To deal with climate change, Somaliland needs to be a country



By: Saad Ali Shire, Foreign Minister of Somaliland

The devastating impacts of climate change are a reality faced each day in Somaliland.

Thousands of people who overcame tremendous odds to gain independence and rebuild their lives after conflict are now being displaced. Even the indigenous justice mechanisms that laid the foundations for the peace and stability that prevail in Somaliland now face an existential threat from climate change.

Somaliland has the critical ingredients to respond to this crisis on the ground and can uniquely contribute to global issues like climate change, but to do this the international community must recognize Somaliland so that the peace that was so hard-won could be maintained. The alternative is that we risk conflict over scarce resources not just in Somaliland but in the wider Horn of Africa region.

Somaliland is one of the countries that have contributed least to bring about climate change. It has no major industries, a limited carbon footprint and ecologically sound traditions. It has some of the richest solar and wind resources in the world, and has pledged itself to a carbon neutral future.

And yet it finds itself bearing the brunt of the devastating impacts of climate change.


Somaliland is currently suffering from its worst drought in decades. After failure of the main rains for two consecutive years more than 240,000 people have been left without enough food and up to 40 percent of Somaliland’s livestock has been decimated, in a country where livestock accounts for 80 percent of foreign earnings and 40 percent of GDP.

Media attention is easily grabbed by sudden onset emergencies such as hurricanes or floods, but slow-onset emergencies attributable to climate change like drought can be just as devastating and potentially destabilizing.

Many of the critical ingredients to effectively respond to this crisis domestically are already in place. There are equitable governance structures and a deep understanding of the social and economic context, and a dedicated committee headed by the Vice-President has been charged by President Silanyo to lead the response.

However, despite declaring a drought in August the relief we have received from international agencies has been limited and insufficient. We are urgently calling on the international community and humanitarian agencies to assist our own efforts to address this crisis facing the people of Somaliland

Somaliland boasts an enviable record of delivering development and an appreciation of drought environments by locals and government officials alike. However, rather than allow a government that wants to help its people, the international community is trying to force it into the arms of Somalia, a neighboring country that can’t control its own territory let alone protect livelihoods and environments.

The international community must not abandon the 3.5 million people in Somaliland to climate change for the sake of a political delusion and ineffective policies.


On the international level, Somaliland can play a constructive role on climate change and a host of other global issues. Our exclusion from the climate change negotiations in Paris was not only unjust, as the people of Somaliland are directly affected by climate change, but it also meant that the voices of other pastoralist peoples were excluded.

Pastoralists number over 200 million people and represent some of those most affected by climate change. Yet they had no one to voice their concerns and perspective during the latest round of talks in Paris, in part due to Somaliland’s international exclusion.

Pastoralists will remain voiceless without Somaliland’s international inclusion.

Somaliland can speak with credibility on pastoralist issues to a degree few other functioning states can. While pastoralist people often find themselves left at the political margins in the countries they reside, by contrast, in Somaliland pastoralists are placed at the heart of decision-making and are key stakeholders in policy decisions.

Around 55 percent of Somaliland’s population is comprised of pastoralists and nearly every household in the country has relatives with a pastoralist background. An appreciation of the pastoralist lifestyle is deeply woven into the fabric of everyday life.

In Somaliland we watched with admiration as the low-lying pacific island states have eloquently made a powerful case of how climate change will affect their people. Their efforts fundamentally changed the entire negotiation process and outcome. It helped focus the minds of the delegates on the immediate impact that climate change would have on their people and ultimately stirred world leaders to action.


In a similar fashion, with our knowledge of how climate change affects pastoralist people, Somaliland has many lessons to offer from our experience of peace-building, conflict resolution, democratic governance, combatting piracy crime and terrorism, and establishing peace in a complex, volatile region.

Our exclusion from the international community due to lack of recognition is doubly unjust as it denies the rights of our people and dismisses our input from issues of global concern on which we can uniquely contribute. Somaliland’s exclusion from the recent 26th African Union Summit to discuss matters of clear relevance to our people is a telling reminder of the injustice of our undeserved diplomatic isolation.

While recognition alone won’t address many of the threats posed to Somaliland by climate change, at a minimum it will allow ownership of the response to be placed firmly in Somaliland’s own hands.

We can thus act quickly and more effectively for our people, stave off conflict stemming from resource insecurity, and contribute usefully to climate change negotiations affecting pastoralist societies.

The people of Somaliland – and pastoralist communities in general – deserve nothing less.