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A 27 year crisis and a spotlight on HDN – the case of Somalia

By Carmel Dolan and Jeremy Shoham on 1 October 2018

Over two decades of civil conflict in Somalia interspersed with periodic droughts and floods have profoundly changed what used to be one of the most beautiful countries in east Africa to a nation which regularly receives huge amounts of humanitarian aid.   The latest humanitarian response plan (HRP)(2018) comes in at around one billion dollars. 90% of all aid to Somalia is humanitarian and the small amounts of development aid it receives means that the country is stuck in a cycle of humanitarian crisis and response.   The country has regularly teetered on the edge of, or experienced, full blown famine in 2017 and 2011 respectively. Rates of acute malnutrition (mainly wasting) have consistently been over the international emergency threshold and in 2018, a relatively good year, prevalence is estimated at 18%.  These depressing facts are one reason why ENN determined to carry out a country study in Somalia as part of its ongoing work to identify ways to increase the nutrition resilience of vulnerable populations in fragile and conflict contexts through strengthening the humanitarian development nexus (HDN). Somalia is ENN’s second country case study, (after Kenya), with a further three or four country studies planned until the end of 2019.

‘HDN’ has undoubtedly become a ‘buzz’ term since the Grand Humanitarian Bargain’ in 2016. For those of us working in the 80s and 90s, the term has strong resonance with earlier concepts such as ‘linking relief and development’ or relief, rehabilitation and development (LRD and RRD respectively). The fear amongst many of us is that HDN is just another example of ‘the emperor’s new clothes’ with little underpinning conceptual development or real resourcing. At the same time, it is important to recognise what is different about the genesis of the HDN idea and earlier similar concepts. The number of chronic conflicts and emergencies have increased significantly over the past 30 years so that recurrent annual humanitarian response has become the norm for ten years and upwards. Furthermore, as the nature of humanitarian nutrition interventions is more curative rather than preventive, there is no easy way to lift these countries out of a cycle of humanitarian aid dependence and build more lasting nutrition resilience. Each year, difficult choices about which emergency response plans can be fully funded and which fall down the pecking order are made by the donor community and, it is within this context that ENN determined to see what can be learnt from the Somalia experience.

Following interviews with Somalia stakeholders based in Nairobi, two ENN Technical Directors travelled to Mogadishu and Dollow (a large centre for IDPs near the Ethiopian and Kenyan borders) to meet with government, local implementing partners and cluster leads. Our meetings in Mogadishu took place in Mogadishu International Airport (MIA). This is effectively the ‘secure zone’ for international staff where the airport is surrounded by a large perimeter wall and security staff. International aid and business sector staff reside in MIA.  It was a very surreal experience as gun shots and the occasional mortar fire can be heard from surrounding Mogadishu. Federal government and local NGO staff then travelled in from town to meet with us at one of the several meeting rooms in MIA. We then flew to Dollow which is a more secure area of the country although we were still required to have security guards as we travelled round the IDP camps and met staff working in integrated treatment facilities. Based on these many meetings and what we were able to see first-hand we wanted to share some very early observations about Somalia in the context of HDN. A full case study will follow.

First, business as usual in Somalia will have little if any long-term impact on the resilience of its population. While the HRP modus operandi undoubtedly saves thousands of lives every-year through impressive humanitarian health, food security, WASH and nutrition programming, the approach and expenditure is doomed to perpetuity unless the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) can run services and the necessary infrastructure can be supported and grown at the same time

Secondly, we saw good documentation of resilience enabling policy and institutional architecture in fledgling form. There is a recovery and resilience framework (RRF) which complements the HRP, and there is a national development plan with working groups (including a resilience working group) to implement different components of the plan. All of this is the right idea and the FGS is developing its SUN Common Results Framework (see forthcoming article in NEX)

Thirdly, the small amount of development funding has seen the nutrition cluster and its implementing partners make notable strides towards strengthening nutrition resilience any ‘which way it can’, e.g. through providing multi-sector nutrition programmes combining nutrition, WASH, health and food security (and soon livelihoods), and by training community-based health and development staff as well as paying salaries of a small number of MoH staff. However, this is small scale and the flagship multi-year resilience building projects in Somalia have seen resources diverted to provide more emergency health and nutrition care and have not reached scale.

Fourth, what seems to be missing from Somalia are financing approaches that enable development and system strengthening in a way that will eventually allow FGS to take control and manage and fund its own services. While the FGS is currently in discussions with the IMF over debt relief and the World Bank over favourable loans through mechanisms like IDA, it is unlikely that the funding environment will change dramatically in the short-term. This means that the HRP will remain one of the main mechanisms for programming. This in turn raises questions like;

There are scores more questions we could ask. From our perspective, unlocking the Somalia conundrum seems to be as much about the interplay of trust, transparency and accountability as it does peace and stability. The FGS needs to be more open and accountable about where it receives money from and how that money is spent and with this, donors need to be more risk averse in their financing. The costs of financing programmes through UN agencies, INGOs and NGOs – particularly the transaction costs which many believe are phenomenal in a country like Somalia need to be discussed. What is certain is that there have been vast amounts of funding in Somalia, impressive scale-up of emergency response and dedication of staff from all walks of life. Most impressive though is capacity of communities and IDPs to cope through community-based resilience measure which have evolved amongst a population pushed to its limits…but, after 27 years of this tragic civil war, Somalia is not much better off than it was in the early 1990s. Even if HDN is partially a resurrection of earlier concepts, can we at least utilise the current global and national momentum behind HDN to begin to address the kind of cyclical crisis Somalia has had to endure since the fall of Siad Barre as long ago as 1991.      

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