In conflict-ravaged countries such as Yemen and Somalia, devastating floods and droughts are killing hundreds and displacing tens of thousands from their homes.
These countries and many others in the Middle East and Africa have been embroiled in unrest and war for years. Now climate change is an additional disaster for those already struggling to survive.
The United Nations climate conference, which concluded in Egypt last weekend, has established a new fund to help poor, vulnerable countries hard hit by climate change. Countries such as Yemen and Somalia are among the poorest in the world and are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change as they are less able to adapt to extreme weather events.
But they have little or no access to climate finance.
Countries affected by conflict are unlikely to receive funding because they lack stable governments, said Nisreen el-Saim, chair of the UN Secretary-General’s Youth Advisory Group.
“They have no institutions to get climate finance,” she said. “You have to have strong institutions, which don’t exist in many countries.”
‘The risk appetite’
Robert Mardini, the director general of the International Committee for the Red Cross, said that “almost zero climate finance” is reaching conflict-affected countries “because decision-makers who decide to allocate those funds feel it is too risky to invest” over there.
He warned the worst is yet to come for Yemenis and Somalis amid increasing food shortages.
Those decision makers “need to reconsider risk appetite, because there are also big risks associated with not investing in these countries and huge [human] costs to be avoided,” he said.
In Yemen, a third of the population – 19 million people – could not find enough food by 2022, up from 15 million last year. Among them are 161,000 people living in famine-like conditions, according to the UN Food Agency.
Children and women are most affected, with 1.3 million pregnant and breastfeeding women and 2.2 million children under five suffering from acute malnutrition. Of those, 538,000 children suffer from severe acute malnutrition, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Yemen has endured a brutal civil war since 2014, when Iran-backed Houthi rebels seized the capital Sanaa and forced the government into exile. A Saudi Arabian-led coalition went to war in early 2015 to try to bring the internationally recognized government back to power.
The conflict devastated the country, sparking one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises and turning over the years into a regional proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. More than 150,000 people have been killed, including 14,500 civilians.
The country has also suffered from drought, soil erosion and yet worsening floods every year. According to the UN Agriculture Agency, there was 45 percent more rain this year than in 2021.
This year, at least 72 people were killed in floods and about 74,000 families in 19 of the country’s 22 provinces were affected. According to UN figures, 4.3 million people have been displaced, most of whom have been left homeless by the raging conflict.
To meet increasing humanitarian needs, the World Food Program says it will need more than $1 billion by March 2023.
‘pay the price’
In Somalia, the situation is even worse. The country is heading for famine, says the UN. Prolonged drought has caused hundreds of thousands of hunger and death.
The country experienced its fifth consecutive failed rainy season this year, with at least 700,000 people forced from their homes, said Mohamed Osman, an economic adviser to the Somali president.
He said Somalia needs $55.5 billion in investment and aid over the next 10 years to recover from climate shocks.
“Somalia is already paying the price,” he said. “We have received nothing so far and in total Africa has received less.”
In the past two months alone, more than 55,000 Somalis have fled drought and conflict to neighboring Kenya, and that number is expected to rise to 120,000 in the coming months, according to the International Rescue Committee (IRC).
“Hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees will struggle to find life-saving aid by fleeing to Kenya this year unless urgent action is taken,” said IRC’s director in Kenya, Mohamed el-Montassir Hussein.
Somalia descended into chaos after the 1991 ousting of longtime dictator Siad Barre by warlords who then turned on each other. Al-Shabab fighters, affiliated with al-Qaeda, are also active in the country, which occupies a strategically important position in the Horn of Africa.
Building resilience to climate shocks
In Nigeria, seasonal rainfall and flooding have killed more than 55 people. According to scientists, the chance of extreme weather has increased 80 times due to climate change. According to official figures, an estimated 20 million people in the country face acute food insecurity amid crop losses and lower yields.
The Red Cross has warned of an outbreak of cholera and other water-borne diseases amid a dire shortage of life-saving assistance, including shelter, water, sanitation, food and emergency health care.
The northeastern regions of the country, where years of fighting an insurgency take center stage, were hardest hit.
“With more than 440,000 hectares of land already affected by this flood, one can better imagine the magnitude of the effect on food security,” said Benson Agbro, head of disaster response for the Nigerian Red Cross.
Agbro added that they urgently need more than $13.5 million to address the severe humanitarian conditions in the hardest hit areas.
“But in the longer term, we also need to build resilience to climate shocks, because we know communities affected by conflict are among the most vulnerable to climate change,” he said.
Need innovative ways
The Russian war in Ukraine has also doubled the challenges and cost of living for people in conflict-affected countries, according to Mardini of the Red Cross.
“There is a domino effect of the international armed conflict in Ukraine,” he said, pointing to skyrocketing prices of food, energy, fertilizers and the strained supply chain.
“So doing the same thing in a place like Somalia or Mali is more expensive for us, and we need to mobilize more money from our donors to do the same type of project we did a year ago,” he said.
Osman, the Somali official, said more efforts are needed for conflict-affected countries to access funds beyond the new proposed compensation deal. The package is just one part of a proposed “mosaic of financing arrangements” for climate-sensitive countries.
He called for “innovative ways” to receive funds, including debt relief initiatives and aid in building government institutions.
“No country should be left behind,” he said.