Young activists highlight impact of climate change on human rights in Somalia

31 Aug 2023

Young activists highlight impact of climate change on human rights in Somalia

Mogadishu – At a United Nations-backed gathering in the Somali capital today, young activists highlighted the severe impact of climate change on Somalia and called for more effective action to combat the negative impacts of climate change on vulnerable groups across the country.

“Floods which are a result of climate change destroy farms and damage crops, which leads to food insecurity, and that is the reason why most of the people in IDP (internally displaced people) camps are given nutritional food in order to treat malnutrition,” said Abdilatif Hussein Omar, a Director of Action for Environment, a civil society organisation.

The young activist spoke at a three-day training on the nexus between human rights and climate change, held in Mogadishu and organised by the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM).

“What we have focused on very much was the type of obligations that the government has with respect to human rights. So many of the international obligations that they have committed involve children, economic, social and cultural rights, and civil and political rights. All these have climate change elements to them,” said the Chief of UNSOM’s Human Rights and Protection Group, Kirsten Young. 

The 22 attendees were primarily made up of university students and academics and civil society representatives studying or working on climate change issues. 

“Bringing these two worlds together is, I think, absolutely fundamental to understand each other and how to leverage the expertise of each of the groups and be able to amplify their work,” said Ms. Young, who also serves as the Representative to Somalia of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

Range of topics

Over the three days, the participants focused on a range of human rights topics interlinked with climate change, such as the right to a healthy environment. They examined how changing climate patterns lead to drought, floods and desertification, which, in turn, leads to food insecurity, conflict over resources and displacement – with these consequently affecting Somalis’ right to life, health and food, as well as the standards of living for individuals and communities.

The training was also part of a wider effort to help create a vibrant cohort of young Somali environmental activists. 

“The next step forward is actually to create a network of young climate activists that are coming from different sectors, from the academia, civil societies, media, and student clubs so that they can continue advocating for effective climate change response in relation to human rights issues,” said Abdifatah Hassan Ali, a Human Rights Officer with UNSOM.

The Federal Government of Somalia was represented at the event. Speaking on the sidelines of the gathering, Ahmed Abdi Osman ‘Farole,’ a Climate Change Officer from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, noted that Somalia is one of the countries most affected by climate change, but plans are underway to address the impacts.

“The ministry has plans to initiate climate and adaptation programmes on environmental conservation and creating awareness on how people can be prepared to live with the recurring climate change disasters,” Mr. Osman said. 

Some of the participants noted that the training session would complement some of the advocacy already being carried out by young Somalis.

Suweyda Mohamed Abdi, the Chairperson of the Green Light Association, another organisation that promotes environmental conservation and sustainable development in Somalia, said her organisation is actively involved in activities to reverse the effects of climate change through awareness campaigns in schools and tree-planting exercises. 

“On our environmental campaigns we have made great strides and initiated weekly clean-ups at Lido Beach and this has been very successful,” she said. 

Another participant, Abdinasir Abdulkadir Mohamed, who combines his environmentalism with his work, said, “I use my profession as an artist to do paintings that can be used to create environmental awareness and urge people to protect the environment.”

Climate shocks

Somalia has been experiencing a humanitarian crisis due to climate shocks which have led to widespread drought and flooding. Some eight million people are in need of urgent assistance, with 6.5 million expected to face high levels of acute food insecurity and 1.3 million displaced due to conflict or climatic shocks.

Somalia’s 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan seeks $2.6 billion to assist 7.6 million vulnerable people across the country. However, the plan has received $851 million in funds as of 1 August, representing just 32.7 per cent of the total sought.