable and reasonable utilization of watercourses and the obligation not to cause significant harm constitute the core around which appropriate international regimes can be developed. The right to safe drinking water and sanitation is recognized as a moral imperative of our time and as a human right.

However, in many areas of the world much still remains to be done to expand transboundary and regional water cooperation to the desired level. This need applies to river basins, including some traditionallysensitive river basins, as well as to internationally shared aquifers. The latter need is critical as the existing level of international cooperation is still far from satisfactory: out of approximately 400 internationally shared aquifers there are only 5 where international agreements exist. Transboundary water agreements and institutions, as well as the relevant “soft law” instruments represent valuable tools that should be utilized more fully.

Quantity and Quality: Strengthening of the Knowledge-Based and Data-Driven Decision Making and Cooperation for Security and Peace Building

Changes affecting water quantity such as droughts and floods – increasingly provoked by the effects of human-induced climate change – require intensified international cooperation and stronger institutions.
At the same time, deteriorating water quality in many regions of the world, partly a result of the same causes, needs to be urgently addressed. Another problem exists in those internationally shared aquifers where the withdrawal of groundwater is greater than nature’s ability to recharge the particular aquifer. Often the actual knowledge about the situations of aquifers is inadequate while the process of depletion continues. The technical, legal and policy instruments available to address these issues differ from region to region, and from country to country.

Therefore, monitoring and data sharing is an important task that should be prioritized at the global level. A strong, integrated global data and monitoring system needs to be developed on the basis of ongoing work by UNESCO, WMO, and UNEP. Another vital undertaking relates to the application and further development of international water quality standards, both regional and global. And finally, it will be necessary to overcome the existing fragmented institutional landscape related to water issues.

People’s Diplomacy, Inter-Sectoral Water Management and Decision Making

Since water management and transboundary water cooperation affects people’s health and well-being directly, and therefore carries an important ethical dimension, water governance in all its forms has to allow all relevant stakeholders to participate in decision making. Moreover, the trade-offs necessary between the various uses of water such as agriculture, energy generation, mining, human consumption, and others, have to be carefully considered, while respecting the needs of all those concerned. Although most of the decisions taken in these situations are made within states, good practices should be studied and lessons learned internalized. When decisions are taken at the transboundary water cooperation level, arrangements should be made to allow the participation of all stakeholders.

Transparency and data sharing are particularly important aspects of decision making relating to water, and governments are well advised to ensure the necessary multi-stakeholder dialogue platforms. For these to be operated effectively, it is necessary to invest systematically in water education at all levels, including the empowerment of women. Best practices should be studied and lessons learned should be applied by all governments and other stakeholders. The UN Global Compact, which involves tens of thousands of private companies around the world, would be instrumental in developing an appropriate voluntary code of practice on water management.

Financial Innovation for Water Cooperation

Since fostering transboundary water cooperation is an important priority in our era, it is necessary to develop sustainable financial mechanisms specifically aimed at promoting water as an instrument of peace. Transboundary water infrastructures such as dams and irrigation systems are currently financed by a variety of public and private sector investors, with funding available through existing financial facilities such as the International Waters (IW) Program of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), other climate finance mechanisms, and by bilateral and multilateral donors. The available conventional finance should also be used effectively to promote transboundary water cooperation projects.

Additional incentives are also necessary, and could include preferential and concessional finance for transboundary collaborative projects in water resources and infrastructure of a significant size. Incentives such as interest subsidies, financing of preparatory costs and insurance costs, as well as the provision of matching grants could also be provided. The Panel recommends the creation of a Blue Fund for these purposes. In addition, we believe that it is important to create a safe space, i.e. an opportunity for pre-negotiation consultations and other activities occurring at an early project development stage. This would help stakeholders address the major implementation problems well in advance, prepare projects proactively, increase confidence among all stakeholders, and would significantly help the process of financial decision making.

In Pursuit of Agency: New Mechanisms of Water Diplomacy

A variety of international institutions are working on water issues, ranging from research and knowledge management organizations, river basin organizations or transboundary water management systems, to regional organizations and a variety of UN actors. While all of these institutions are doing important work and contributing to international water cooperation, what is needed now is an institutional setting that connects these key actors, and reinforces and complements the existing frameworks, initiatives and expertise. In other words, there is a need to leverage water as an instrument of cooperation and peace. We need a new mechanism to pursue “agency” as an increased capacity to act together, and not as another institution.

The Panel thus proposes the Global Observatory for Water and Peace (GOWP) to facilitate assistance to governments in using water as an instrument of cooperation, in avoiding tension and conflicts, and to build peace. The GOWP would work closely with existing organizations at the global and regional level, which specialize in water cooperation and harnessing the potential of water in building peace. The new mechanism would focus on hydro-diplomacy beyond joint management, and would also engage in consultative activities necessary for the creation of “safe spaces” for financing transboundary water cooperation projects.

Water as an Asset for Peace: Conclusions and Recommendations

The Report of the High-Level Panel on Water and Peace consists of seven chapters covering the main areas of our analysis. Each chapter is concluded by a set of specific recommendations outlining further action. The Panel offers general conclusions and summarizes all of its recommendations in the final chapter, thus allowing the reader to see the whole picture of suggested further activities. The Panel hopes that its conclusions and recommendations will help decision makers develop a coherent vision of necessary future activities and assist in practical policy making.




Somaliland’s hunger crisis: ‘The world doesn’t respond until children are dying’

Failure to recognise Somaliland’s independence means aid that could save lives of people hit by drought and cholera is too slow to arrive, says foreign minister

Somaliland’s foreign minister has said that the international community’s refusal to recognise the republic 26 years after it declared independence means aid is taking far longer to reach people on the brink of famine.

Though Somaliland, on the Gulf of Aden, has 4.4 million inhabitants and its own currency, army and parliament, in the eyes of the world it is part of war-torn Somalia. More than 1.5 million people have been affected by the drought afflicting the state, and most of its livestock has been wiped out. In recent days, the drought has been compounded by an outbreak of cholera in the east.

Saad Ali Shire, Somaliland’s foreign minister, said: “Lack of recognition is proving a major problem. We do not receive bilateral aid. All aid goes to the third parties via the UN. The UN has very professional people, but the bureaucracy that goes with these many channels is huge, and there is a high administrative cost. If we were recognised, we could receive aid bilaterally, and attract international investors – so creating a more resilient economy that is less dependent on livestock.

“I don’t think people took our warnings of famine seriously until the start of the year. It seems the international community does not seem to respond until there are emaciated and dying children on their TV screens.

“The assistance now through the UN is very slow and bureaucratic. There is no lack of will, but it often takes months for aid to reach the country as it has to go through so many levels.”

Somaliland, a former British colony, declared independence from Somalia in 1991 and has been praised for its relative political stability and lack of conflict.

Now, the country’s leaders are reopening a battle for diplomatic recognition, believing that if they can persuade one swing state in the African Union, such as Ghana, to recognise the country, the rest of the international community will follow. The drought, and crisis in neighbouring Somalia, have added to the urgency.

“We have always had droughts, but they used to be once every 10 years. Now they are once every two years due to climate change,” said Shire. “This year, we have had the worst drought in living memory across east Africa.

“The drought has destroyed 80% of the country’s cattle and we are a pastoral economy. The bureaucracy has been so slow that in large parts of the country little or no aid has arrived.”

Others estimate that about half of the country’s 18 million livestock have died.

Shire claimed the Somali government in Mogadishu was increasingly assertive in trying to appropriate a disproportionate amount of international aid sent to the region.

The UK and the US are by far the two largest donors to the UN famine appeal and have been at the forefront of efforts to rouse the international community to improve security inside Somalia.

Insisting that its claim for legal recognition would not worsen Somalia’s existing problems, Shire said: “We have stood the test of time. We have lasted 26 years. We are a mature democracy and country, and we believe in democracy.”

The UN has expressed concern that presidential elections in Somaliland would not be held until November, but Shire said they had been delayed due to drought and promised they would go ahead.

“From 1991 to 1997, we had conflict, civil wars and upheavals, but we have managed to resolve these issues – unlike Somalia – through reconciliation, demobilisation and better governance,” he said.

Shire said the international community was spending $2bn (£1.5m) a year to improve security in Somalia and questioned the point of giving it new weapons. “We suffer from the syndrome of being the good child. Naughty children get all the attention. The international community seems to be willing to reward failure, and penalise success.

“Somalia would benefit from our independence. We would be be able to share our experience with them on how to achieve reconciliation and prosperity. We want nothing from Somalia. We do not want land or money from them. We want our independence.”

He also urged the international community to rebuff Somalia’s recent call for a lifting of the arms embargo to defeat Islamic militants al-Shabaab. “The place is already awash with weapons. What they need to do is gain the confidence of the people. The government does not need new arms. It needs to collect the weapons that are already there.”




Looming ‘catastrophe’ in East Africa proves why world must tackle climate change, says Oxfam

Nearly 11 million people in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia are dangerously hungry and in need of humanitarian assistance

“If the rains don’t come, none of us will survive.”

Farhia, a 25-year-old Somali pastoralist, has moved four times in the last four months trying to follow expected rains which, on each occasion, failed to arrive. She is not alone.

Oxfam is now warning the drought in East Africa, where nearly 11 million people are already affected by food shortages, is threatening to become a humanitarian “catastrophe”.

Issuing a “desperate” appeal for the international community to meet a request from the United Nations for about £1.5bn of aid, the charity also said the worst drought in living memory demonstrated why the world must act to reduce global warming.

It pointed to several scientific studies which found evidence that climate change was likely driving up temperatures and making the situation significantly worse.

“Nearly 11 million people in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia are dangerously hungry and in need of humanitarian assistance,” Oxfam said in a briefing.

“The worst drought-affected areas in Somalia are on the brink of famine.

“The crisis could deteriorate significantly over the coming weeks, as rainfall in March and early April was very low in places and poor rainfall is forecast for April through June, which is the end of the rainy season.

“Climate change is not a distant, future threat: it is helping fuel this emerging catastrophe in which poverty, chronic malnutrition, weak governance, conflict, drought and climate change have combined to create a perfect storm.”

In a grim irony, the developing world is expected to be hardest hit by climate change – caused by fossil fuel emissions that have helped make the developed world rich.

As the likes of Donald Trump and former UK Chancellor Nigel Lawson argue against cutting greenhouse gas emissions, people in places like Somalia are facing death from starvation.

“While some still deny the severity of climate change and question the need to combat it, others are struggling for their lives as climate change makes a bad situation worse,” Oxfam said.

“There could be no stronger call to take action on climate change than suffering on this scale.

“Governments across the region and around the world need to step up, take responsibility, and provide humanitarian assistance to save lives now.

“Without global efforts to reduce emissions and to help the world’s poorest people cope with the effects of climate change, this crisis will continue to repeat itself.”

The Government has expressed concern about the potential for the drought to develop into a major crisis, increasing its level of aid and urging the international community to do the same.

In a recent written statement to the House of Commons, International Development Secretary Priti Patel said the UK had pledged £110m to provide emergency food aid for up to a million people in Somalia; nutritional help to more than 600,000 “starving children” and pregnant or breastfeeding women; safe drinking water for a million people; and emergency healthcare for more than 1.1 million.

A further £100m will also be spent helping people in South Sudan, where some 7.5 million people are in need of help amid a widespread famine, partly caused by the ongoing civil war.

Seven of the last 10 years have seen droughts caused by poor or failed rains in East Africa.

Monthly average temperatures in the area have hit nearly 3C above the average between 1940 and 1981.

“There is mounting evidence that climate change is likely to be contributing to higher temperatures in the region, and that increased temperatures are exacerbating the impacts of drought,” Oxfam said.

“Temperatures have been consistently higher in East Africa in recent years, part of a trend seen in Africa and around the world.

“Higher temperatures result in greater evaporation, meaning soil moisture is reduced, reinforcing drier conditions and intensifying the impacts of failed rains. Crops and pasture have less water, and the chance of failed harvests or lack of feed for livestock increases.

“In pastoral regions like northern Somalia, higher temperatures over the past six months have turned very low rainfall last year into a terrible loss of soil moisture – helping to desiccate all the available fodder for many of Somalia’s pastoralists.”

The charity’s briefing note included comments from local people in the area, which illustrated how out of the ordinary the situation has become.

Awad Ali, an 87-year-old man from Somaliland, said: “I’ve seen many droughts in my lifetime, but this is the worst one.”

Farhia, the pastoralist, said: “We have moved four times in the last four months.

“We were trying to follow the rain – moving according to where the rains were supposed to come. But they haven’t.

“If the rains don’t come, none of us will survive.”

Unicef expressed confidence that there would be no repeat of the 2010/11 drought which saw up to 260,000 people starve to death after the international community failed to react in time. During that famine, women reportedly bound their waists with rope to deaden the pangs of hunger as they gave what little food they had to their children.

Susannah Price, Unicef Somalia’s communications chief, said there had been “patchy” rains in Somalia in recent weeks but “definitely not enough at the moment”.

And she added: “We don’t expect the situation to become immediately better.

“Somalia has suffered from regular droughts and the problem is the people are just at the end of their resources, they have nothing left.

“Each time this happens they have nothing to fall back upon. The people are really resourceful, they are tough and they don’t become displaced unless they have to be, but we have got people on the move who have never been on the move before.”

And even if the rains did come, some animals are so sick they are expected to die and diseases like cholera and acute watery diarrhoea, currently affecting thousands, would still be a problem.

“But we are still saying we can avert a famine,” Ms Price said.

“We have had good funding … we are over 50 per cent funded. Of course we need more and we need it to continue.

“But there have been good lessons learned from 2011 when the international community waited for a famine to be declared.

“By the time it is a famine, it’s too late, many people will have already died.”



The Drought: Context, Vulnerability, and Solutions

by Muna Ismail

(Journal of the Anglo-Somali Society, Issue 61, Spring 2017, pages 17-19)

Droughts have long been part of the Somali peninsula’s climate and, in most cases, have always had significant economic, environmental, and social impact, both direct and indirect. In cultural anecdotes, all past droughts in living memory have names that tell social stories or peculiarities that were identified in such times. The names given not only highlighted the severity of the drought but normally captured the prevailing social traumas and the collective survivability of hard times in the psyche of society for generations to come.

One of the worst droughts in the last century, known as Xarama-cune (eating-the-forbidden) occurred in the period 1913-14. Cited by many elderly people in Somaliland, it was a time when severe famine swept through many pastoralist regions, resulting in catastrophic losses of lives and livelihoods. To survive, people ate anything they could find, hence the name.

Pastoral communities living in dryland ecosystems have historically shown ways of coping and absorbing shocks of droughts or effects of famine within their natural ecology. However, in the past 4 decades, droughts in Somalia have become a major problem causing depletion of resources, environmental degradation, impoverishment, loss of livelihood and forced migration. The frequency of droughts, however, has particularly increased in the last two decades with climatic variability which has become more extreme in the Horn of Africa.

Generally, at the macro level the climate in the Horn is influenced by El Niño’s warm and cold cycles of sea-surface temperatures in the eastern, central Pacific Ocean. The average rainfall in the Somali peninsula is 100-150 mm, but the El Niño episodes which occur every 3-7 years are known for being associated with below-normal rainfall in the Horn. Since 2011, four consecutive years of extreme weather cycles resulting in droughts, soaring temperatures and flash floods have hit all the countries in the Horn. Somalia has fared worst in terms of the increased societal vulnerabilities and fragility of the natural ecology. Somalia was hit hard in 2011. An estimated 4.6% of the total population and 10% of children under 5 years old died in southern and central Somalia. (UNOCHA report July 2011).

Understanding vulnerability

To fully understand the vulnerability of the Somali population to droughts in either Somaliland or the Federal regions of Somalia we need to understand the concurrent impact of bio-physical and socio-economic drivers. Bio-physical drivers such as change in land use, climate variability, and invasive species all have a severe impact on the ability of the population to survive drought. Hence vulnerability depends on a number of factors including population size, social behaviour, economic development, land policies and water management.

The pattern of drought in the Somali region has always been that famine would most likely follow a period of severe dryness which is often the case when rains fall short in two consecutive years. However, one may argue that what causes famine and vulnerability to droughts may not be totally dependent on a decline of food and feed availability and loss of livelihoods such as through loss of livestock in pastoral households. But rather depend on human capabilities deficiency because there is no social opportunities and structures, e.g. institutional support which can expand the realm of human agency and freedom (Drèze and Sen 2002) . The word social opportunity is a useful reminder not to view individuals and their opportunities in isolated terms. We have to understand that a person or a pastoralist households greatly depend on relational networks, natural ecology, having equality in accessing and negotiating in markets. As well as on the capacity of the state to provide measures to safeguard the livelihoods of the population through institutions and influences of effective public policies.

In early-mid 1970s the Daba-dheer (long tail) drought in pastoral east and central Somaliland prompted the Somali government, with the help of the Soviet Union, to resettle a large number of distressed nomads in the agricultural lower Shabelle and middle Jubba regions. This was a huge national programme that saved a vulnerable population while helping to diversify their livelihoods with new skills in fishing and agro-pastoralism.

However, in the absence of local and regional capabilities in Somaliland or in the southern Somalia regions of Bay and Bakool, where the present drought is most severe and causing population displacement, short term humanitarian interventions to avert catastrophic outcomes or to at least ameliorate its impact are needed urgently. Such efforts help people with an immediate need for food and shelter but do not address the long-term impacts of recurrent droughts. Long-term strategies to help both pastoral and agro-pastoral communities throughout the Somali peninsula to build resilience for climate change is the only rational way. These do not exist in the present framework of humanitarian assistance.

To address the long-term solution, we may need to consider how the following could feature in drought-risk management:

  • Concerted efforts backed-up by community-focused land policies to safeguard the long-term tenure and resource-rights of the rangelands as common and shared land.
  • Diversification of income and the introduction of drought-resistant crops that can provide food and fodder, such as the restoration of the Yeheb plant in the Haud grassland.
  • Wide-ranging intervention targeting agricultural and pastoral communities’ need to adapt to climate change.
  • Sustainable land use practices allowing physical recovery of forested areas and rangelands as well as the reduction of soil erosion.
  • Building the capacity of state and local governance structures to address the need for sustainable natural resource management (NRM) that would build on the existing capacity of clan and village structures.

Drèze, J and A.K.Sen (2002) India, Development and Participation. New Delhi, New York: Oxford University Press


Droughts generally remain the main threat to Somalia and Somaliland’s human security in any period of post-conflict development and peace. It contributes directly to malnutrition in children and vulnerable adults as well as preventing people from overcoming hunger and poverty. Hence comprehensive risk-management strategies that focus on building long-term resilience in the population are required urgently.

Land Degradation: The case of Somaliland.

During a scoping mission for the reintroduction of the Yeheb bush [see page 4 of Journal Issue 60] we encountered many examples land degradation in Togdheer and Sanaag: loss of vegetation, gully erosion, loss of topsoil, the invasive species (Prosopis juliflora) [see page   ], the demise of frankincense and juniper forests and wide-ranging ecosystem degradation. They are all having a negative impact on traditional livelihoods.

Climate change-induced ecological stresses, the increase of human and livestock populations and changes in the national and global economies, are the main concerns of people we met. They realise they are influencing the changing patterns that have been occurring in land use. These land use changes have a negative impact on the land resources (soil, vegetation). In places we visited, land resources are being stretched beyond the land’s natural ability to recover and there is a serious case for rangeland restoration.

The economy of Somaliland is heavily dependent on ecosystem services with its most significant source of economic wealth being livestock. 65% of the population depend either directly or indirectly on livestock or livestock products for their livelihood. Crop husbandry provides subsistence for about 20% of the population. Foreign aid and remittances from diaspora also play a significant role in the economy.

Historically, there have been several laws introduced in Somaliland with regard to land management during colonial times and when the subsequent central Somalia government was in power [see article on page 6]. These laws brought demarcations and changes of land ownership from communal to individual, with negative consequences for livestock movement and grazing patterns. They are responsible for many of the problems exacerbating land degradation, particularly in relation to charcoal production.

Charcoal production was regularised before 1990, but after the collapse of the central government, it became a lucrative business that is causing serious land degradation. It has destroyed many of the acacia forests providing protective cover for the fragile soil. Such degradation was apparent in the gully erosion and topsoil loss we encountered in many areas we visited.

The Chairman of the Parliamentary Sub-committee on Natural Resources, Mr Said Warsame Ismail informed us during our visit that an Environment Act for Somaliland is proposed which will regulate many of the critical ecological land use issues in the country.

Part of the problem is that the general outlook of the population is primarily to draw maximum benefit from the ecosystem. Protection of the environment and a sustainable ecosystem is not a priority. Being a post-conflict state, 43% of Somaliland’s revenue goes to maintaining security within its borders. What remains from that limited revenue is not enough to cover the needs of the country.  Hence there is a heavy dependency on International NGO development programmes. State institutions are weak.

Somaliland’s “Vision 2030” strategy recognises environmental protection as one of the five pillars earmarked for the national development agenda promoting ‘a stable, democratic and prosperous’ society. Sustainability is a guiding principle of this vision and highlights the preservation of natural resources.

However, there are major factors undermining the realisation of this vision. Soil erosion, deforestation, drought and climatic stress, overgrazing of rangeland, urbanisation, population growth and pollution (lack of waste management) all conspire against a sustainable ecosystem that can provide necessary goods and services to support viable growth, long term stability and peace.

  • Dr Muna Ismail is a Programme Manager for Initiatives of Change – UK, and Vice-Chair of the Anglo-Somali Society. She is a scientist and environmentalist, with a passion for community action and sustainable development in Horn of Africa. In the last 4 years she has been training programmes for UK Somali and Horn of Africa Diaspora community groups. Muna is also currently co-ordinating an Erasmus+ Strategic Partnership Project called: Cross-border Intercultural and Societal Entrepreneurs. The aim of this project is to co-design Curriculum, Competence Framework and Indicators for migrants and refugees as Re-builders

She was the leader of the team engaged in the Yeheb Project described on page 4 of Issue 60 of the Journal.


The Yeheb Project