Coast of Kismayo, Somalia

A Conversation About Climate Change In Somalia

Authors: Fardowsa Wehliye, Dr. Sarah Glaser

The striking inequality between more and less developed nations with regard to climate change was vividly on display at COP 26. Developed nations failed to fully address their disproportionate levels of greenhouse gas emissions, while developing nations demonstrated how climate change impacts are existential to their people. Somalia is facing drastic and immediate impacts from climate change, through drought, internal displacement, and stronger storms. Fardowsa Wehliye and Sarah Glaser virtually sat down to discuss climate change in the Horn of Africa and their perspectives on the issues. Fardowsa (FW) is a Somali marine biologist who is completing her master’s degree in Turkey, and Sarah (SG) is the director of Secure Fisheries, a program that works on fisheries management in the Somali region.

SG: Fardowsa, do you remember when climate change first became known to you as a problem?

FW: In the first year of my bachelor’s degree, at the end of 2014, I had an assignment about "global warming". I did not have any idea about climate change. I wondered, “What could it be?” Then I started to search and read many articles to understand climate change. After long searching, I realized climate change is a global problem. Even though we studied in school, I don't know about climate change.  Other students also share the same stories.

SG: I think many of us learned about climate change either from school or from the news. I definitely learned about it in school. It makes me wonder, what does your family think about it?

FW: My family, and other Somali families, feel the impact of climate change going on in the world and they do think about it. However, there is a lack of education and awareness about the impact of climate change. Most people don't believe that they are part of the problem (human activity). It’s hard for them to understand or explain climate change and its impact. They think it is something from Allah.
I had a conversation with my mother about climate change. I asked her if she was aware of it. She told me that she is aware of climate change. Although she left school at the elementary level, she has much more knowledge of it than I thought.  I asked her if she knew the cause, how it affected society and our family. She answered that one of the causes is industrialization, the same reason for air pollution. When there is more carbon dioxide in the air, it increases greenhouse gas and causes global emission. She also told me that there is an increase in temperature, lack of rain, long-term drought, cyclones, monsoons and currents that occur in the ocean.
She even told me that when it's monsoon season, fisheries production goes down because small-scale fishers can't go fishing and it is dangerous for swimming. I believe that the Somali society is an oral and listening one, instead of a reader. The media and TV can play a big role in teaching people that the changes they see or feel are caused by climate change. It is rapidly increasing and they are part of the problem. It is necessary for all of us to be part of the solution to stop climate change.
What about where you live? What is the difference between the United States and Somalia in terms of climate change?

SG: I think the main differences are in responsibility for causes and ability to adapt. In terms of the impacts, the U.S. is facing greater storm intensity, drought and water stress in agricultural centers, movement of fish stocks, flooding due to high rainfall. Because we have more forests than Somalia, wildfires have been a huge problem for us that I don’t see in Somalia. But the U.S. is the second highest producer of greenhouse gases after China, but our population is also less than a third of China’s. Our use of fossil fuels is causing the problem. However, we also have a greater ability to respond, technologically and societally. Many types of zero-emissions technologies are being developed here, and engineers are finding ways to adapt our cities to rising seawater and stronger storms. So while we bear the greatest responsibility for causing global warming, we also have immense capability to help slow it down and respond to it. But the United States has lacked political and societal will for decades. That’s starting to change, but it needs to change faster.
How about you? You’ve been observing the marine environment in Somalia for many years. What impacts is climate change having in Somalia and your coastal communities?

FW: In Somalia, climate change impact started slowly long ago, but it's now rapidly increasing. Currently, there are stronger storms and cyclones, coastal erosion, sea-level rise, drought, lack of rain, floods, and decline in fisheries resources. Now, evidence of climate change in Somalia is more noticeable than decades ago. People are losing both their lives and resources either in the land or in the sea.
The impact of climate change on coastal communities is mostly coastal erosion from storms and sea level rise, seen especially in Liido Beach, and floods caused by the cyclones. Also, there is increasing temperature as well as decreasing temperature: sometimes it is colder than it used to be. In the last couple of years, seasons changed, some months became hotter, others became colder. The country has had four years of drought. Fortunately, last year it rained, but it caused flooding and people were displaced. Even now, the weather is much hotter than usual. In 2021, people were waiting for the rainfall “Gu season” from April to June, but there was no or little rain. In some parts of the country, there was a drought and water was scarce. During monsoons or storms, fishing becomes dangerous. Fishers who depend on fishing do not receive other support, so they go fishing at every opportunity. Some fishers lose their lives and others lose their property as cyclones destroy their fishing gear.
Fishers told me that storms or cyclones cause resource conflict between some of them. There is no other suitable alternative livelihood option for them. The lack of fish and dangerous sea conditions intensify these conflicts. For instance, fishers go fishing during the night and the gear they usually use is either a gillnet or hook-and-line. Let’s say there were storms or cyclones happening, fishing gear can become tangled at sea. In the morning when everyone wakes up and sees the gears are mixed, it causes conflict among fishers. It's hard to handle. Each one is thinking the gear is his. Sometimes when fishers do not reach a solution they head to the cooperatives or other members to handle it.
Thinking about these major impacts, I wonder what you think the world should do to support Somalia since it is one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change in the world?

SG: The world can help Somalia, and other developing nations like it, adapt to the realities of climate change while committing more aggressively to reducing our carbon emissions. I see a few areas of potential in Somalia. First, supporting resource management through scientific capacity and policy development to build resiliency. For example, Somalia’s coral reefs and mangroves will suffer from climate change, but they’re already suffering from the impacts of overfishing and coastal development. Support for resource management, like area-based conservation in sensitive marine habitats, and policy support to fight foreign illegal fishing, would reduce the stressors so the ecosystems are more resilient to warmer waters. Second, supporting food and water security through infrastructure. Desalination is expensive, but Somalia has far more salt water than freshwater, and new projects to run desalination infrastructure by solar power is a fantastic solution. Supporting green energy production is crucial—solar power works incredibly well in Somalia. And finally, the best long-term support the emissions-producing world can give Somalia is to commit to aggressive reductions in our GHG emissions and then live up to those commitments.
Talking about the climate crisis can be depressing. Are you optimistic about the world coming together to stop climate change?

FW: Yes, I am optimistic. The world can come together to stop climate change. Indeed the world came together to fight the Coronavirus pandemic. Why not fight to stop climate change? It's been more than a century since the impacts of climate change began. I saw youth and elders stand up to be part of the solution. I always ask why the world leaders do not take steps to stop the impact of climate change. I believe if the world comes together to stop climate change, that is the best way to solve it because it definitely, much like the pandemic, impacts each one of us. Climate change in one place will impact its neighbors. Some countries, like Somalia, have barely any contribution to climate change, and yet, they suffer from it the most.

I have confidence that global leaders have the power to get a solution and put a stop to climate change.