U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently gave a speech in Somalia in which he claimed Somalia is suffering from the impacts of climate change disproportionately, specifically with regard to crop production amid an ongoing regional drought. This is false. Somalia is not suffering famine and crop failures primarily due to drought. Social and political instability is a much more likely culprit, especially since Somalia’s current drought is not unprecedented, and neighboring countries also under drought conditions are have not experienced similar crop declines.
A transcript of the speech is available, here, where Guterres explains his commitment to raising aid money for Somalia to address their allegedly climate-driven crop failures.
“My last visit to Somalia in 2017 was during a large-scale humanitarian operation to prevent famine,” Guterres said. “Today, the situation is once again alarming. Climate change is causing chaos, Somalia has experienced five consecutive poor rainy seasons, and this is unprecedented.”
Climate change is not “causing chaos” in Somalia, nor is the recent drought unprecedented.
As pointed out by Climate Realism in “No, CBS News, Drought in Somalia is Not Being Driven by Climate Change,” the Horn of Africa is prone to flip-flopping weather patterns of aridity and monsoon rains. Paleo data from West Africa shows that the region has always suffered these conditions, most notably mega-droughts, like those that occurred between 1400 and 1750, long before humans began burning fossil fuels in abundance.
In fact, recent news about the drought is calling it the “worst in 40 years,” indicating similar droughts occurred as recently as 40 years ago, if not since.
Evidence suggests internal conflict and political corruption is undermining Somali crop production. Neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya have also suffered from the same drought cycles as Somalia, yet their crop production has increased over time, compared to the ragged decline of Somalian crops.
Bananas are one of Somalia’s top commercial crops. Using production data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization database, it is clear that something more than regional weather is causing Somalian agriculture to suffer.
Looking at banana production (See figure below) neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia have seen gradual increases in production (Ethiopia has only been reporting data to the FAO since 1993), with Ethiopia setting a new production record in 2020. Kenya set a new record for banana production in 2021. By comparison Somalia’s banana production has been in a protracted decline.
Concerning core cereal crops, since the U.N. has been maintaining records for each respective country:
- Ethiopia experienced an impressive increase in production of approximately 468 percent, breaking records ten times since 2010;
- Kenya’s growth has been slower, but still substantial, at 188 percent, breaking production records four times since 2010;
- By contrast, Somalia has seen a 30 percent decline in cereal crop production. (See the figure below)
The crop trends for Somalia are indicative of a humanitarian crisis, which in Somalia’s case have resulted from a protracted civil war, government corruption, and terrorism. Somalia has limited infrastructure development, and the violence discussed above has destroyed much existing infrastructure. Exacerbating Somalia’s famine is the fact that the country’s population has doubled since 2000, with no increase in food production. These conditions are not, however, indicative of a climate crisis. Neither Somalia nor Guterres can honestly claim that other nations owe it climate reparations.
Clearly, Guterres has the crop production data that his own organization produces. Also, as we at Climate Realism have shown previously, it’s easy enough to gather information concerning Somalia’s drought history with a simple word search on the search engine of one’s choice. What the evidence indicates is that most of Somalia’s agriculture problems appear to be due to a rapidly rising population in the midst of social and political chaos, not climate chaos, hampering farm production. If Guterres is correct that Somalia is “emerging” from years of conflict, then even in the midst of a regional drought, it may soon benefit from rising crop production similar to that experienced by its neighbors, Ethiopia and Kenya. This result could be expedited if Somalia is allowed to access easily dispatchable fossil fuels and the financing needed to develop fossil fuel based energy infrastructure that the U.N. is seeking to banish from struggling and wealthy nations alike.
Linnea Lueken is a Research Fellow with the Arthur B. Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy. While she was an intern with The Heartland Institute in 2018, she co-authored a Heartland Institute Policy Brief “Debunking Four Persistent Myths About Hydraulic Fracturing.”