Somalia’s Climate for Conflict:


(Photo by Nichole Sobecki/GroundTruth)

Climate change is increasingly fueling conflict in Somalia, and pushing one of the world’s most resilient communities to the brink. In this hot and dry country in the Horn of Africa, where average rainfall is down 15 percent, drought has become an inescapable way of life. Desperation – and hunger – are driving people to swollen cities, to refugee camps, or to the ranks of the militant group Al-Shabaab. 

For the last year, our journalists have reported from the dangerous and mostly barren lands of northern Somalia and the crowded neighborhoods of the world’s largest refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya to explore how climate change is an underlying cause of violence, terrorism and migration. It’s part of our series, Living Proof: The Human Toll of Climate Change

More from this project is coming soon, in partnership with ABC News.

Somalia’s Climate for Conflict:

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Somali women burn trash on the roadside in Dadaab refugee camp. (Nichole Sobecki/GroundTruth)

Laura Heaton

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Behind the Science

Extreme weather has always been a fact of life in Somalia. But the once-predictable weather pattern, with two rainy seasons a year, is changing. Drought experts estimate that average rainfall in the region is down about 15 percent, which wouldn’t make much difference in a place like Seattle or London. But in Somalia – a mostly desert country where people make the most from the few inches of rain they get – every little bit counts.  

Access to water is one factor that researchers consider when measuring a country’s vulnerability to climate change. Availability of food is another. Somalia has challenges with both. The Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index ranks Somalia as the country most vulnerable in the world to climate change.

Looking deeper, climatologists have noticed a clear link between the rise in the surface temperature of the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific and drought in East Africa. What’s causing the sea surface temperature to rise? Research points directly to (manmade) pollution, like greenhouse gas emissions.

As Somalia gets hotter and drier (and also more susceptible to deadly flash floods when eventual rain hits the parched earth), the country’s natural resources are increasingly strained. Grazing land, trees for firewood and charcoal, water for people and animals – there often isn’t enough to go around, sparking conflict. This episode shows how violence committed in desperation – a murder over access to pastureland – can set off a cycle of retaliation and fighting that engulfs generations. Under such fraught conditions, many people are abandoning this lifestyle, moving to crowded urban areas, falling victim to extremism, or becoming refugees.

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